The big hubub with the Lions at this time last off-season was how
the offense was going to deal with the loss of stud receiver Calvin
Johnson. For years Stafford made his living throwing the ball up
to one of the most physically dominant receivers in the game, and
Lions fans and Stafford owners waited with bated breath to see if
the 8th year signal caller could adjust. By most measures, Stafford
adjusted rather well as he led the Lions to a wildcard berth, had
the second-best completion percentage of his career and tossed a
career low 10 interceptions.
While it was encouraging to see Stafford spread the ball around
the field and continue to make better decisions with the football,
the Detroit offense couldn't make up for the loss of Megatron in
the redzone. After scoring a touchdown on nearly 70 percent of their
trips to the redzone in 2015, the Lions dipped to a woeful 54 percent
last season. Stafford’s low touchdown total (24) stifled what
could have been an easy top-5 overall finish.
So what’s in store for the leader of the Lions who has thrown
for at least 4,200 yards in six-straight seasons? More of the same
that’s what. The Lions held pat with their offensive skill
positions, not adding much to the depth chart, as they are hoping
another year in the system and improved health will help with offensive
consistency. Speaking of health, the entire offense was dealt a
serious blow when blind-side protector Tyler Decker went under the
knife for a torn labrum. It looks as if he could miss at least half
the season and after watching Stafford get constantly harassed the
last few years, this could have a huge early season effect. I’m
also very leary of Detroit’s schedule. Among their always
tricky in-division games, the Lions face off against the rising
NFC south this year, which could be, from top to bottom, the best
division in football. Despite a rocket arm and improving game management,
I’m down on Stafford this year. The schedule, loss of Decker,
and lack of an elite No.1 receiver means he could end up in the
low end QB1 tier.
The sample size is miniscule, but Ameer Abdullah was perhaps on
his way to special things before a broken foot ended his season
in Week 2. During the Lions season opening victory against the Colts,
we got a chance to see how the Lions planned to use their second-year
back. Abdullah touched the ball 17 times (12 carries , 5 receptions)
and piled up 120 total yards and a touchdown. For those counting
at home (as most fantasy participants apt to do), that's over 7
yards per touch. Before going down with the injury in Week 2, Abdullah
was averaging over 6 yards a carry on his attempts. It really looked
like Abdullah could have been primed for a solid season last year,
but can he recover and bring a spark to the Lions offense and fantasy
Stop me if you've heard this before, but the main roadblock to fantasy
relevance is playing time. The Lions run game under Jim Caldwell
has been agonizingly specialized. Theo Riddick handles almost all
passing situation duties, including hurry up situations and last
year Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington were the goal line backs.
This leaves Abdullah with few opportunities to flash his elite athleticism.
He struggled with ball security as a rookie, and while he’s had
a healthy off-season, one has to wonder if the foot injury has cost
him some speed and quickness. The Lions have been quick to name
Abdullah their starter, but that means little with how much the
other backs play. There is definite room to improve upon his rookie
year numbers, but between the committee and the offensive line in
a bit of flux, I don’t think the needle can move enough to give
Abdullah more than a look as a FLEX option with upside. He’ll have
to be borderline spectacular with the touches he gets, or rise to
the top over injured teammates to be much more.
Well on his way to yet another 80-plus reception season, Riddick
played in only 10 games last season due to not one, but TWO injured
wrists. After off-season surgery, Riddck is back and ready to be
a dominant PPR back once again. Despite missing six games, Riddick
was well inside the top-10 in targets for running backs with 67.
Basically serving as a de facto receiver for Detroit, Riddick’s
five receiving touchdowns paced NFL backs. With Abdullah back to
full health, look for Riddick’s rushing attempts to be nearly
invisible, meaning his truest value comes in PPR leagues, where
he is solid starting option. This offense, while improved, should
still struggle getting the ball downfield, meaning there should
be plenty of check-down attempts to keep Riddick owners happy.
Let’s make this quick. While young and athletic, neither Zenner
or Dwayne Washington should be on your re-draft radar. Although
each showed flashes at times last year, these guys are the RB3/4
on their own team at the moment, and baring a serious injury to
either Abdullah or Riddick (which is a distinct possibility) they
simply won’t get enough meaningful touches to be rostered
players. For what it’s worth, I do feel that Zenner is the
player with more upside, and the guy I’d go with if I was
an Abdullah or Riddick owner who needed insurance. He was the Lions
“workhorse” in the most important games at the end of
the season, and delivered 21 and 17 point games in Weeks 16 and
17. He’s entering his third season, and showing more polish
after playing at South Dakota State. He’s the guy the Lions
would trust if they had to.
When looking up the season stats for Marvin Jones in FFToday’s
stats section I admittedly did a double take. My first thought was,
“who the heck hit copy and paste for the 2015 and 2016 totals?”
Take a look for yourself! Jones’ 2015 line 65-816-4 on 103
targets. The 2016 line, 55-930-4 on, you guessed it, 103 targets.
On the surface, the 2016 season totals don’t seem terrible
for a guy being forced into the WR1 role for the first time in his
career, and on a brand new team. But when you dig into the numbers,
and notice that Jones had nearly 44% of his season total in yardage
over the first three games, you’ll know why many fantasy owners
were downright depressed by the end of the season.
After a dominating 6-205-2 line against the Packers in Week 3, Jones
failed to surpass 5 receptions or 94 yards for the remainder of
the year, during which he battled lower leg injuries. To say that
the star faded quickly on Jones’ season is an understatement,
as his role as a deep threat took a nose dive when Detroit showed
an inability to protect Stafford. Unable to get the time to go deep,
the Lions mothballed the offense, and became a team that threw a
majority of its passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
This dinking and dunking offense plays counter to Marvin’s
strengths, and unfortunately I don’t see a drastic change
coming. By the time the 2016 season ended, Jones was an inconsistent
WR3 and that’s where he sits in my eyes for 2017.
While Marvin Jones doesn’t quite fit what the Lions offense
is capable of doing right now, Golden Tate’s game fits like
a glove. Tate has been a PPR darling since joining Detroit as a
free agent in 2014, piling up 90, 99, and 91 reception seasons.
While Jones was lighting things up, Tate was barely breathing during
an opening five-game stretch where he totaled 133 yards and no touchdowns.
To say the Week 6 line of 8-160-1 line came out of nowhere is an
understatement! From that game on, it was clear the Lions offense
needed to feature Tate in the passing game to be successful. Tate
resumed his go-to status, as Stafford targeted him 10 or more times,
seven out of the team’s final eleven regular season games.
Like most of the Detroit skill position players, I don’t expect
a big change in stats. The system, and what the Lions are capable
of accomplishing on offense isn’t going to change a great
deal. The ball control passing game will remain and the Lions should
be able to run the ball a bit more if their backs stay healthy.
Tate should retain a healthy dose of targets, and be a strong PPR
option and a fine bet for WR2 production in standard leagues.
I think it’s fair to assume, that entering his 4th year as
a pro, Eric Ebron will not return the value or impact the Lions
expected when they made him the 10th overall selection in the 2014
draft. Despite a measured rise in stats since his rookie year, Ebron
failed to be a consistent playmaker in 2016. Regardless of being
6’4’’ he was a non-factor in the red zone, an
area Detroit desperately needed playmakers. He’s fast, but
Ebron lacks route running finesse, and doesn’t use his body
to make plays on the ball. He’s similar in stature to Antonio
Gates, but Gates is an absolute wizard at using body position and
leverage to get open at the goal line.
Ebron will always be a tantalizing tease for fantasy owners. The
team lost 67 targets when Anquan Boldin left in the off-season,
and Ebron is sure to soak up some of those, but until he improves
his game inside the 20-yard line, and works on his hands, he will
continue to be in the bottom tier of TE1s. This Lions offense has
enough guys that produce between the 20s, but until Ebron and the
rest of the offense score more touchdowns, the entire team has depressed
fantasy value. That said, if there was a tight end I’d take
a flyer on, he would be it. If his catch and yardage totals hold
steady, it would only take a few more touchdowns to get him into
mid to upper range TE1 territory. I’m just not ready to gamble
a high draft pick to do it.