The Detroit Lions finished dead last in the NFC North for the first time since 2012 last year, ending the season at just 6–10. 2018 was also the Lion’s first losing record since losing Calvin Johnson and marked the second consecutive year missing the playoffs. It was also a pain to own any Lion for fantasy owners as not a single weapon was useable on a weekly basis. The 2018 Lions were flat out bad both for NFL purposes and for fantasy.
The most notable change for the Lions is the switch in offensive coordinator from Jim Bob Cooter to Darrell Bevell. Other notable guys coming into Detroit this year are former Dolphin/Patriot wide receiver Danny Amendola, Steelers’ tight end Jesse James, former Patriot Trey Flowers and C.J. Anderson, after a successful post season with the Rams.
In the draft the Lions spent their first round pick on Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson. Hockenson is one of the better players to come out of the draft as a whole, especially at that position. The rest of the Lions’ draft was spent on defensive players: a linebacker, a safety, a corner and two defensive linemen. All of this points out to what the Lions want their identity to be under Matt Patricia and Darrell Bevell — good defense and run heavy. Bevell is the guy who saw something special in Russell WIlson and still decided to go run heavy. When Wilson joined Seattle under Bevell in 2012 their offense ranked 17th in the league despite being third in rushing. This was also the time period where Seattle was known for the Legion of Boom on defense.
Despite my beliefs that the Lions will be a good team this year, there’s not a lot to like about for fantasy here. It boils down to just four guys here: Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Kerryon Johnson. That’s it, these are the only Lions players I would consider drafting.
Let’s start with the player that I think is going to prove to be the biggest value: Stafford. Stafford is being criminally ignored in re-draft leagues this year currently with an ADP of un-drafted. He finished the year as QB 19 last year with 212 points averaging 13.3 fantasy points per game. Not great, I know, but did I mention he was playing with broken bones in his back all year? I know I just mentioned that Stafford is going to be on a team that wants to run the ball first and who’s formula to win is going to be dependent on them being a run first team. However, fantasy owners tend to think that means they’re going to be a run ONLY team and that’s just not the case. For example, last year the Seattle Seahawks had the least amount of passing attempts per game at 26.7. That means that even if Detroit dropped down to that number, Stafford is still throwing the ball almost 30 times a game and to two big play threats. Stafford could return to fantasy stardom and he’s going un-drafted, literally free.
Which leads us into the wide receivers. I think Amendola serves the exact same role he served with New England — better NFL player than fantasy player. He’s going to be safe and reliable and see a lot of targets, but, I’m not interested in that for fantasy. Golladay is someone I love for fantasy. The secret’s out on Golladay, unfortunately. Current ADP in half point leagues heave him going in the back of the fourth at WR 19 and that’s exactly perfect. Yes he’s got some injuries and yes he’s on a low volume offense, but, he’s going to be the number one wide receiver on a good team with a good quarterback. That leaves Jones as the value wide receiver we want going as WR 34 in the eighth round. He went on IR last year and people seem to have forgotten just how dominant he was before he was hurt. In 2017 he finished the year as the No. 5 wide out in standard leagues and nine in half point leagues. Jones is way more talented than he gets credit for, has a nose for the Red Zone and is a big play just waiting to happen.
The final guy to talk about here is Johnson. Johnson is going in the back of the second round as RB 12 in half point leagues this year. He’s going to be involved in the passing game (that excitement went up since the organization shipped out Theo Riddick) and is likely going to see a ton of rushing volume on this run first team. Even with Anderson in town, Johnson should still see north of 200 carries. Last year he only had 118 carries and only had 39 targets. He did miss games, yeah, but, he was also stuck in a platoon with two guys who he was much better than. I mean LeGarrett Blount had almost 40 more touches than him and only averaged 2.7 yards per carry. How much did Kerryon average? 5.4. I’ll be the first to say that I think his talent is being overstated this offseason, but, he is talented and is going to see a lot of volume. I love Johnson in the second round, especially if I’m drafting in the back of the second and can double tap him and another high caliber running back to pair him with
The 2019 season does look promising for the Detroit Lions. Stafford is healthy to start. Reports came out from Ian Rapoport that Stafford was playing through broken bones in his back last season. The skill position players were also banged up, Jones, Johnson and Golladay all missed time and were hampered throughout the season.
Not only should the return of a healthy cast of players help this team, but, so should the addition of Bevell. Bevell orchestrated several winning seasons for the Vikings and the Seahawks and was actually calling plays in that blowout win against the Broncos in the Super Bowl in 2013. Bevell knows how to win games with a rush first attack and has proven in the past he can do it. They are in one of the tougher divisions, having to play the VIkings, Bears and Packers twice each, but by sweeping the Packers last year and crushing the Super Bowl champion Patriots, this team has proven they have what it takes to win.
None of this even takes into consideration the improvements they made in terms of talent. All the improvements to their defense plus a full year of Damon Harrison is going to make that one tough defense. The addition of two talented blocking tight ends in James and Hockenson is going to beef up that line and create big lanes for Johnson, or, give plenty of time for Stafford to have Jones and Golladay to make something happen downfield. If none of this works they still have Amendola now to check down to if Stafford needs.
Look, the bottom line here is that both Patricia and Bevell are coaches that want to rush first and often and dominate ball control and time of possession, and the Lions set out to acquire pieces needed to make that very thing happen.
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