Preseason - 2021 Detroit Lions Outlook
Detroit Lions Outlook
After three poor seasons (6-10, 3-12-1, and 5-11) with Matt Patricia running the show, the Lions signed Dan Campbell to take over as their head coaching. He worked in the Dolphins system for six seasons before landing in New Orleans in 2016. He split his time over five seasons as their assistant head coach and tight ends coach. Miami gave him a temporary heading coaching job in 2015 (5-7).
Anthony Lynn moved from the Chargers' head coach (2017 to 2020) to Detroit's offensive coordinator over the winter. He went 33-32 in Los Angeles with one postseason appearance. Lynn started his NFL coaching career in 2000, with most of his experience coming as a running back coach.
The Lions ranked 20th in points scored (377), which was their second year of improvement. They also finished 20th in offensive yards.
The defense is now in the hands of Aaron Glenn. His path through the coaching ranks also came through New Orleans as their defensive back coach over five seasons. He was a player in the league for 15 years before starting his coaching career in 2014 with the Browns.
Detroit fell to last in the league in both yards and points (519) allowed. Over the previous two seasons, their defense regressed by 159 points allowed.
The most significant move by Detroit in the offseason was the trade of Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff. The Lions gain youth, along with a winning resume (42-27 – 0-7 in his rookie year).
Their wide receiving core will have a new look after parting ways with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola.
After two productive seasons (70/1,063/5 and 65/1,190/11), Golladay battled a hamstring issue early in the year, and a hip injury led to him missing the final nine games. When on the field over four starts, he posted two 100-yard contests (4/105 and 6/114) with two other productive showings (6/57/1 and 4/62/1).
Over the last four seasons, Jones scored 32 touchdowns over 54 games while gaining over 20 yards 56 times. His game has developed where he can be trusted to work closer to the line of scrimmage plus test a defense deep.
Amendola was at the end of his career (age 35) while bringing a possession skill set.
The Lions added Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman to their receiver core.
Williams suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder ending his season before Week 1. He flashed in 2016 with the Chargers (69/1,059/7) while struggling to get winning targets over the next three seasons (69, 65, and 64).
Perriman failed to capture his late 2019 success (25/606/5 over five games) with Tampa after signing with the Jets. He brings a big-play skill set while battling his catch rate (49.0) in his pro career.
Detroit added Jamaal Williams for running back depth. The Packers used him as a rotational option over the past four seasons.
On defense, they brought in CB Quinton Dunbar, CB Corn Elder, LB Alex Anzalone, and DE Charles Harris. All four players signed minimal contracts, pointing to bench roles.
Their top loss on the defensive side of the ball was S Duron Harmon, who signed with the Falcons. Last year he allowed too many big plays in the passing while finishing as a league-average player in run support.
G Oday Aboushi signed with the Chargers after receiving part-time snaps over the past three seasons. His highest potential comes in the run game.
The Lions took T Penei Sewell in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. His ceiling is extremely high once he puts in the work to get stronger. All of his tools project well while owning the talent to dominate in run blocking. Sewell has youth on his side, giving a natural progression to improve.
The interior of the defensive line was the focus in the second and third rounds – T Levi Onwuzurike and T Alim McNeill.
Onwuzurike plays with a bully feel while owning the first and quickness to create early wins and disruptions. He'll clog up the middle of the line, leading to an edge in run support. Onwuzurike will have moments of success in the pass rush while needing to develop his secondary moves to be more productive.
McNeil is a second power player added by Detroit this year's draft. His vision leaves him a step behind on some plays, and breaking free from some blocks can put him out of range to reach ball carriers. McNeil will push his way to sacks while needing to add secondary moves to see more action on passing downs.
Detroit drafted CB Ifeatu Melifonwu and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown in the third and fourth round.
Melifonwu has a tweener feel. His game projects well in press coverage, with speed to match receivers in chase mode. He drives well against the run while shining as a tackler. Melifonwu gets in trouble off the ball when moving backward in his tracking of pass routes. His change of quickness won't create an edge. Detroit should give him snaps at cornerback and safety.
St. Brown brings early rhythm to his route running that projects better out of the slot. His release is better than expected, but he does lose value when locked up early by bigger physical defenders. St. Brown doesn't win with his quickness while also having subpar long speed. With better technique and more strength, he would offer much more upside.
With their final two selections, the Lions add LB Derrick Barnes and RB Jermar Jefferson.
Barnes doesn't have the fire or vision to create an edge when asked to defend on the outside. His strength and power play well while owning a high foundation in tackling. He offers sneaky attack value in the pass rush, but his game regresses when asked to change direction.
Jefferson has a power running style that works better when seeing daylight at the line of scrimmage. His flow and vision create wins, but dead ends leave him with no escape routes. He needs volume of chances to get his engine warmed up. Jefferson should bring closing value with the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. His pass protection looks ahead of his pass-catching.
Detroit dropped to 30th in rushing yards (1,499) while averaging 22.9 rushing attempts per game. They gained 4.1 yards per carry for the third straight season with 17 touchdowns and five runs over 20 yards.
Lions finished eighth in passing yards (4,397) with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Detroit gained only 7.6 yards per pass attempt with 58 catches over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 41 sacks.
LT Taylor Decker
In his fifth in the NFL after getting drafted in the first round in 2016, Decker developed into a top pass-blocking player with only a pair of sacks allowed. His play in the run game showed growth as well. He should now be considered a top-tier left tackle.
LG Johan Jackson
Jackson has experience at center and guard while expecting to be a better player early in his career in pass projection. He gains his edge by understanding his assignments and showing the ability to moving quickly with his feet. He does have the strength to hold his own in run blocking, but his technique is trailing. For now, Jackson has limited range while needing to improve his hands.
After getting drafted in the third round in 2020, Jackson made two starts at right guard and 14 at left guard. He struggled in multiple games in pass protection while ranking below the league average in run blocking. His experience should lead to growth this year.
C Frank Ragnow
Ragnow played well at center over the past two seasons after starting his pro career at right tackle. He pushed his way to elite status in the run game last year while keeping the quarterback clean on almost all of his snaps. Ragnow came to the Lions via a first-round selection in 2018.
RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Detroit signed Vaitai to a five-year $50 million contract in the offseason in 2020. Only once in his five-year career has he played an entire season. In his 10 starts last season, Vaitai failed in all areas while never being a trusted asset on the offensive line.
RT Penei Sewell
The Lions expect Sewell to start in his rookie season. He has a beast feel while having the talent to make an impact in all areas in his rookie season. Detriot should run the ball well to his side.
This offensive line has three players that project to rank highly at their positions. Both their guards have a chance to deliver league average stats. Detroit should pass protect well in 2021, with growth expected in the run game.
Last year, the Lions ran the ball 39.1 percent of the time, with above-average stats passing the ball. The change in coaching staff and starting quarterback points to a different game plan in 2021. They have the offensive line to run the ball well, especially in the red zone.
QB Jared Goff, DET - Low Potential
Over the previous four seasons, Goff led the Rams to a 42-20 record while making the postseason three times (2-3). He set a career-high in his completion rate (67.0) in 2020, but his yards per pass attempt (7.2) faded for the second straight year. Goff finished with only 20 passing touchdowns with similar struggles in 2019 (22).
His best success and wins came when Todd Gurley ranked near the top of the league in running back production.
Goff struggled over his final seven games (208 passing yards per game with six passing touchdowns) in 2020, including the postseason. He only had two matchups with three passing touchdowns while gaining over 300 yards in six contests.
Fantasy Outlook: The Lions' new coaching staff has ties to two franchises that leaned on their running backs with a ton of completions. Goff has a viable option at tight end, but his wide receiver corps ranks well below the league average. Fantasy owners rank him as the 30th quarterback in the early draft season. Detroit will trail in many games, pointing to league average passing yards. Goff has a low ceiling in scoring. At best, a matchup player with minimal as a low-level fantasy backup quarterback.
RB D'Andre Swift, DET - Solid/Safe Pick
The running back opportunity for the Lions on early downs declined in back-to-back seasons. Their back gained only 4.0 yards per rush, while shining in close (17 touchdowns). Detriot flashed explosiveness in pass-catching (8.0 yards per catch). This season, I expect a push to 120 catches out of the backfield.
Detroit gave Swift 160 touches in his rookie season over 13 games, leading to 878 combined yards with 10 touchdowns and 46 catches. He ranked 18th in running back scoring (191.80 fantasy points) in PPR leagues. His best value came in Week 6 (123 combined yards with two touchdowns and two catches), Week 10 (149 combined yards, one touchdown, and five catches), and Week 15 (82 combined yards with two scores and four catches).
He averaged 14.5 touches while gaining 4.6 yards per rush. Swift only hit on two plays that reached the 20-yard mark.
Swift runs with vision and a feel for daylight. His top gear hurts him over the long field while needing to improve his value in short-yardage situations when faced with multiple big bodies. He earns his edge, accelerating out of short chopping steps in tight quarters thanks to his ability to quickly get to a full stride. Swift projects well as a receiver, but he'll have to prove his worth in pass projections.
Fantasy Outlook: With the Lions expected to feature the running back position in the passing game, Swift should be on a path for 225-plus, leading to 1,150 combined yards with a run at double-digit scores and 80 catches. His mid-June ADP (23) paints him as the 15th running back drafted.
RB Jamaal Williams, DET - Quality Backup
Williams came off the bench over four seasons with the Packers to gain 2,946 combined yards with 18 touchdowns and 122 catches. He averaged 10.4 touches per game while delivering RB4 production in PPR leagues.
In 2020, Green Bay gave him starting snaps in Week 7 (114 combined yards with one touchdown and four catches) and Week 8 (102 combined yards with six catches).
Fantasy Outlook: His opportunity should be similar to his early career. Williams should gain 700 yards with 30-plus catches and a handful of scores.
RB Jermar Jefferson, DET - Dynasty Only
Over three seasons at Oregon State, Jefferson gained 3,222 combined yards with 29 touches and 43 catches. His best season came in 2018 (239/1,380/12 with 25 catches for 147 yards). In 2020, Covid limited his year to six games (133/858/7), which gave him a chance at 1,800 combined yards with 14 touchdowns and 18 catches.
Fantasy Outlook: Jefferson provides early-down insurance for D'Andre Swift. Fantasy owners will find him in the free-agent pool in most leagues.
Other Options: Dedrick Mills, Michael Warren
WR Tyrell Williams, DET - Bye Week Fill-in
The wide receiver opportunity has been in a tight range over the past three seasons. They finished with 202 catches for 2,786 yards and 16 touchdowns, which accounted for 63 percent of Detroit's passing yards.
Trust has been a problem for fantasy owners investing in Williams over the past four seasons. He opted out of 2020 while averaging only 42 catches for 677 yards and five touchdowns on 66 targets from 2017 to 2019. Over this span, Williams gained over 20 yards on 27.8 percent of his plays. Eleven of those played reach 40 yards or more.
When at his best in 2016, Williams finished with 69 catches for 1,059 yards and seven scored on 119 targets.Fantasy Outlook: His ADP (257) placed him as the 124th wide receiver drafted in the early season. At a minimum, with an entire year of playing time, Williams should have a floor of 65 catches for 800 yards and five to seven scores. He should be a value in drafts.
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, DET - Deep-league Only
St. Brown played well over 30 games at USC. He caught 178 of his 249 targets for 2,270 yards and 17 touchdowns. His best success came in 2019 (77/1,042/6).
Fantasy Outlook: The Lions should award St. Brown with the slot wide receiver role in his rookie season. A reasonable starting point should be 50 catches for 600 yards with minimal damage in scoring.
UPDATE: The release of Breshad Perriman gives St. Brown a guaranteed role this season, making him a decent late-round pick.