Detroit Lions Running Backs
Kevin Smith – The Lions selected Smith in the third round of this year’s draft. The former University of Central Florida standout has impressed in training camp and could develop into a solid starter for the Lions. Smith has great vision and is a capable between-the-tackles runner. He is a solid blocker, which will give him more opportunities to be on the field. Smith does lack top-end speed.
From a fantasy perspective, Smith is an intriguing option because of his potential status as a starting running back. Also, the Lions’ new commitment to the running game will aide him in having a productive season. Smith is generally being selected around the sixth round. This places him ahead of players such as Fred Taylor and DeAngelo Williams – making him a slightly risky selection. There is no doubt that Smith has upside, but shouldn’t be considered anything more than a No. 3 or No. 4 option at running back. So, if a fantasy owner uses their first two selections on running backs and next three on a quarterback and two receivers they would have to choose between adding a player such as Smith or perhaps adding a tight end such as Jeremy Schockey, Chris Cooley or Dallas Clark.
Smith is a risky selection due to the more experienced and proven players that can be had with a similar pick. He will play behind an offensive line that hasn’t fully grasped the new zone-blocking scheme it is using and may be inconsistent in his production because of it. Smith is by far the best running back option on the Lions’ roster for your fantasy team, he just may be better selected in the seventh or eighth round.
Rudi Johnson - Johnson has signed a one-year deal with the Lions and is expected to start the season as Smith's backup. It is possible that Johnson can become the starter but the job is Smith's to lose. Johnson is coming off the worst season of his professional career, rushing for 497 yards and only three touchdowns in 11 games (9 starts). He also had a horrible 2.9 yards-per-carry average. Johnson will enter his eighth season looking to re-establish himself as a reliable back and regain the form that saw him rush for over 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns three consecutive years.
Advice - With the news that Johnson has finally found a home - and will be playing behind a rookie third-round pick - expect to see an increase in fantasy value. It also cannot be forgotten that Johnson will have less than a week to learn a new playbook and build chemistry with a new supporting cast before he sees his first action. If Johnson shows no signs of the hamstring injury that has bothered him recently, he could have some decent value - but that most likely wouldn't show itself until after the first few weeks. Don't count on Johnson to carry your team but looking at him as a No. 4 or No. 5 back (if you have proven starters ahead of him) can't hurt.
Detroit Lions Quarterbacks
Jon Kitna – Of the Lions quarterbacks, Kitna is the sole owner of any fantasy value. Since joining the Lions in 2006, Kitna has thrown for 8,276 yards with 39 touchdowns and 42 interceptions – respectable numbers that would be much better if not for the extremely high interception totals. In 2008, expect Kitna’s interception totals to decline but his yardage may decline as well. The Lions are committed to running the ball, so Kitna’s attempts should see a large decrease after averaging over 570 attempts over the last two seasons.
Advice – Kitna is being drafted as a No. 2 quarterback in most leagues and could give a fantasy team good depth and a decent situational starter. With all the changes in the Lions’ offensive philosophy, it is difficult to predict Kitna’s exact fantasy value. It is no secret that his attempts will drop but could that actually have a positive effect on his production? Kitna will be throwing more to the team’s biggest playmakers (Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson) which could result in fewer mistakes with comparable production. Also, even though the Lions attend to run the ball often, whether or not the Lions will have success on the ground remains to be seen. Kitna is an intriguing option as a fantasy backup with upside. Kitna is being selected between rounds 11-14 and is generally the 18th quarterback off the board. Acquiring Kitna is this area of the draft comes with little risk and could be a solid selection.
Dan Orlovsky – The Lions’ drafted Orlovsky in 2005, intending for him to be a long-term solution as either a starter or backup. Orlovsky hasn’t shown much to suggest he would ever fulfill the Lions expectations and potentially could see his time expire in Detroit as Drew Stanton may be the better prospect. Orlovsky has appeared in only two games throughout his career and has thrown only 17 passes.
Advice – Orlovsky has no fantasy value now and appears to have very little in the long term as well.
Drew Stanton – Stanton was drafted in the second round of the 2007 draft by the Lions. Stanton missed all of last season after being placed on injured reserve and essentially enters 2008 as a rookie. The Lions hope that the 24 year old can be the eventual starter after Kitna leaves but whether or not that hope comes to fruition remains to be seen.
Advice – Stanton has even less immediate fantasy value than Orlovsky. With that said, Stanton may become the eventual starter in Detroit and could develop into a good fantasy prospect but it won’t be this year.