Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Lions Fantasy Preview

Friday, June 23, 2017


Lions Offensive Profile Under Jim Caldwell

2014-2016 Pass Attempts Rank: 11th, 4th, 11th
2014-2016 Rush Attempts Rank: 25th, 30th, 31st
2014-2016 Play Volume Rank: 11th, 17th, 29th
2014-2016 Yards Per Play Rank: 21st, 20th, 17th
Unaccounted for Targets from 2016 (Rank): 128 (13th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2016 (Rank): 13 (29th)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Matthew Stafford
RB: Ameer Abdullah
WR: Golden Tate
WR: Marvin Jones
WR: Kenny Golladay
TE: Eric Ebron
LT: Joe Dahl
LG: Graham Glasgow
C: Travis Swanson
RG: T.J. Lang
RT: Rick Wagner

Passing Game Outlook

A popular 2016 breakout pick after his fast 2015 finish under OC Jim Bob Cooter, Matthew Stafford was instead held back by middling post-Calvin Johnson receiver play and an offense that planned to play up tempo but was forced to press the brake pedal in-season due to a swiss-cheese defense. The slow-paced Lions wound up 29th in play volume, resorting to a short-pass offense to keep the chains and clock moving and their defense off the field. Beyond his post-NFL Lockout 41-touchdown explosion with Megatron in 2011, Stafford has consistently been a QB7-15 range fantasy finisher lacking difference-making scoring ability but providing safe floors with the occasional blowup game. Particularly following the loss of LT Taylor Decker (shoulder), another season of clock-milking short- to intermediate-range passing seems likely from the Lions, whose defense didn’t get appreciably better. Stafford’s QB14 (MFL10s) and QB15 (FF Calc) ADPs are fair but not exciting. Stafford is just a replacement-level late-round QB at this point.

Golden Tate began 2016 playing so poorly he got benched in Week 4. Finally busting his slump in Week 6 after Cooter promised to feed Tate more targets, Tate exploded for a 74/943/4 receiving line over the final 11 games. He drew double-digit targets seven times in that span after failing to reach 10 in each of the first five weeks. It took too long, but the Lions identified Tate as their best option for a clock-milking offensive approach. It should be noted that Tate benefited from Theo Riddick’s six-game absence with an average of 10.3 targets versus 7.3 targets per game with Riddick active. Nevertheless, Tate should be one of this year’s safest fantasy picks in the fourth to sixth rounds with 90-plus catches all three years in Detroit and PPR finishes of WR11 (2014), WR24 (2015), and WR17 (2016). Anquan Boldin’s departure is expected to kick Tate back into the slot, where his quicks and run-after-catch skills are best highlighted and Tate can rack up high-percentage receptions against what is typically the defense’s weakest corner. Per Next Gen Stats, Tate averaged 3.48 yards of separation on slot routes last season, versus just 2.34 separation yards outside. Tate is a high-floor investment at WR24 (MFL10s) and WR25 (FF Calc) ADPs.

Whereas Tate was one of last year’s biggest early-season busts, Marvin Jones was last year’s biggest early-season tease. Jones peeled off a league-best 18/408/2 receiving line in Weeks 1-3, then dudded out with zero 100-yard performances and 8-of-12 games below 50 yards thereafter. Jones caught a bunch of fortunate breaks in the first three weeks, but his dramatic downturn may have at least been partly caused by a series of nagging injuries. Jones appeared on the injury report six times with different ailments, including hamstring, foot, thigh, and quad. He missed Week 13 with a thigh injury. Jones simply struggled to get open and has always been best suited for a complementary role, which he played at Cal behind Keenan Allen and on the Bengals with A.J. Green. Still a relatively young (27), job-secure starter on a team that plays indoors and has finished 11th or higher in pass attempts all three years under Jim Caldwell, Jones has some post-hype potential as a double-digit-round draft target. In the month of June, Jones’ ADPs are WR47 on Fantasy Football Calculator and WR53 in best-ball MFL10s.

The 2016 Lions ranked second in the NFL in three-receiver sets on pass plays (93%) and fourth in “11 personnel” used overall (75%). The 2017 Lions hope to run more two-tight end sets to turn Eric Ebron into a full-time receiver and have blocker Darren Fells help Detroit’s offensive tackles on the line. Either way, this is likely to remain a majority three-wideout offense with third-round pick Kenny Golladay emerging at OTAs/minicamp as the front-runner to join Tate and Jones in “11” sets. Built big (6’4/218) with 4.5-flat speed and 66th-percentile SPARQ athleticism, Golladay dropped just 5-of-165 catchable targets (PFF) at Northern Illinois and topped 1,000 yards twice despite playing with five different quarterbacks. While not a realistic re-draft consideration yet, Golladay’s Dynasty stock has deservedly risen as a serious candidate for early playing time in an otherwise mediocre Detroit receiver corps.

Eric Ebron probably never should have been a top-ten NFL draft pick, but after three years he probably shouldn’t be considered the “bust” he’s been called in some evaluation circles. Still only 24 years old, Ebron has delivered improved counting and rate stats each season he’s been in the league. He set career highs in catch rate (71.8%), yards per catch (11.7), and yards per target (8.4) in 2016 and finished top ten among tight ends in both receptions (61) and yards (711) despite missing three games. Ebron’s fantasy production disappointed only because he scored one touchdown after scoring five times on 15 fewer targets the year prior. Boosting Ebron’s scoring outlook is the departure of Anquan Boldin, who dwarfed Ebron in red-zone targets (22 to 6) and targets inside the ten-yard line (9 to 3). On a team missing the NFL’s 13th-most overall targets from last year with a huge void in scoring position, Ebron is a prime breakout candidate with late-round upside at his TE12 (MFL10s) and TE14 (FF Calculator) ADPs.

Running Game Outlook

Ameer Abdullah followed a solid-if-unspectacular rookie season with an 18/101/5.6/0 rushing line and 5/57/1 receiving in the first six quarters of 2016. He suffered a Lisfranc tear halfway through Week 2 and underwent year-ending surgery. Abdullah fully participated at OTAs/minicamp and is on track to regain feature back duties over Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, and Dwayne Washington. The top SPARQ running back in the 2015 draft class – ahead of even David Johnson – Abdullah’s skill level and versatility have never been in doubt, but he has struggled with ball security since college due at least partially to abnormally small hands (8 5/8”), now faces durability concerns, and has an uncertain role in passing situations and scoring position. Riddick is locked in as the Lions’ primary receiving back, while Zenner (6’0/223), Washington (6’1/223), and career short-yardage specialist Matt Asiata (5’11/229) are all threats to smallish Abdullah’s (5’9/205) goal-line opportunities. While Abdullah offers dynamic open-field playmaking ability, it’s fair to question his ceiling as an early-down back who may struggle to catch many passes or score many touchdowns. With June ADPs of RB21 (MFL10s) and RB24 (FF Calculator), Abdullah is going ahead of Riddick, Mark Ingram, Bilal Powell, and Danny Woodhead, each of whom has posted at least one top-24 PPR finish since Abdullah entered the NFL.

Because injuries cost Theo Riddick six games and Abdullah 14 last year, Riddick’s 2015 season probably paints a more prognosticative picture for 2017 with Abdullah healthy. Riddick finished that year as the PPR RB18 with 80 catches, and his receptions-per-game average (5.0) held steady into last season (5.3). Riddick can’t run inside a lick – he’s yet to crack 4.0 yards per carry through four years in the NFL – but Riddick is beloved by Lions coaches and has job security after landing a three-year, $12.75 million extension last September. One potentially major but so-far largely ignored concern is that Riddick underwent surgery on both wrists after last season and missed all of spring practices. The Lions do not publicly divulge injury information, so Riddick’s health could remain a mystery into training camp. Nevertheless, Riddick has posted consecutive top-25 finishes in per-game PPR points and will offer value at his RB33 (MFL10s) and RB35 (FF Calc) ADPs if healthy. Riddick’s value is much less in non-PPR leagues.

2017 Vegas Win Total

Detroit’s 2017 Win Total is 8.0 games with a lean toward the under (-130), which I believe is indeed the smart play here. Last year’s 9-7 Lions were among the league’s biggest overachievers relative to their Pythagorean Win Expectation (7.6-7.7), while GM Bob Quinn’s offseason moves were uninspiring with a focus on low-impact off-ball linebackers rather than improving a poor pass rush and middling secondary on defense. Losing stud LT Taylor Decker dealt a colossal blow to an offensive line that looked like it had a chance to take a big step forward. Rated 11th-hardest by Rotoworld SOS analyst Warren Sharp, the Lions’ schedule consists of the tough AFC North and high-scoring NFC South plus the Cardinals (home) and Giants (away). I prefer Detroit’s odds of finishing in the 6-7 win range far more than winning 9-10.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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