2015 Team Outlook: Detroit Lions
The Lions are coming off their best defensive season since 1970. They finished second in the league in total yards allowed (300.9) thanks in large part to their top-ranked rush defense (3.2 yards per carry, 69.3 yards per game). Detroit allowed the third-fewest points (282). Their defense was the key to the Lions' second playoff berth in their last 15 years. It's hard to believe that after years and years of failure on defense the Lions would let their best defensive player, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, sign with another team.
Detroit's offense faded badly last season. From 2011 to 2013, they ranked in the top six in total yards. Last year, they fell to 19th (340.8). They ended up 22nd in points scored (321). Jim Caldwell returns for his second season as the head coach. He has a 37-27 career coaching record in four seasons split between the Lions and the Indianapolis Colts. That includes a 2-14 season in 2011 when Colts were without Peyton Manning. Joe Lombardi will run the offense for the second straight year. He has nine years of NFL coaching experience and previously served as the New Orleans Saints' OC. First-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin did a great job last season. Austin has been a coach for 11 seasons. From 2007 to 2009, he was the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals. In their 85-year history, the Lions have a 528-625 franchise record, which slots them 25th in winning percentage (.458). They have made the playoffs only 11 times in the Super Bowl era). Detroit is 0-7 in the playoffs since 1991.
Ndamukong Suh left to sign with the Miami Dolphins. He graded out as the second-best defensive tackle against the run, but he also racked up eight sacks, 12 QB hits and 37 QB hurries. Haloti Ngata was brought in to replace Suh in the starting lineup. Ngata is still serviceable against the run, but he doesn't get after the quarterback nearly as well. DT C.J. Mosley also joined the Dolphins. He offered a slight edge against the run over the past two years. Defensive end George Johnson will collect his next check from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Johnson had value as a situational pass rusher last season (seven sacks, five QB hits and 27 QB hurries). The Lions are hoping Tyrunn Walker will pick up some of the slack following Johnson's departure. He added value against the run and the pass for the Saints last year. DT Nick Fairley moved on to the St. Louis Rams. He missed the second half of the 2014 season because of a sprained knee. Farley is a former first-round pick with value against the run and the pass.
Detroit added a pair of cornerbacks, Chris Owens and Josh Wilson, for depth in the secondary. Owens was a liability in pass coverage as a part-time player with the Kansas City Chiefs last year. (37 completions on 57 attempts for 462 yards and four touchdowns). Wilson has settled into a league-average player over the last four years. CB Cassius Vaughn signed with the Baltimore Ravens. He has been well below the league average against the pass over the past three years.
Running back Reggie Bush signed with San Francisco 49ers. Reggie is a solid pass catcher, but the Lions had viable options to replace him on the roster. Lance Moore was brought in for depth at wide receiver.
Starting guard Rob Sims is still an unrestricted free agent. His game has been slightly below league average over the past two years. Detroit traded for Manuel Ramirez to help replace Sims. Ramirez allowed only one sack last year while showing some decline as a run blocker.
The Lions selected guard Laken Tomlinson with the 28th overall pick. He will have the most value in a quick-hitting power run scheme while holding his own in pass protection. His game has limited upside due to his lack of foot speed, which may cause problems for him versus speed rushers.
In the second round, Detroit added running back Ameer Abdullah. At the NFL combine, Ameer flashed electric quickness (3.95 20-yard shuttle) and plus strength (24 reps on the bench press). Abdullah is just 5 feet 9 and 205 pounds, and his top gear is only NFL average. However, Ameer could be a very valuable weapon as a receiver out of the backfield. He needs to fix his ball security issues.
Third-round cornerback Alex Carter will work best in a cover-two zone scheme, and he has upside as a run defender. Carter is a physical player who needs to improve his press-coverage techniques.
DT Gabe Wright will chip in to fill the holes that were created along Detroit's D-line during free agency. Wright has a great first step and plus power, but he can sometimes get neutralized at the line of scrimmage. Wright has upside in all areas once he learns how to get off his blocks consistently and improves his pass-rushing moves.
With their fifth pick, Detroit added pass-catching fullback Michael Burton, who will have value as a lead blocker.
Quandre Diggs was drafted in the sixth round. Diggs is an undersized cornerback (5 feet 9, 196 pounds) who has a solid feel for the game. His lack of elite speed and quickness hurts his chance of being a full-time starter. Quandre has some playmaking ability and solid tackling skills.
In the seventh round, the Lions invested in offensive tackle Corey Robinson. He plays with power, but his lack of speed requires him to improve his pass-protection techniques.
Detroit Lions RB Ameer Abdullah
Detroit finished 28th in rushing last year, averaging 88.9 yards per game. Ball carriers gained only 3.6 yards per carry and scored 11 TDs. The Lions allowed 45 sacks, the most during Matthew Stafford's six-year career. Detroit finished 12th in passing yards (251.9 YPG) with 22 TDs and 12 interceptions
Left tackle Riley Reiff hasn't been an impact player at this point of his career after the Lions selected him in the first round in 2012. Last year, he allowed three sacks, which was a step up from 2013, but Riley allowed five QB hits and 31 QB hurries. His run blocking has been slightly above league average during his career.
Left guard Laken Tomlinson is expected to start as a rookie, and second-year man Travis Swanson is pretty much locked in as the Lions' center. After being a part-time player last season, Swanson has been the subject of many positive reports this spring. Swanson isn't especially strong or athletic.
Right guard Larry Warford played at an elite level as a third-round rookie in 2013. He didn't allow a sack and graded out positively in run and pass blocking. He struggled as a run blocker early last season but did play well over his last six starts. Larry allowed two sacks, two QB hits and 12 QB hurries. Larry missed a few games in 2014 with a knee injury.
Right tackle LaAdrian Waddle has made 18 starts over the past two seasons after the Lions signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2013. In his career, Waddle has allowed five sacks, 10 QB hits and 29 QB hurries while being slightly below league average as a run blocker. His 2014 season ended in Week 15 due to a partially torn left ACL. LaAdrian is hoping to be ready by Week 1.
Detroit has talent at three positions on their O-line while Reiff needs to make a step forward. This line should be better than league average.
The above chart shows the Lions' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Lions' running game will have tough matchups in Weeks 3 and 4 as it will battle the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, respectively. They will face only one significantly weak run defense: the Saints. Detroit is scheduled for nine games against teams with above-average pass defenses and four games against weak ones: the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles and two matchups with the Chicago Bears.
Running backs accounted for 113 of the Lions' 365 completions while their tight ends were scantily used; they accounted for just 11.2 percent of the team's completions, the second-lowest total in the league. Wide receivers caught 211 passes for 2,952 yards and 13 touchdowns.
QB Matthew Stafford, LAR - Solid/Safe Pick
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): Stafford played well in his last three games at home (819 passing yards and eight combined TDs with no Ints). The Lions had their hearts broken by a devastating game losing TD with no time left on the clock. On the year hehas two 300-yard passing games and two games with more than three TDs (both at home). The Rams rank 8th in the league in QB Fantasy defense, with some fade in the last four games (nine TDs and two 300-yard passing games). The biggest draw back for Stafford is their continued struggles running the ball. He is unplayable in the daily space in Week 14.
UPDATE (11/18): Stafford has been a low-end QB2 this season. He has upside, but this shouldn't come to a surprise to most. As usual, he has been very inconsistent this season. Stafford went from throwing for 188 yards, a TD and three interceptions one week, to throwing for 405 yards, four TDs and one interception the next week. That's pretty much the story of Stafford. It reminds us of what Jay Cutler has been for the majority of his career. He's hit or miss and very mistake prone.
Over the past four seasons, Stafford has attempted 2,626 passes (656.5 per season). Last year, his 602 attempts actually marked a career low for a full season. The growth of the Lions' defense led to Matthew not needing to carry the team on his back. His offensive line allowed 45 sacks, which was a four-year high and nearly doubled its 2013 total of 23. The key to Stafford's upside is the health of WR Calvin Johnson. Stafford has four straight 4,000-yard seasons, but his passing yards have declined in each of the last three years. He has a 35-42 career record. In 2014, Matthew had four 300-yard games and only two games with at least three TDs. Stafford will continue to throw a ton of passes, and he'll have even more upside if someone behind Johnson and Golden Tate steps up to give him a consistent third option. I'm kind of excited about the rookie Abdullah, whose quickness and pass-catching ability should help the Lions grow on offense. I expect Stafford to throw for 4500-plus yards, and 30 TDs is just about a layup if Calvin is healthy. Matthew is a steady top-10 Fantasy QB option with a great Fantasy playoffs schedule: at St. Louis, at New Orleans, & versus San Francisco.
Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford
RB Ameer Abdullah, --- - Sleeper (undervalued)
UPDATE (11/18): Abdullah has predictably disappointed this season. As we said all preseason, he can't run between the tackles, is a bad blocker and has ball security issues. He has 240 yards and one touchdown on the ground, and has caught just 14 passes for 120 yards and a TD in the passing game. Hopefully many Fantasy owners learned an important lesson with Abdullah. A good preseason game against the Jets does not make an undersized rookie an RB2.
Ameer has a chance to be electric in the Lions' offense if he doesn't fumble his way out of a job. In his four seasons at Nebraska, Abdullah ran for 4,588 yards on 813 carries with 39 TDs. He also caught 73 passes for 690 yards and seven scores. His explosiveness was showcased in four games last year in which he ran for more than 200 yards and scored a total of 10 touchdowns. Abdullah was a top performer among RBs in five different drills at the combine as he flashed his great athletic ability. He lacks size (5 feet 9, 205 pounds), but he has plus strength and electric quickness. The key for the Lions will be getting Abdullah into open space where he can take advantage with his playmaking skills. His acceleration gives him a huge edge in the first 20 yards, although his top-end speed is only league average. Ameer has great vision and enough strength to break tackles. In his 53-game college career, Abdullah has 23 fumbles, 16 of which were lost. Last year, he had four fumbles (two lost) in 286 touches. In his rookie season, the Lions have no choice but to give him 200-plus carries and possibly 40 catches. His quickness and feel for daylight will also help him at the goal line. My early target for him is 1,200 yards from scrimmage and about 200 Fantasy points in a PPR league. He's an RB2 with much more upside. He has an early ADP of 106, but I expect him to be drafted inside of Round 5 during the live drafts in Las Vegas.
RB Theo Riddick, --- - Bye Week Fill-in
UPDATE (11/18): Riddick has been the biggest contributor out of the Lions' backfield. However, it's pretty much all PPR value, because he's only rushed for 64 yards. Nonetheless, he has caught 45 passes for 373 yards and two touchdowns. The Lions' rushing attack is virtually non-existent. So short passes to Riddick is pretty much what they're working with. He has looked much better than Ameer Abdullah and Joique Bell to this point in the season. Riddick can be utilized as a low-end flex option in PPR leagues.
In his two pro campaigns, Theo has offered no value in the running game (29 carries, 76 yards, one TD). His forte is pass-catching thanks to his plus hands. Last year, he caught 34 of his 50 targets for 316 yards and four TDs. While at Notre Dame, Theo caught 114 passes over his last three years for 1,220 yards with eight touchdowns. In his senior season in 2012, Riddick took 226 touches -- including 36 receptions -- for 1,287 total yards and seven TDs. His skill set as a receiver is kind of similar to Abdullah's, but Theo doesn't offer enough power to be a big factor in the ground attack. Pass blocking will be huge for him if he wants to stay on the field. Theo has more explosiveness than Joique Bell, but he can't replace his overall skill set. If Ameer does indeed shine right away, I could see Riddick filling in as his backup. His receiving ability makes him worth rostering in PPR leagues. I think he'll have a 100-touch opportunity.
RB Joique Bell, --- - Bust (overvalued)
When I look at Bell's stats from 2014, I wonder if he is part of the solution or part of the problem. The Lions gave him 223 carries last year, which led to only 3.9 YPC. He matched that average in 2013. Over the past three years, Joique has registered 139 catches while gaining 9.7 yards per catch. He'll enter 2015 with this backfield's best resume, solid pass-catching skills and possible value at the goal line, but Bell is coming off minor surgeries on both knees and an Achilles tendon. His lack of health this spring may leave him out of shape once training camp beings. His current price point is based on him getting 200-plus touches and having value in the passing game and at the goal line (ADP of 47 as the 18th RB taken). But Joique he has more downside than upside if Ameer proves to be the real deal. I don't think it makes sense to invest in a 29-year-old back with low upside and injury issues. Bell is on my 'avoid' list as I'm looking for a difference maker with upside to be my RB2.
Detroit Lions RB Joique Bell
WR T.J. Jones, --- - Dynasty Only
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Jones may be a perfect fit for this offense. He is a slot receiver with very good hands and route-running skills. In his 2013 senior season at Notre Dame, he caught 70 passes for 1,108 yards and nine TDs. He has NFL-average speed for a wide receiver but solid quickness. A sixth-round pick in 2014, Jones missed all of last season as he was slow to recover from shoulder surgery in June. He's definitely a player to watch, but it's tough to believe he will be given enough chances to be Fantasy relevant the season.
WR Golden Tate, --- - Quality Backup
Week 14 DFS Update (12/12): Tate has 23 catches for 186 yards and a TD on 29 targets in the last three games, which gives him some value in the season long games. On the year he has two TDs while averaging 8.4 targets per game. His catch rate (66.3) is in an elite area so he just needs more targets to offer upside. His big strikes in 2015 are that he only gains 9.2 YPR. The Rams have strength at CB and this game is on the road. Reasonable price with a slight bump in value of late, but he needs a big play with a TD to deliver a winning score.
UPDATE (11/18): Tate has not built off his breakout 2014 season. In fact his numbers are really bad. For the season, he has just 44 receptions, 429 yards and one touchdown. He has not topped 80 yards all season. Apparently, he cannot be a second option and having Calvin Johnson opposite him does not help. It's hard to not blame the quarterback for this. It's also important to note there was also just an offensive coordinator change recently. Tate could potentially benefit from Joe Lombardi being fired and Jim Bob Cooter taking over, but that remains to be seen.
It's not difficult to see why Tate had a breakout season in 2014. After catching 64 balls for 898 yards with the Seahawks in 2013, he amassed 99 catches and 1,331 yards in his first season with Detroit. Having his targets total rise from 99 to 144 certainly helped. In Weeks 7-9 with Calvin on the sidelines, Golden did a great job of stepping up, catching 28 of 41 targets for 414 yards and two touchdowns. In his 13 other games, Tate had only two 100-yard performances and two touchdowns. He did record at least five catches in 12 games, making him a steady player in all formats. He scored double-digit Fantasy points in all but three games last season in PPR leagues. He'll have the advantage of seeing single coverage on most plays when Johnson is on the field, which may lead to more TDs. But Tate also proved that he could be a No. 1 wideout when Johnson is unavailable. Detroit's lack of other viable receiving options at WR and TE will help maintain his value. With the idea that Johnson will be healthy, Tate is probably due for a slight regression. About 90 catches and 1,200 yards with a few more touchdowns sounds about right. He should be a consistent WR2.