OK, so there's more to the Lions' fantasy preview than just their marquee wide receiver. It's no secret that the Lions had a dismal 2008 season, but from a fantasy perspective there were some points to be had from the worst team in NFL history.
As a new coaching staff, and the top overall draft pick, get used to the Motor City, there are certainly going to be growing pains for the players, coaches and fans. But there might be some smiles for fantasy owners.
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford
2008 Numbers: n/a Rookie
2009 Projections: 240-440 (54.5%) 2,800 yards 18 TDs 13 INTs
Stafford, the Number One overall pick in this year's draft might have won the starting job over Daunte Culepper as much because Culpepper can't stay on the field (or stay effective) as he did because of his play. But there's a strong chance that the Lions won't allow the face of their future to get too beat up on another season that doesn't look like a winner.
Stafford likely won't be asked to throw the ball a ton, and will likely lose some snaps to Culpepper along the way, but as long as he has Megatron (Johnson) to catch anything near him he'll get some touchdowns.
The Lions really lack a number two (or three... or four...) receiver, so Johnson will be the focal point of every secondary the Lions play this year. Stafford also has a history of being a little bit of a happy-chucking throw first and ask questions later quarterback, so his touchdown-interception ratio might be near even.
Running Back: Kevin Smith SLEEPER
2008 Numbers: Rushing – 238 att 976 yards 4.1 yds/carry Receiving – 39 rec 286 yards 8 total TDs
2009 Projections: Rushing – 330 att 1,250 yards 3.8 yds/carry Receiving – 40 rec 300 yards 11 total TDs
Because Detroit had such a bad overall season last year, and because Chicago's Matt Forte's numbers across the board were so strong, Smith disappeared in the Lions' mess. Many people forget that, at the beginning of last year, the Lions had Rudi Johnson penciled in as their starting running back. Despite only 238 carries, Smith almost cracked 1,000 yards.
In 2009 there are a number of factors that should lead any fantasy owner to feel good about Smith as second running back. The biggest reason is his increased workload both because of his full-time starter status and Stafford's learning curve. The other huge reason the Lions will need Smith to produce is to keep safeties honest and not allow teams to single out Johnson in the passing game. Smith is an above average receiver, which could score points as well.
The Lions will have a rookie quarterback and two weapons, Smith and Johnson, for teams to game plan for this year. Teams might opt to load up the box and force the rookie to beat them with his arm, which could hurt Smith's yards per carry. The future looks bright for Smith, but he's going to have to earn every yard until Stafford shows he can beat people.
Wide Receiver: Calvin Johnson
2008 Numbers: 78 rec 1,331 yards 12 TDs
2009 Projections: 95 rec 1,600 yards 12 TDs
What's scary for opponents is Johnson, who was Detroit's only respected offensive player for most of last year, still went over 1,300 yards and had 12 touchdowns, now has a young gun quarterback to get him the ball and a running back, Smith, who will force teams to pay attention to the running game.
The Lions are going to be bad again in 2009, so Culpepper/Stafford are going to be asked to throw the ball a lot. If the ball's in the air, there's a good chance Megatron's going to catch it. He could have an incredible fantasy season in Detroit again this year.
Pretty much everything I said about Smith holds true here. If Johnson has a huge season it will be because a rookie quarterback is making plays and Smith avoids a sophomore slump. He's going to draw a double team every time the ball is snapped, but he did for most of last year and look at his numbers.
Tight End: Brandon Pettitgrew
2008 Numbers: n/a Rookie
2009 Projections: 35 rec 300 yards 5 TDs
He might be a nice pick up for a bye week, and might become one of Stafford's best friends in the red zone over time, but as a rookie I wouldn't expect a ton of production.
Johnson's going to get the ball all day. Pettitgrew will be the quarterback's third option most of the time, and considering the Lions' line, whether it's Stafford or Culpepper, the quarterback might not last that long in the pocket.
2008 Numbers: really, really bad
2009 Projections: probably not a whole lot better than last year
Maybe valuable in a league that scores for return yards?
They upgraded in a number of places, but they're still a bad unit. Don't waste a roster spot on the Lions' defense.