Despite the fact that there are many NFL and fantasy football fans who pick over offseason news with a fine-tooth comb, we understand that there are still a lot of you out there who simply don't have time to keep up with player movements or the happenings of each team. That's why yours truly is here to give you the lowdown on the recent 2014 news of each team, both AFC and NFC and how it impacts your fantasy football league/team.
I thought I would do something a little bit different this time. Instead of loading up information on all four teams from each division in one article, I'd like to break down each team in each division for the NFC. This week, I'll cover a Detroit Lions offense, who added several key ingredients that might finally put them in the playoff hunt.
After 5 seasons, a record of 29-51 and one playoff appearance that wound up being a loss in the first round, the Lions front office had finally had enough of Jim Schwartz and let him go December 30, 2013. It should come as no surprise as the Lions have been floundering for years in the NFC North. Between coaching changes and less-than-stellar draft picks, 2014 begins yet another "era" with former Ravens OC Jim Caldwell named as head coach. Along with Caldwell, the Lions also hired on Joe Lombardi as the new offensive coordinator. Lombardi brings some prestige with him as he had worked with QB Drew Brees from 2007-2013 as a member of the Saints.
The question now is can Lombardi fix Matthew Stafford, who has been on the cusp of greatness, but has sorely lacked strong coaching?
If you look at Stafford's stats over the past three seasons, clearly he is ranked as one of the top fantasy quarterbacks over that time period. With an average of 4,885 passing yards and 30 scores from 2011-2013, one can't argue he is one of the best in fantasy football. But where Stafford clearly needs help is with his interceptions. His pick number has grown from 16 to 17 to 19 over the same three years. That's not a good number for owners in leagues where interceptions carry a high point loss. In fact, Stafford was third-to-last in picks amongst quarterbacks who threw for over 4,000 yards. Bengals QB Andy Dalton finished with 20 and Cardinals QB Carson Palmer came in last with 22. Stafford's 58.5 completion percentage was also the lowest of his career since his rookie season. The Lions have already made steps in correcting this.
The first thing the Lions and Caldwell wanted to do was work on his mechanics. The previous regime didn't care as much about Stafford's footwork because Stafford was throwing a high number of yards and scores. But in order to push down that interception total, Caldwell, Lombardi and new QBs coach Jim Bob Cooter, who spent 2013 in Denver, have already started the process. According to the Detroit Free Press, Lombardi is happy with Stafford's mechanics progress so far.
"Like most quarterbacks, when his feet are right, the passes are usually right," Lombardi said.
This means great things for a player who was already tabbed as a QB1 before last season ended. The Lions are also slowly expected to give Stafford more freedom to change plays at the line of scrimmage. Not only with this allow guys like Calvin Johnson and others a better chance to make plays, but will allow the Lions to move the offense faster than it has before.
Like I said, Stafford is clearly a QB1. He has been the past several seasons just from the stats I listed above. But with better footwork and more trust from the coaching staff to call plays on his own, Stafford could be even more valuable in 2014.
Moving from quarterback to running back, Lombardi plans on running the same type of offense that he learned from the Saints. This is good news for Reggie Bush, who reeled in 1,512 total yards in 14 games last season. In the Saints backfield, Pierre Thomas (77) and Darren Sproles (71) were both used greatly as receivers. While Bush might not equal his rushing total of 1006 yards, his receptions should spike after catching 54 passes last season. Bush is better off being drafted higher in PPR leagues as most of his value will come from his catches. An RB2 ranking are in the cards.
The only thing holding Bush's fantasy value down is obviously the play of Joique Bell. Bell showed he earned more playing time this year after averaging 40.6 rushing yards per game in 2013. Not only that, but he also topped 50 receptions with 53 that brought in a total of 547 receiving yards. Not including his eight rushing touchdowns, you'd get 10 fantasy points per week if you included Bell's rushing yards, receiving yards and reception average per game. With the Lions expected to use both Bush and Bell like the Saints had used Thomas and Sproles, both players have the chance to be ranked as RB2s in PPR leagues. At the very least, low-end RB2 options. Non-PPR league owners might want to shy away from this situation as I don't expect either back to top 1,000 rushing yards in 2014.
In regards to the receiving corps, I won't bore you with an analysis of WR Calvin Johnson. What's there to say that hasn't already been said? "WR1" "Top 5 Fantasy Prospect" "90-100 receptions, 1,500+ receiving yards" blah blah blah.
Instead I'd like to talk about the additions the team made this offseason in order to keep defenses from honing in on Johnson every single game. The No. 2 spot had plagued the Lions for years. They had tried several players like Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles last year, but neither panned out as hoped.
This year looks to be a different story. After a stronger-than-expected year with the Seahawks, the Lions signed Golden Tate to a five-year, $31 million contract. Tate figures to be a huge part of the passing game after being hamstrung by a Seahawks team that has a run-first mentality and a quarterback who doesn't throw for huge chunks of yards each game. Tate excels after the catch and could finally see his first 1,000 yard season with Megatron still expected to see a brunt of the defensive attention. I'll rank Tate as a WR3 for now, but there is clearly a ton of upside here.
After these two, it's not even worth looking at any other receiver unless you're THAT desperate in deeper leagues. WR Ryan Broyles once had promise, but injuries have stolen much of his explosiveness. WR Kris Durham and WR Kevin Ogletree are reportedly fighting for one roster spot. Leave all three of these guys be.
After much maligned play from TE Brandon Pettigrew, the team made North Carolina TE Eric Ebron their No. 10 overall draft pick. Ebron's versatility and athleticism can be compared to 49ers TE Vernon Davis, but don't expect him to make much noise as a rookie. The team re-signed Pettigrew to a four-year deal in March, but I doubt he will see that entire deal through. He should act more as a blocker after most of his career as a receiver consisted of "Catch, Fall, Repeat." Plus, with Johnson, Tate and the backfield, there won't be enough catches to go around. Pettigrew figures to be the starter in 2014, but he clearly lacks the elite qualities Ebron possesses. Ebron is better off as a dynasty option for future use as he could start to become a real asset to this offense in 2015. He'll see catches here and there this year, but not enough to make redraft owners want to look his way.