2017 Fantasy Football: Detroit Lions Team Outlook

Senior Fantasy Football Expert Shawn Childs takes a deep look at the Detroit Lions to help you prepare for Draft Day!

Detroit Lions

The Lions have been competitive over the last three seasons with Jim Caldwell as head coach. He has a 27-21 record in Detroit with two playoff appearances. Over his six years as a head coach in the NFL, Caldwell has a 53-43 record highlighted by his 2009 season (14-2 with a Super Bowl loss). He has 15 seasons of experience in the NFL. The Lions improved by 42 points on defense to finish 13th in points allowed (358), which was an improvement of 10 spots in the ranking. They finished 18th in yards allowed. Teryl Austin will have another chance to run the defense after taking over the job in 2014. Austin has six years coaching experience in the NFL. The offense came in flat for the third straight season. The Lions scored 346 points (20th) while finishing 21st in offensive yards. Jim Bob Cooter will run the offense after taking over the offensive coordinator job during the season in 2015. In 2014 and 2015, Cooter was the Lions quarterbacks coach.

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Detroit lost one of the better offensive lineman in G Larry Warford. They did a nice job replacing him with G T.J. Lang who played at a high level while starting for the Packers. T Ricky Wagner was a second player of strength added to this offensive line. He’ll replace the loss of T Riley Reiff who struggled in 2016. T Tony Hill was added for depth.

RB Matt Asiata was brought in to compete for a backup job and possible goal line chances. The Lions released TE Clay Harbor while adding TE Darren Fells. They parted ways with WR Andrew Roberts and WR Anquan Boldin.

On defense, Detroit lost S Rafael Bush, DT Tyrunn Walker, and DE Devin Taylor. Bush, at the backend of his career, was a neutral player who was only played a rotational role. Taylor was a losing option for the Lions in 2016 despite being on the field for 715 plays. Walker struggled in limited play time last year.

The Lions added six players to their defense – CB D.J. Hayden, LB Nick Bellore, LB Paul Worrilow, DT Cornelius Washington, DT Akeem Spence, and DT Jordan Hill. None of these players project to be starters after playing poorly in 2016.

Detroit acquired T Greg Robinson in mid-June to hopefully start at left tackle. Robinson was drafted in the first round in 2014, but he was only worth a sixth-round choice in 2018.

Draft

Detroit had nine picks in this year’s draft. They added six players to their defense. In the first round, the Lions took LB Jarrad Davis. He looks like a powerful run stopper with enough talent to attack the QB. Davis doesn’t have impact vision leading to him playing too fast. This will put him in the wrong position to make plays at times. He's a hard worker who needs to find the right moments to add his thump to blockers. His next step is improving in pass coverage.

In the second, the Lions invested in CB Teez Tabor. Cover corner skills, but his speed (4.62) has plenty of risk in the deep passing game while needing to add more strength. Tabor has the technique to have success at the next level as long he avoids elite WRs. He tends to be soft in his tackling skills.

WR Kenny Golladay was the first offensive player drafted by the Lions, who they selected in the third round. Detroit hopes he develops into a low-level Calvin Johnson. He runs a 4.50 40-yard dash with strength and an edge in size (6’4” and 218 lbs.). While he has the look of Calvin, Golladay falls short in his route running with improvement needed with his footwork in the tight quarters on the sidelines and the back line of the end zone. High upside if he’s driven to be an elite player.

Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports

The Lions added TE Michael Roberts in the fourth round and QB Brad Kaaya in the sixth. Roberts is another big bodied TE (6’4 and 270 lbs.) with plus hands. He’s going to be a scoring factor in the red zone while improving the team in blocking. Roberts doesn’t have an edge in speed and needs to improve his route running. Kaaya has a pro feel to him with vision and a quick release. His arm needs more velocity and he has to throw the heater when he sees a small window for a completion. Sneaky project who landed in a good spot.

Before drafting Roberts in the fourth round, Detroit went back to the linebacker position – Jalen Reeves-Maybin. He's got solid vision with a good feel for the developing play, but he lacks the size (6’0” and 230 Lbs.) to defeat lineman if caught in traffic. His best value will come attacking the line of scrimmage when he has a free run. Jalen should handle himself well in pass coverage. He missed some of the 2016 season with a shoulder injury.

CB Jamal Agnew was Detroit's first of three picks in the fifth round. He has the speed (4.4) to have success at the next level, but his lack of size (5’10” and 185 Lbs.) limits his upside until he adds more strength and improves his technique.

Their last two swings at improving the defense both came on the defensive line with DE Jeremiah Ledbetter and DE Pat O’Connor. Ledbetter will disrupt off the snap, but he doesn’t have the pass rushing skills to play outside or the bulk to play every down on the inside. His best path to playing time will be to more strength and size. O’Connor projects as an early down option against the run.

Offensive Line

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Detroit struggled to run the ball in 2016 (1,310 yards – 30th) due to a low number of rushing attempts (21.9 per game) and yards per rushing attempt (3.7). They scored nine TDs with only six runs over 20 yards. The Lions had 48 negative runs and 35 rushes over 10 yards.

They ranked 11th in passing yards (4,111) with 24 passing TDs and 10 Ints. Their offensive line allowed 37 sacks.

LT Greg Robinson will to try to revive his career after getting traded to the Lions. Last year he had risk on way too many plays while committing too many penalties. Other than being a former first round pick (2014), his game looks to offer losing upside. The Lions made this move after losing Taylor Decker for about half of the season with a shoulder injury that required surgery in June.

LG Graham Glasgow is expected to move to guard after getting drafted in the third round in 2016. Glasgow has limitation in his blocking area due to minimal quickness and questionable foot speed. He plays with power and he has the ability to play multiple positions. His value will come in the power running game. Last year he struggled in his limited playing time. He’ll battle Laken Tomlinson who is a former first round pick (2015) with two years on his resume.

C Travis Swanson had his best season of his career after struggling in his first two years in the league. He missed four games in 2016 due to a bad concussion.

RG T.J. Lang has been a plus player in each of the last three seasons thanks to the decision making by Aaron Rodgers. He’ll be the first asset on this line.

RT Ricky Wagner has two plus seasons on his four-year resume after being selected in the fifth round in 2013.

It's tough to believe this line will be better than league average unless a couple of player take big steps forward. Matthew Stafford will get rid of the ball quickly to avoid sacks, but the run game may have another slow season in production.

Offensive Schedule

The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).

This information is based on 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.

2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2016.

2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL last year.

2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.

The Lions have five games (ARI, NYG, BAL, and MIN X 2) against teams with strength in their rushing defense. Their best matchup is against the Browns.

They have seven games (ARI, MIN X 2, CHI X 2, CIN, and BAL) that grade above the league average in pass defense. Their best three matchups look to be against the Falcons, Saints, and Panthers. It appears the NFC South will struggle this season defending the pass.

Defense

The Lions tied the Browns for the least amount of rushing attempts (350) in the league while running the ball only 37.1 percent of the time. The poor offensive line points to continued failure in the run game leading to Stafford airing the ball out in many games.

Quarterbacks

QB Matthew Stafford

http://www.scout.com/player/61723-matthew-stafford?s=532

For the second straight season, Stafford failed to attempt over 600 passes after doing so in each of the previous four years in the league, highlighted by 2011 (663) and 2012 (727) when he led the league. His completion rate (65.3) remained strong and he threw a career low 10 Ints. Over the past six years, Stafford has been an every other year player in passing TDs (41, 20, 29, 22, 32, and 24) while passing for over 4,200 yards in each year. Even with a high number of throws in most years, his yards per pass attempt have been just above league average over the last four seasons (7.3, 7.1, 7.2, and 7.3). In 2016, he had over 300 yards passing in four games and four games with three TDs or more (none over his last 10 games). His receiving core is great, but Stafford will use all of his resources. I would consider him a league average Fantasy option at QB with a chance at 4,500 passing yards with over 25 combined TDs.

Other Options: Jake Ruddock, Brad Kaaya

Running Backs

RB Ameer Abdullah

http://www.scout.com/player/143895-ameer-abdullah?s=532

In Week 1, Abdullah had 120 combined yards with a TD and five catches. Unfortunately, he suffered a left foot injury the next week, effectively ending his season. Abdullah was nothing more than a trap for Fantasy owners in 2015 as the Lions’ backfield turned into a three-way split. He finished with 168 touches for 680 yards with three TDs and 25 catches. Abdullah had fewer than 20 touches in each game and only two games with more than 75 combined yards (Week 1 – 94 yards with four catches and a TD and Week 14 – 89 yards with a TD and two catches). In his four seasons at Nebraska, Abdullah ran for 4,588 yards on 813 carries with 39 TDs. He also caught 73 passes for 690 yards with seven TDs. His explosiveness was showcased in four homes games in 2014 when Ameer ran for over 200 yards in each game (21/232 and one TD, 35/229 and three TDs, 22/208 and three TDs, and 19/225 and three TDs). Abdullah was the best RB in five different skills at his year’s NFL combine where he flashed his great athletic ability. He lacks size (5’9” and 205 Lbs.), but he has plus strength and electric quickness. The key for the Lions will be getting him into space where he can take advantage of his playmaking ability. His acceleration gives him a huge edge over the first 20 yards, but his top end speed is only league average. Abdullah has great vision with enough strength to break tackles. In his 53-game college career, he had 23 fumbles with 16 lost to the other team. In 2014 in college, he had four fumbles (two lost) on his 286 touches. I love his feel for the game once he breaks into the open field. The offseason reports have been positive and the Lions believe he’ll be a difference maker this year. I expect him to make a run at 50+ catches with 225+ carries. This adds up to about 1,300 combined yards but with a limited number of TDs.

RB Theo Riddick

http://www.scout.com/player/98534-theo-riddick?s=532

The injury to Abdullah led to Riddick getting the best opportunity of his career on early downs. He rushed for 357 yards and a TD on 92 carries over 10 games of the season with continued value in the passing game (53/371). He missed two games due to an ankle issue plus four games with a pair of wrist injuries which required surgery. More than halfway through June, Riddick still wasn’t fully recovered from his wrist surgeries. His game has the best value working in the passing game, but Abdullah will be more active in that area in 2017. Riddick's catch total will fade to the 60 area (he caught 80 in 2015) with about 550 combined yards and a handful of passing TDs.

RB Zach Zenner

http://www.scout.com/player/197120-zach-zenner?s=532

Over three seasons at South Dakoda St., Zenner rushed for over 2,000 yards in each year (300/2044, 351/2015, and 337/2019) while scoring 58 rushing TDs. He even chipped in with 77 catches for 779 yards and six TDs in the passing game. He had starting snaps in three games last year for the Lions (77 combined yards with two catches, 92 combined yards with two TDs and two catches, and 110 yards with a TD and four catches) to at least throw his name in the mix for touches, especially on early downs if Abdullah has an issue. At the very least, Zenner may be the short yardage and goal line back on the roster.

Other options: Dwayne Washington, Mike James, Matt Asiata

Wide Receivers

WR Golden Tate

http://www.scout.com/player/81053-golden-tate?s=532

Five weeks into the 2016 season, Fantasy owners were sick of the lack of production by Tate. He only had 17 catches for 134 yards and no TDs on 31 targets. He exploded in Week 6 (8/165/1) leading to a great finish to the year over the last 11 games (74/943/4 on 104 targets). Tate had two other games with over 100 yards receiving (8/145/1 and 8/122). He had six catches or more in nine of his last 11 games, setting a solid floor in PPR leagues. He now has three straight seasons with 90 catches in Detroit plus two seasons with over 1,000 yards receiving. Nice steady piece to the puzzle who needs more TDs to offer impact value over the long haul. Possible 100+ catches for 1,100 yards and seven TDs.

Note: His final catch in 2016 for six yards delivered a $150,000 check to Kimra Schleicher in Fantasy Football World Championship. 

WR Marvin Jones

http://www.scout.com/player/96995-marvin-jones?s=532

Fantasy owners had a lot of love for Jones in the season long drafts last season. He sure looked like a steal after the first three games (4/85, 8/118, 6/205/2 with 29 targets). Over his last 11 games of the year, Jones had four catches or fewer in 10 games with no TDs in his last nine starts. He missed one game due to a quad injury. Jones ended up with the same number of targets (103) as he did in 2015 with a shorter catch rate (53.4) while flashing more big play ability (16.9 yards per catch). He now has over 50 catches in his last three seasons played with growth in his receiving yards in his last two years (816 and 930). Only a WR4 for me with big play ability at times with a chance at a 70/10000/7 if he offered more consistency.

WR Kenny Golladay

http://www.scout.com/player/213771-kenny-golladay?s=532

Over two seasons at Northern Illinois, he caught 160 passes for 2,285 yards with 18 TDs. He’ll instantly gives Stafford a scoring threat in the red zone. Until he improves his route running, Golladay will work as a deep threat on the outside while adding value on slants and screen type plays. Golladay has an excellent combination of size (6’4” and 218 lbs.), speed (4.5 40-yard dash), and hands. Once he improves his technique and release, he will rise to the WR1 slot on this roster.

WR Tai-ler (T.J.) Jones

http://www.scout.com/player/120019-tai-ler-jones?s=532

Jones was expected to be a perfect fit for the Lions’ offense. He is a slot receiver with very good route running skills and hands. In his senior season at Notre Dame, he caught 70 passes for 1108 yards and 9 TDs. He has NFL average WR speed with solid quickness. He was drafted in the sixth round in 2014, which doesn't paint a pretty picture for his opportunity. He missed all of 2014 season with a lingering shoulder issue.  T.J. caught 10 passes for 132 yards and a TD on 18 targets in his second year in the league with a shorter opportunity in 2016 (5/93). At this point of his career, Jones has a lot to prove.

Other options: Ryan Spadola, Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis, Keshawn Martin, Michael Rector

Tight Ends

TE Eric Ebron

http://www.scout.com/player/136177-eric-ebron?s=532

After a slow development in his first two years in the league (25/248/1 and 47/537/5) after getting drafted in the first round in 2014, Ebron was on pace to be a top 12 TE last year. He caught 61 of his 85 targets for 711 yards and a TD while missing three games with a knee and ankle injury. Ebron had two games with double digit targets, but he didn’t score a TD over his last 12 games. His best three games came on the road (7/79, 7/92, and 8/93). On the year, Ebron averaged 6.5 targets per game. He’ll start the year at age 24 with three years of experience, which bodes well for his upside going forward. Last year, Detroit completed 67 passes to the TE position for 756 yards and one TD on 93 targets. Stafford likes to throw to the TE so there is more upside here if Eric can stay healthy. His next step is 80+ catches for 900+ yards with growth in TDs.

TE Michael Roberts

http://www.scout.com/player/156446-michael-roberts?s=532

Over his last two seasons at Toledo, Roberts caught 66 passes for 767 yards and 20 TDs, highlighted by his 2016 season (45/533/16). Roberts will add value in blocking and scoring in his first year in the league. His presence may help the running game when the Lions run two-TE sets.

Other options: Darren Fells, Cole Wick, Khari Lee

Kicker

Matt Prater

http://www.scout.com/player/28649-matt-prater?s=532

There’s one thing a Fantasy owner should know about Prater; he’s one of the best legs from long range. Last season he made all seven of his kicks from 50 yards or longer with elite success in Detroit (15-for-18) and 36-for-45 in his career (80 percent). Matt made 83.1 percent of his field goals in his career with improved success in three of the last four seasons (96.2, 91.7, and 86.1). 2016 was his best opportunity in both chance (36) and made FGs (31). Prater is 67 for 72 in extra points over the last two years. I like his opportunity to kick many field goals this year. The Lions will move the ball while stalling in the red zone with a weak rushing offense due to risk in their offensive line. Viable swing as a top 12 kicker with matchup value.

Defensive Schedule

The Lions have a favorable schedule for their run defense, but they will be tested in the passing game. They have four games (NYG, BAL, and MIN X 2) vs. teams that struggled to run the ball in 2016 while the Vikings did add talent at the RB position. The rest of their matchups in the run game look neutral with the exception of the Falcons, who have one of the elite rushing attacks in the NFL.

Most of Detroit's risk against the pass will come against NO and ATL while the Packers (2), Steelers, and the Cardinals have strength throwing the ball. The only game with a clear edge is against Cleveland.

Defense

Detroit finished 18th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (1,701) in 2016, but they only allowed eight rushing TDs. Ball carriers gained 4.4 yards per carry with seven runs over 20 yards.

This defense ranked 19th in passing yards allowed (3,975) with 33 passing TDs and 10 Ints. The Lions only had 26 sacks with QBs gaining 7.5 yards per pass attempt.

The best three players on the defense in 2016 all came from the secondary. CB Darius Slay has two straight strong seasons with 2016 being a slight step back from 2015. Last year, Slay had a drop off in tackles (44) due to three missed games with a hamstring injury. Earlier in his career, S Glover Quin offered more value in pass coverage and value in his tackling. That being said, he still grades in the top third in the league at his position. Quin hasn’t missed a game over his last seven years. S Tavon Wilson took a huge step forward in his value in tackles (89) with his first career sack and two interceptions. The Patriots drafted him in the second round in 2012. CB Nevin Lawson had his best season of his career in 2016 when he posted 57 tackles and nine defended passes. His final results came in just below the league average.

USA TODAY photo

DE Ezekiel Ansah failed to make an impact in 2016 after recording a career high 14.5 sacks in 2015. The Lions drafted him in the first round in 2013. He did play through a high ankle sprain but it led to poor results. Undrafted DE Kerry Hyder played well in his second season in the league leading to eight sacks with neutral value against the run. DT Haloti Ngata failed to live up to expectations. His previous resume as a run stopper is fading and he only provided 1.5 sacks. He had a career low 22 tackles. Ngata's game offered an edge for eight seasons with the Ravens, but he looks to be at the end of his career at age 33. Detroit needs him to bounce back in a big way to improve against the run. Ngata did suffer a shoulder injury in early October leading to three missed games and less value. The Lions need DT A’Shawn Robinson to take a leap forward after getting drafted in the second round in 2016. He has the perfect foundation and frame to offer elite upside, but his pass rushing moves are limited while his base should work well as a run defender. His game has high upside if/when he adds more explosiveness to his pass rush.

LB Paul Worrilow had huge tackle totals in 2013 (127) and 2014 (142) while adding four sacks, but a groin injury in 2016 led to minimal playing time over the first 12 games. At the very least, he’ll add strength to the bench if this season’s rookies don’t live up to expectations. The Lions expect first round draft pick Jarrad Davis to man the middle linebacker position. His best value will come against the run but he needs to improve his ability to read developing plays. LB Tahir Whitehead had a team-high 132 tackles in his fifth season in the NFL but recorded no sacks. Even with an uptick in production, his game offers more risk than reward. A move to outside to linebacker may help him regain some value in 2017.

The second level of the defense has the most risk while the defensive line will be the key to improvement in 2017. Detroit needs a better pass rush, which will help shorten the window for their secondary. Ansah is the player expected to help in this area. The Lions also need the interior line to do their job against the run. A bounce back season by Ngata would be huge while Robinson needs to show growth. Overall, they have enough pieces to have success in many games. Detroit doesn’t have one impact player on this defense so it will take a team effort to rank highly this year. Possible second defense in the Fantasy market with some matchup value. 


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