Fantasy mini-camp: Who's stepping up opposite Megatron on the Lions - and do we care?
Division: NFC North
Team: Detroit Lions
Situation: No. 2 wide receiver
Player to watch: Nate Burleson
Yet another WR2 competition to discuss even if this one feels slightly less urgent than the one in Baltimore and perhaps the battle in Arizona. That's because Calvin Johnson's presence plus the addition of Reggie Bush means the Lions will always have a volume pass catcher available for Matthew Stafford. Even though Brandon Pettigrew's individual fantasy value is no longer headed in a straight line to the top-10 among tight end options, he and Tony Scheffler form a viable playmaking combination.
In other words, even as Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles return from injuries, even as Mike Thomas and Brian Robiskie hope to rekindle their once promising careers, even as Patrick Edwards tries to go from OTA stunner to regular season staple, the Lions have passing game weapons.
Still, it would be awfully nice for both the Lions and fantasy owners if a weekly threat emerged. Nobody wants to let a potentially highly productive position go to waste.
Friend of the FFToolbox podcast Burleson is the safe, solid and (in the context of fantasy football) the boring option. Nobody was excited to draft the veteran target even when he caught 55, 63 or 73 passes per season as he did in the three seasons before 2012 when a broken leg ended his year after six games. Expected out until July, the 31-year-old was a surprise participant during OTAs in May, putting him on track for a week one appearance - and probably as a starter.
That's because Ryan Broyles is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in December. The 25-year-old has been participating in individual drills during OTAs, but no return date for the shifty slot target has been established. Hey, seeing as the former Oklahoma Sooner also suffered a torn ACL in college, there is little reason to hurry the 2012 second-round pick from the Lions perspective. From the fantasy owner perspective, it is okay for him to miss the season opener and a game or two beyond, but hopefully the training camp news will indicate whether he's truly a sleeper candidate for drafting purposes.
Thomas, who caught 66 passes for the Jaguars in 2010, finished with 18 grabs in 16 games last season; while Robiskie, once a high draft pick of the Browns, had only four in six games. Edwards, the 2011 Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year, showed flashes during training camp last year before a quad injury slowed his progress. Now the 5-foot-11 speedster is once again making an impression with his playmaking ability.
None of the three is likely to make any fantasy impact (actually, we can pretty much guarantee that with Robiskie), but since the top two options to start opposite Megatron are recovering form leg injuries, who knows? Baring a setback, Broyles is probably the only one worth drafting and that won't come until the middle to likely late rounds in leagues with 12 or more teams. Even then, the injury risk remains. Burleson is draftable, but only by those in leagues that start three receivers and need a relatively safe option.
The thing is, it is also possible no player in this slot becomes a weekly fantasy play because of Megatron's dominance, because Bush could haul in 60-80 catches, and because the tight ends are threats. By contrast, the Baltimore situation is dicier because without Anquan Boldin, nearly every pass catcher is taking on a different or larger role (also the Ravens' WR2 options are lacking either Burleson's credentials or Broyles' potential). So of course we'll track the Detroit situaiton with interest, but it likely won't influence how we view the Lions overall nor will this be a pre-draft situation producing anything more than a sleeper. Depending on Broyles' progress, perhaps a deep sleeper at that.
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