|By Shawn Childs, Wednesday, August 30, 2023|
2023 Detriot Lions Outlook
The Lions brought Dan Campbell in as their head coach in 2021 (3-13-1). In his second year, he went 9-8 while being eliminated from playoff contention in the final week of the season. Campbell 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).
Ben Johnson returns for his second season as Detroit's offensive coordinator. Over the previous three seasons, he worked on the Lions' coaching staff as their offensive quality control coach, tight ends coach, and passing game coordinator. Johnson has been coaching in the NFL for 12 seasons while starting the year at age 37.
The Lions jumped to fifth in points scored (453), 128 points more than in 2021. They also finished fourth in offensive yards, 18 spots better than the previous season.
Aaron Glenn returns for his third season as Detroit's defensive coordinator. 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 continues to rank at the backend of the league in points allowed (427 – 28th) and last in years allowed. They've had a bottom-four defense over the past four seasons.
After signing RB David Montgomery and losing RB Jamaal Williams to free agency, Detroit traded RB D'Andre Swift to the Philadelphia Eagles for draft picks. They signed WR Marvin Jones while WR D.J. Chark moved on to the Panthers.
Their top defensive addition was CB Cameron Sutton ($33 million for three years). They also added S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and CB Emmanuel Moseley to their secondary. S DeShon Elliott (MIA) and CB Mike Hughes (ATL) signed minimal deals elsewhere.
The Lions are an improving team, and they had four selections over the first two rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft. They split their picks between offense (Jahmyr Gibbs – 1st and TE Sam LaPorta – 2nd) and defense (LB Jack Campbell – 1st and CB Brian Branch – 2nd).
Gibbs brings an explosive style of running to Detroit's offense that commands a similar opportunity as D'Andre Swift in his rookie season. The Lions will feature him on passing downs where his route running, hands, and open-field running paint a high floor, especially in PPR formats. He has questions about his ability to handle pass protection, and his game takes a step back when running in tight quarters on the interior of an offensive line. Gibbs has plus speed (4.36 40-yard dash) and electric quickness. He runs with patience and vision, setting him up for an active role in Detroit's offense in his rookie season.
Campbell has the look and feel of a winning football player. He understands play development with the vision to attack from the correct angle in run support. The next step in his development is improving his reads, allowing him to react quicker to his assignments. In his rookie season, Campbell should be a higher-volume tackler.
LaPorta had an active role in the passing game over the past two seasons at Iowa, but he offered minimal scoring. His blocking isn't ready for the NFL game while offering a high floor in his route running. He understands how to get open, with some fight in his game after catching the ball.
Branch doesn't have the speed to handle top wide receivers in the NFL. He does gain extra points for his understanding and feel for the game. His future will come in centerfield at safety or work as an off-the-ball third cornerback when his skill set offers a higher ceiling. Branch is a playmaker who will help in run support while also staying connected to receivers on their routes.
Detroit took a flier on Hendon Hooker in the third round for quarterback depth. He comes to the NFL at age 25 with an ACL tear in his right knee (surgery last fall). Hooker has a pocket passer presence while also having the legs to move the ball on the ground. He throws the ball with timing and accuracy over the short areas of the field, but his touch needs to improve in the deep passing game. Hooker senses pressure in the pocket, with the wheels to escape when needed. His feel and see around him in the pass rush doesn't always translate to getting the ball out before taking a sack. He minimizes turnovers while giving away some completions when asked to throw on the move.
The Lions added DT Brodric Martin (3rd), T Colby Sorsdal (5th), and WR Antonio Green (7th) with the final three picks.
Martin projects as an early down-run clogger. He is a mountain of a man (6'5" and 335 lbs.) who gets off the ball with a winning plan. His next step is improving his anchor to help him own his little piece of real estate on the field. Martin will earn any pressure on the quarterback with power.
Detroit will move Sorsdal to guard in his rookie season. He had a long career starting for William & Mary over four seasons. His quickness creates wins while needing to prove himself vs. power defenders in the pass rush. His run blocking appears to be ahead of his pass protection coming into the NFL.
Green moves well for his size (6'2' and 200 lbs.). He worked as a deep threat at North Carolina. His speed (4.47 40-yard dash) plays better over the long field. Green has the release to win vs. press coverage, but he doesn't have the quickness to gain an edge over the short areas of the field. His route running needs work while showing the rhythm to set up defenders at the third level of the defense.
Detroit pushed to 11th in rushing yards (2,179) by averaging 28.2 rushing attempts per game. They gained 4.5 yards per carry with 23 touchdowns and 12 runs over 20 yards. Their ball carriers finished second in the league in 40+ yard rushes (7).
The Lions jumped to 7th in passing yards (4,444) with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Detroit gained only 7.6 yards per pass attempt with 57 catches over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 24 sacks (the second-lowest total in the NFL.
LT Taylor Decker has been a winning player in pass protection in his seven years with the Lions after they drafted him in the first round in 2016. He started last season with below-par play over the first seven games, before hitting his stride over the back half of the year. Decker tends to be a neutral run blocker.
LG Jonah Jackson missed five games in 2022 while adding value in run blocking. He has three years of starting experience. Last season, he didn't allow a sack, but pass rushers did give him fits in multiple games.
C Frank Ragnow rarely allows pressure or sacks on the quarterback. He continues to be a top run blocker for his position. Detroit drafted him 20th overall in 2018.
RG Graham Glasgow started his NFL career with the Lions in 2016. He split time between left guard and center over his first three years before shifting to right guard. He struggled in pass protection last year with Denver while only being a neutral run blocker in back-to-back seasons.
RT Penei Sewell is another first-rounder (2021) on this offensive line. His run blocking has been elite in his first two years in the league while showing growth in pass protection in 2022.
Detroit has an improving line with three foundation pieces at the tackles and center positions. Their guards are about league average, giving the Lions a top-10 offensive line in 2023.
QB Hendon Hooker - Dynasty Only
Over four seasons in college, Hooker completed 67.0% of his passes for 8,974 yards with 80 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also had value in the run game (514/2,026/24). His completion rate improved each year while delivering 68 touchdowns and five interceptions over his final two seasons. Hooper has his best overall output in 2021 (3,665 combined yards with 36 touchdowns.
Fantasy Outlook: The Lions stated that they won't use their rookie quarterback in 2023. They want him to get healthy, and a year on the bench will help him learn their offense.
Other Options: Nate Sudfeld, Adrian Martinez
QB Jared Goff - Quality Backup
When at his best with the Rams from 2017 to 2020, Goff went 42-20 with a trip to the Super Bowl in 2018. In 2019, he led the NFL in pass attempts (626).
In his first season with the Lions, Goff went 3-10-1 with three missed games with oblique and knee issues. He was on pace for 4,000 combined yards and 23 touchdowns while showing strength in his completion rate (67.2). His weakness came in his yards per pass attempt (6.6), which regressed for the third straight year. Goff passed for over 300 yards in only one matchup (338/3) in Week 1. Over his final 12 games, he had fewer than 225 passing yards in eight contests.
Goff almost matched my projection last year, leading to 4,511 combined yards with 29 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He had a slight pullback in his completion rate (65.1) while having an uptick in big plays (57 catches of 20 yards or more, with 12 reaching the 40-yard mark). Goff averaged 34.5 passes (6th) while almost working as a modified game manager. Over his final nine starts, he didn't throw an interception while delivering 15 touchdowns. Goff passed for more than 300 yards in five matchups (378/4, 321/1, 340/2, 330/3, and 355/3) while being a much better player at home (2,472/23) than on the road (1,966/6).
Fantasy Outlook: The suspension of Jameson Williams for six games eliminates one upside-receiving option for Detroit early in the year. They have one of the better possession receivers in the game, and Jahmyr Gibbs has a high pass-catching floor out of the backfield. The ceiling of Goff is tied to the development of Sam LaPorta and squeezing production out of his WR3 (Marvin Jones) and WR4 (Josh Reynolds). In the early draft season, he ranks 15th at quarterback in the high-stakes market, after finishing 9th in 2022 in fantasy points (340.10) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. I view Goff as a QB2 with his matchup value at home. More of the same with a push over 30 passing scores.
RB Jahmyr Gibbs - Solid/Safe Pick
Over three seasons at Alabama, covering 31 games, Gibbs gained 3,349 combined yards with 23 touchdowns and 104 catches on 483 touches. His best success came in 2022 (151/926/7 with 44 catches for 444 yards and three touchdowns). Gibbs has a sensational three-game stretch midseason (63/463/5 plus 10 catches for 81 yards).
Fantasy Outlook: The Lions will give eight to touches a week while riding him more often when he has the hot hand. I expect Gibbs to lead the NFL in plays longer than 50 yards. His floor in catches looks electric, pointing to a chance at 80 receptions out of the gate. With 225 touches, I expect 1,400 combined yards with 10 scores. Based on his early ranking (15th) at running back, Gibbs should have a circle around his game. Think Jamaal Charles in the passing game, with Chris Johnson's explosiveness as a runner.
RB David Montgomery - Quality Backup
A year after setting career-highs in all areas in 2020 (1,508 combined yards with 10 touchdowns and 54 catches on 301 touches), Montgomery averaged 20.5 touches the following year with regression in his yards per rush (3.8) and yards per catch (7.2). He gained 20 yards or more on five of his 267 chances. Over his first four games, he gained over 100 rushing yards in two contests (16/108/1 and 23/106/2) before missing four games with a left knee injury. His value in the run game (156/540/4 – 3.5 yards per carry) declined when Montgomery returned over his final nine games. On the positive side, the Bears did get him more chances in the passing game (36/252 on 42 targets).
The Bears had Montgomery on the field for 64.6% of their plays in 2022 while leaving Week 3 (ankle issue) after 17 snaps, costing him the next game. He gained more than 1,000 yards (1,117) for the fourth consecutive season. Chicago gave him 234 touches, leading to six scores and 34 catches. Montgomery rushed for 100 yards in only one game (15/122). His only outcome with more than 20.00 fantasy points came in Week 11 (21.10).
Fantasy Outlook: The move to Detroit should lead to more explosive plays and an increase in scoring chances, but Montgomery isn't a lock to see more touches. His career resume was much higher than Jamaal Williams, who had a career year with the Lions in 2022 (262/1,066/17). Montgomery ranks 28th at running back in mid-June. I expect him to deliver backend RB2 stats at a minimum in PPR formats. With 225 carries and 30 catches, he should gain 1,100 combined yards with double-digit touchdowns.
Outlook: Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson, Greg Bell
WR Amon-Ra St. Brown - Stud (low risk)
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).
My two most important takes, about St. Brown in 2021, were his ability to get open and catch the ball. His role in the Lions' offense was minimal in most of his first 11 games (39/352 on 52 targets). Detroit shifted the bulk of their passing attack to St. Brown over the last six weeks (10/86/1, 8/73, 8/90/1, 9/91/1, 8/111/1, and 8/109/1) while receiving double-digit targets (67 total) in each contest. He finished with an impressive catch rate (75.6).
In 2022, his opportunity (12, 12, and 9 targets) reflected the end to the previous year, leading to 23 catches for 253 yards and three touchdowns. An ankle injury cost him Week 4 and a step-back play over the next three contests (1/4, 7/69, and 4/55). Over his final nine games, St. Brown caught 67 of his 87 passes for 762 yards and three touchdowns. He had a floor of six catches in eight of these nine games while delivering three impact showings (10/119, 9/122/1, and 11/114/2). He set career highs in catches (106), receiving yards (1,161), touchdowns (6), and targets (146). Detroit gave him 16 rushes for 156 yards and one touchdown over his first two years in the league.
Fantasy Outlook: St. Brown finished seventh in fantasy scoring (267.60) in PPR formats, averaging 9.1 targets per game. This draft season, he comes off the board as the 9th wideout in mid-June in the high-stakes market. St. Brown is the clear-cut WR1 for Detroit with a top-five opportunity in targets. His next step is 120 catches for 1,300 yards and about eight scores.
WR Jameson Williams - Gamble (high risk)
Ohio State gave Williams only 15 catches for 266 yards and three scores in his freshman and sophomore seasons, leading to him transferring to Alabama. The change of scenery unlocked a beast of a season (79/1,572/15). Williams had four explosive showings (10/160/1, 6/158/3, 8/190/3, and 7/184/2) over a five-game stretch. From Week 10 to 13, he gained an impressive 25.0 yards per catch (23/575/8). Unfortunately, Williams suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in early January of 2022.
The excitement of Williams as a home run threat is real. He blows by deep coverage with the wheels to turn a short pass into a long-scoring play. His challenge is improving his release and developing his usage over the short areas of the field. Williams brings excellent hands while needing to get stronger. Two of the top five receivers in the 2022 NFL Draft played in front of him at Ohio State.
In his rookie season, Detroit had Williams only on the field for 78 plays. He caught only one pass for 41 yards and one touchdown on nine targets.
Fantasy Outlook: With an entire offseason to get healthy, Williams was expected to be the Lions' WR2. Unfortunately, a gambling issue led to a six-game suspension to start 2023. Trending toward 50 catches for 700 yards with about five touchdowns.
WR Marvin Jones - Over the Hill (decreased production)
In 2020 and 2021, Jones posted his two highest catch totals (76 and 73) of his career at age 30 and 31. Over this span, he gained 1,810 yards with 13 touchdowns on 235 targets. In addition, Jones has three seasons on his nine-year resume with at least nine scores (9, 9, and 10). He gained over 100 yards in only one game (7/100/1) in 2021 while offering four other weeks of value (5/77/1, 6/55/1, 6/70, and 7/88/1). Over his final 14 starts, Jones gained over 50 yards in only five matchups.
As the WR3 for the Jaguars last season, Jones finished with 46 catches for 528 yards and three touchdowns on 81 targets. Only six of his catches gained at least 20 yards. He only had one meaningful outcome (7/104). Jones had two catches or fewer in seven games.
Fantasy Outlook: Jones isn't the player he once was, but Detroit needs someone to set up as their WR2 until Jamerson Williams returns from his suspension. At age 33, his best days are behind him, putting in the free-agent pool in all formats. Jones may surprise over the short term if he plays well out of the gate.
Other Options: Kalif Raymond, Tom Kennedy, Trinity Benson
WR Josh Reynolds - Bye Week Fill-in
In his fourth season, Reynolds set career-highs in catches (52), receiving yards (618), and targets (81). He gained more than 20 yards on 22 of his 102 catches from 2018 to 2020. His catch rate (64.1) pushed higher in 2020, but Reynolds saw a decline in his yards per catch (11.9 – 15.5 in 2019 and 13.9 in 2018).
After a regression year (19/396/2 on 49 targets) in 2021 between the Lions and Titans, Reynolds finished with WR2 snaps last season over 14 games. His output (38/479/2) was the best of his career. His stock was rising between Week 3 to Week 5 (6/96, 7/81/1, and 6/92) while receiving top-tier targets (10, 8, and 10). Reynolds came out of the bye week with two empty showings (1/8 and 2/14), followed by three missed games due to a back injury. His season ended with only one other playable outcome (5/51/1) over seven weeks.
Fantasy Outlook: Reynolds tease weeks early last year, give him the inside track to earning a WR2 out of the gate in 2023. He has plenty of experience with Jared Goff. I expect some playable weeks early in the season while settling into a 50/600/5 type player.
TE Sam LaPorta - Sleeper (undervalued)
Over four seasons at Iowa, LaPorta caught 153 passes for 1,786 yards and five touchdowns, highlighted by his final two years (53/670/3 and 58/657/1). He gained more than 100 yards in two (7/122 and 9/101) of his last 13 games. In 2022, LaPorta had a floor of five catches in seven of his 12 starts.
Fantasy Outlook: I don't expect him to hit the ground running in his rookie season, and the Lions will rotate in multiple tight ends in 2023. LaPorta has a Jason Witten feel, pointing to him working the short areas of the field to move the chains. He ranks 19th at tight end in mid-June. I expect LaPorta to be better over the back half of the season.
Other Options: James Mitchell, Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra
PK Mike Badgley - Not Draft Worthy
Badgley has been kicking in the NFL for five seasons for five teams. He's made 81.7% of his 115 career field goals while below-par success from 50 yards or more (5-for-13). He missed only one of his last 74 extra points.
Fantasy Outlook: The Lions have two other kickers listed on their depth chart to compete for their kicking job. Detroit scored 54 touchdowns last year while creating 30 field goal chances. They run the ball well, leading to the Lions' finishing drive in the red zone for touchdowns. The winner in Detroit will offer matchup value in some games.
UPDATE: The well-traveled Badgley was released but signed to the practice squad. Riley Patterson will open the season as the Lions' PK.
PK Riley Patterson - Bye Week Fill-in
The Lions will have an explosive offense but have had a bit of a rotating kicker for a while. Patterson will open the season as Detroit's starter and has some decent value if he can hold onto that job.
Detroit - Quality Backup
The Lions dipped to 29th ranking in rushing yards allowed (2,491) with 22 touchdowns. Runners gained 5.2 yards per rush while averaging 28.1 rushers per game.
Detroit fell to 30th in passing yards allowed (4,179) with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Their defense finished with 39 sacks, nine more than in 2021.
DE Aidan Hutchinson had a solid rookie campaign, leading to 52 tackles, 9.5 sacks, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles. His run defense was also an asset. LB James Houston gave Detroit a boost off the bench over the final seven games (eight sacks) while only seeing snaps on passing downs. DT Alim McNeill remains a below-par defender vs. the run, but he did make strides in all areas in 2022. Detroit hopes incoming rookie DT Brodric Martin can help slow down the run.
LB Jack Campbell will be an excellent upgrade to the second level of their defense after adding him in the first round of this year's draft. LB Alex Anzalone posted a career-high in tackles (125) last year, but his run defense was below the league average. LB Malcolm Rodriguez handled himself well in his rookie season, leading to 87 tackles.
CB Cameron Sutton comes off his best season in coverage for the Steelers, but he will give up some touchdowns while holding receivers to short yards per catch on most plays. His run support should be a plus for the Lions. CB C.J. Gardner-Johnson comes off a career-high in tackles (66) and interceptions (6) for the Eagles. S Brian Branch will see time in a split role in his rookie season between cornerback and safety. S Tracy Walker missed 14 games in 2022 to a torn Achilles. He posted 298 combined tackles over his previous three years.
The Lions' defense will improve this year, but there is still plenty of work to do, starting with stopping the run. I see three stars (Hutchinson, Campbell, and Branch) suggesting a second defense in the fantasy market with matchup value.