2014 Fantasy Football Team Preview: The Detroit Lions
Note: This piece was originally written on July 15th by Andrew Miller and is one of many unique pieces that can be found in our 2014 fantasy football draft guide. None of this information has been updated since it was originally published.
Detroit took several steps to improving its football team this offseason both through additions on the field and on the sideline. The Lions traded for Golden Tate and drafted tight end Eric Ebron out of North Carolina with the 10th overall pick. Jim Caldwell was hired as head coach after being Peyton Manning’s quarterback coach during Indy’s championship season in 2006 and Baltimore’s offensive coordinator in its title-winning season. Joining Caldwell is new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, formerly of New Orleans where he spent seven years as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach. Detroit’s offseason moves should improve most if not all production on the field this season.
With the new additions, Matthew Stafford could come close to matching his 2011 numbers of over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. The 26-year-old has averaged 4,885 yards and 30 touchdowns in his last three years while playing in every game. He’s also ranked first, first and fourth, respectively, in attempts the last three seasons. Along with his two new pass-catchers he’s still got the best receiver in the game, as well as two special pass-catchers at running back who both caught over 50 balls last year. Even with a high number of mistakes, Stafford had multiple touchdowns in nine of his first 12 games last year. Stafford has plenty of things going for him, and he’s a great value as the fourth or fifth quarterback off the board.
Reggie Bush tallied 1,512 total yards last year while Joique Bell finished with 1,197 total yards. The two backs finished in the top 16 at their position in standard scoring. We know about Bush’s health history – he’s only played a full season in two of eight seasons – and Bell had offseason knee surgery. But being in an explosive offense and able to contribute on the ground and through the air makes both backs worth the risk. Bush has averaged over 1,000 rushing yards and over seven touchdowns in his last three seasons. Bell was mostly touchdown-dependent on the ground, but in half of his games he finished with at least four receptions. He’s also Detroit’s goal-line back so the touchdowns should continue to be there for him. Both are steady options who should provide good value at their respective draft positions, around the third for Bush as an RB2 and the fifth for Bell as a flex.
Calvin Johnson has been as steady as they come in any fantasy sport in the past four seasons. He’s averaged around 1,550 receiving yards in those seasons, reaching double-digits in touchdowns thrice. In 14 games last year he reached 100 yards seven times and had a casual 329-yard receiving day against Dallas. It’s surprising he’s not considered the No. 1 pick in drafts. He shouldn’t slip past the fifth pick. Golden Tate should have a career year in his first year in Detroit while helping Megatron post even better numbers. Tate posted career-highs in catches (64) and yards (898) in a run-heavy offense. His new quarterback threw the ball over 200 more times than Russell Wilson did last year. His production was a bit inconsistent last year, but that was due to Seattle’s offense and not Tate. He should be a weekly producer this year as a very high-end WR3.
Rookie Eric Ebron should provide some impact this season, but for most rookie tight ends it’s hard to be a consistent producer. He should have plenty of room to work in the middle of the field due to the plethora of weapons surrounding him. He’s worth a later pick to be a starter in deeper leagues, but if he gets off to a slow start don’t be afraid to cut him and pick up a boring veteran off the wire. They should be able to be somewhat more consistent than Ebron. However, in dynasty or keeper leagues Ebron should have a lot more value as once he gets up to speed in the NFL he should be a dynamic player. If Ebron struggles, Brandon Pettigrew will again see playing time, but the 29-year-old has seen most of his numbers fall in the past two seasons. He lacks any type of ability with the ball so he shouldn’t be a factor on a fantasy squad this year.
The Lions defense definitely has its fair share of studs, but, with most if not all of the same players, this unit ranked 20th in fantasy scoring last year. This unit is best used as a matchup play sporadically considering they play four games against high-scoring units from Chicago and Green Bay.
Player to Watch
Golden Tate could be a true breakout this year. Tate should see plenty of single coverage, and the former Seahawk has the speed and ball skills to beat most corners. Just on usage alone Tate should set career marks in a lot of categories, but with his skill he could surpass a lot of expectations.
Calvin Johnson has 26 100-yard receiving games in the past three seasons, and he also has six games of 200 or more receiving yards. His 329-yard outburst last season against Dallas was the first time a receiver had gone over 300 yards in a game since 1985. Megatron is a once-in-a-lifetime receiver who can single-handedly win your matchup for you. You could say that for about four other non-quarterbacks in the league. Don’t hesitate to draft Johnson as early as you want.