Starting a couple years ago with the arrival of Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions have returned to the fantasy radar for the first time since Barry Sanders left and appear to be in prime position to be a player in fantasy drafts for the coming decade. Of course the benefit of being miserable for a decade is a lot of high draft picks, and the Lions have finally started turning these early selections into meaningful players around whom they can build a franchise. Now the trick is getting it to turn into wins.
For fantasy owners, Johnson continues to be the headline player in Detroit but there are a number of other players that are worth considering. One note to consider with these projections is the latest rumor that the Lions might have interest in Albert Haynesworth. Haynesworth is still eating $21M worth of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and not playing football, so we'll wait to evaluate any impact he might have on any eventual destination until a move takes place. For now, we'll look at the improved Lions roster for the 2010 season and where some fantasy money could be made this year.
It is now, officially, Matthew Stafford's show in Detroit. Last year, because of injury and lack of experience, he split time with Daunte Culpepper, but that experiment has ended and the Lions will now look to the top overall pick from 2009 to lead them moving forward. Because of improved weapons around him, and an improved line in front of him, it's not out of the question to think that Stafford could be a good #2 quarterback in a deep fantasy league. Health will have a lot to do with his production this year, but having Megatron running routes for him makes him a good bet to play in some match-ups this year.
Kevin Smith was starting to emerge as a decent fantasy back until blowing his ACL in Week 14 last year, which makes the beginning of the 2010 season doubtful and his production for the entire campaign questionable for fantasy owners. Not all is lost in the Detroit backfield, though; in fact, a better fantasy option may have arrived in this spring's draft. Jahvid Best was drafted out of Cal to bring some depth to the backfield, and his speed and ability to make plays out of the backfield could make him a candidate to put up Matt Forte-like rookie numbers. If you're looking for a potential touchdown vulture, Maurice Morris was added to being some size to the backfield and could be a goal line back for Detroit.
Calvin Johnson. Have we mentioned him yet? Because of the health issues under center, and a few of his own, 2009 was not a stellar campaign for Johnson. However, he was working in an offense that allowed defenses to focus on him alone, and he paid the price. Teams won't be able to stare at just one player when they face the Lions this year, however, so Johnson could get more open turf to abuse.
Nate Burleson will be opposite Johnson this year, and his breakaway speed will keep safeties and nickel backs honest. A sleeper in the mix in Detroit could be Derrick Williams, who could prove to be a good compliment to the Lions' big play receivers and an improved group of tight ends.
This is an area that will benefit the production of Stafford and Johnson, but might not be a big hit for fantasy owners. Last year's other first round pick, Brandon Pettigrew, started his rookie season well but, like everyone else in Detroit last year, spent some time dealing with injuries. So the Lions brought in former Broncos Pro Bowl TE Tony Scheffler to bring another pass-catching option to the Lions' arsenal. Between the two tight ends, the Lions should receive solid production from the position and Stafford's weapons in the red zone have improved, but picking one of the two to have a stellar season is hard to do. One could emerge as the better option once the season begins; keep an eye on the tight end position in Detroit for a bye week or injury add during the season.
The Lions were, yet again, the bottom of the NFL in defense in 2009, allowing 30.9 points and 392.1 total yards per game. In a NFC North Division that features at least two of the great quarterbacks in the league in Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers (not to mention Grandpa Brett Favre), the Lions were a defense that fantasy owners looked for on bye weeks to find match-up gold on the waiver wire. That shouldn't be the case in 2010.
Detroit surprisingly ranked ninth in the NFL in sacks last year with 43.0 as a team, and bulked up their defensive front with former Titans Pro Bowl DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and the second overall pick in this spring's draft, DT Ndamukong Suh. These two Nebraska products will join a front including 2009 team sack leader Cliff Avril. No Lion had more than Avril's 5.5 sacks last year, but he might be a candidate for Sleeper of the Year in your IDP ranks with the question marks on each of the North's offensive lines and the new attention teams will be forced to pay to Suh and Vanden Bosch.
The improved defensive front should help Julian Peterson, Landon Johnson and DeAndre Levy be more effective linebackers. Peterson could see an improvement from his 4.5 sacks last year as well. The Lions are replacing both Ernie Sims and Larry Foote, though, so the linebacking group will be almost completely new this season. This transition could make life hard on a young secondary, but second-year safety Louis Delmas could have big numbers if the pass rush for the Lions gets continued pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Another name to watch this year is CB Amari Spievey, a rookie out of Iowa. He could be a starter this season, and showed a good nose for the ball last year in the Big Ten.
2010 Regular Season Schedule (times EST)
- Week One - SUN Sept 12 - @ CHI 1:00 PM
- Week Two - SUN Sept 19 - vs PHI 1:00 PM
- Week Three - SUN Sept 26 - @ MIN 1:00 PM
- Week Four - SUN Oct 3 - @ GB 1:00 PM
- Week Five - SUN Oct 10 - vs StL 1:00 PM
- Week Six - SUN Oct 17 - @ NYG 1:00 PM
- Week Seven - BYE
- Week Eight - SUN Oct 31 - vs WAS 1:00 PM
- Week Nine - SUN Nov 7 - vs NYJ 1:00 PM
- Week Ten - SUN Nov 14 - @ BUF 1:00 PM
- Week Eleven - SUN Nov 21 - @ DAL 1:00 PM
- Week Twelve - THU Nov 25 - vs NE 12:30 PM* (Thanksgiving)
- Week Thirteen - SUN Dec 5 - vs CHI 1:00 PM
- Week Fourteen - SUN Dec 12 - vs GB 1:00 PM
- Week Fifteen - SUN Dec 19 - @ TAM 1:00 PM
- Week Sixteen - SUN Dec 26 - @ MIA 1:00 PM
- Week Seventeen - SUN Jan 2 - vs MIN 1:00 P
The Lions are an evolving situation on both sides of the ball.
With the new additions they have made in the offseason to their defensive front, and the subtractions from their linebacking group, they could be an intriguing play on defense in 2010. On offense, it will come down to health. They certainly have better depth this year as camp opens, but depth is as good as the paper it's written on if the starters can't stay healthy. They'll mix up the run and pass well, and will use Best out of the backfield in their passing game. The Lions are a young coaching staff with young players, so this is certainly a growing process across the board.