Detroit Lions: 2014 Outlook
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Detroit Lions

By Mark Morales-Smith, Friday, September 12, 2014

PASS HAPPY Matthew Stafford is a fantasy stud. One thing we know is he is going to throw the ball and he's going to throw it a lot. Last year Stafford threw 93 fewer passes than in 2012, and his attempts were down to 634 (his lowest in any full season of his career). No, that is not a typo. For a bit of context, 634 attempts ranks as the 17th-most pass attempts in a season ever. Needless to say, this guy likes to air it out. He has maybe one of the greatest targets of all time to throw it to in Calvin Johnson. The Lions also brought in Golden Tate and rookie Eric Ebron and their running backs are glorified receivers. With more weapons than ever, expect Stafford to carry this offense even more. He does throw a high amount of interceptions, but that comes with all the attempts. Stafford is ranked around the Top 5 fantasy quarterbacks and should be drafted and started in all leagues. He has been on the doorstep of elite for a couple seasons now and he has the potential to muscle his way into the Big three (Manning, Rodgers and Brees).

Veteran backup Dan Orlovsky will be the man to take the reins in Detroit should Stafford get injured. On just about any other team Orlovsky wouldn't even be a consideration, yet we've seen backups get playing time in Detroit before and become fantasy relevant. When you have Calvin Johnson, you can be relevant. If Stafford is injured, Orlovsky is worth a look as a bye week fill-in.

Reggie Bush is coming off a 1,000-plus rushing yard, 500-plus receiving yard season. This is what we've come to expect from him. Bush is a very good fantasy back, but much more valuable in PPR leagues. It is looking like the Lions will be in a dual back system again with Joique Bell, which gelled during the 2013 season. Bush played well as the Lions' feature back, then Bell played well enough to earn a substantial amount of playing time. Expect Bush's numbers to be similar; although he may earn a few less carries while seeing a few more passes to further augment the 54 catches he had last year. His TD numbers will not be high since he is not an adequately-sized option in the red zone. When you have Calvin Johnson and three capable tight ends, undersized running backs don't get all that many looks. Bush is a high-end RB2 in PPR leagues and still has mid-range RB2 value in standard.

Bell's strong play earned him substantial playing time and forced a two-back system in Detroit. Expect to see more carries (166 last year) and perhaps see the same number of receptions (53). He will split time with Reggie Bush. If Bush were to get injured (which would not be all that shocking), Bell could become a very capable RB1. The former Wayne State back has value in all formats, especially PPR. Bell is likely the league's best handcuff option for fantasy owners. He is also good enough to stick in the starting lineup every week.

Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in the game. In 2013, Megatron caught 84 passes for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns. All that production came in just 14 games. He is 6-foot-5 and 236 pounds, yet he can run faster than most receivers and cornerbacks. The question is whether any of the other tremendous receivers in the league can compare. Given his dominant production over the years, Johnson only makes sense as the first WR to come off the board. He should be drafted in the second half of the first round in all redraft leagues and formats.

Editor's note: At 28 years old, he will still be at the top of his game with an elite year or two left in the chamber. Considering he collected 14 receptions for 329 yards and a touchdown last year in Week 8 against Dallas, there's really no argument that he's slowing down. Johnson played through knee and finger injuries last year. He's back at 100-percent and could improve upon his already excellent 2013 statistics.

The Lions have been searching for a viable compliment to Calvin Johnson for years and they finally found him. Golden Tate is not flashy, but is as sure-handed and reliable as they come. Tate is coming off a career year in which he caught 64 passes for 898 yards and five TDs. It's not much, but those numbers aren't easy to produce given Seattle's style of play. The Lions have a lot of playmakers, so dependable fantasy numbers week-to-week is likely asking a lot. Stafford need a good number two receiver and Tate is hopefully the perfect fit. Although he has Megatron opposite him taking a lot more targets than anyone in Seattle did, Tate should come close to equaling or outpacing his '2013 numbers. Grab Tate and stash him on your bench (or plug him in as a WR3/flex).

Ryan Broyles performed very well this spring and could be the Lions' third receiver come September. His biggest issue is he hasn't been able to stay on the field and his slow and ongoing recovery from two torn ACLs and a torn Achilles. Broyles has dealt with injuries each of the last two seasons and only managed to play 16 games during that time. The Lions had high hopes for Broyles after drafting him in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. This could be the year he gets a chance to really contribute. Broyles isn't likely worth a draft pick; however, he is someone to keep an eye on if he wins his WR3 position battle.

Durham saw 86 targets in 2013, but expect that number to come way down this season. With Ryan Broyles and Jeremy Ross having very strong camps, Durham will likely be the Lions' fifth receiver. On a team that also features two pass-catching running backs and as many as three tight ends who will earn playing time, Durham will likely be a non-factor. Only an injury to Johnson or Tate would offer him enough snaps to make a difference. Durham should not be drafted in any leagues and will likely fade into fantasy obscurity. He will have to beat out Kevin Ogletree to keep his roster spot.

It was a bit of a surprise when the Lions drafted UNC rookie Eric Ebron after signing Brandon Pettigrew to a four-year, $16 million contract. Still, Ebron is the best tight end prospect since Vernon Davis. He cold be the next great tight end and was just too talented for the Lions to pass up on. Although Ebron struggled with his hands this spring, don't expect that to hinder his production come September. In his final collegiate season, Ebron caught 62 passes for 973 yards. He has moved to a tight end-friendly, pass-heavy system in Detroit. Ebron has a big body, with bigger play ability. The only concern about Ebron's fantasy value is that the Lions have two other tight ends -- Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria -- who have proven to be formidable in their own right. Ebron has recently stated that his goal in his rookie season is to go to the Pro Bowl and be Offensive Rookie of the Year. Don't be shocked if he backs it up and accomplishes his lofty goals. Ebron is a must-draft in dynasty leagues and should be drafted in all leagues as a TE2 with some serious upside.

Click here to read FFToolbox's Top 24 rookie rankings for dynasty leagues, written by Nick Scott!

Fauria is purely a red zone target. In 2013, he caught 18 passes and managed to score on seven of them. Now he is clearly the third tight end on the depth chart behind first round pick Eric Ebron and veteran Brandon Pettigrew. The 6-foot-7 target proved to be valuable in the end zone, although it is unlikely he plays much when the Lions aren't in the red zone.

Since peaking in 2011, Pettigrew has been a bit of a disappointment in fantasy leagues. His numbers have come down (mostly in part due to his struggles catching the ball). Pettigrew is a huge target; however, he is not heavily utilized in the red zone. First round pick Eric Ebron is likely to get the bulk of the targets in the passing game, which leaves Pettigrew to stay in-line and block. Pettigrew will be involved in the passing game after signing a four-year, $16 million contract. That's too much money to give to a blocking tight end, so it will be interesting to see how the Lions fit all their tight ends onto the field.

Editor's note: Pettigrew was inconsistent with no competition at the position. Fauria stole his TD production last year and now Ebron will take away whatever he was collecting between the 20 yard lines. Look elsewhere if you're digging deep.

The Lions' defense was very poor last season. There is some dominant talent (particularly in the defensive line) that could rescue them from being amongst the bottom feeders at the position. A new head coach and revamped secondary will help the Lions get back on track. The Lions' biggest issue is lack of discipline. Under former head coach Jim Schwartz, their defense was one of the most penalized and often close to the league leaders in 15-yard personal fouls. If they can be focused and controlled, defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Ezekiel Ansah and Jason Jones could be one of the most menacing lines in the NFL. They also added rookie Kyle Van Noy to a linebacking group that already features veterans Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy. The secondary is a big question mark though. The Lions did go out and sign Ravens free agent James Ihedigbo. He isn't expected to be a big difference maker and will function more as a holdover until a long-term solution is found. How the secondary gels will have a huge impact on the Lions' fantasy value. Right now the Lions are not worth a backup spot. Leave them on waivers.

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