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2016 Fantasy Football Team Preview: Detroit Lions


My fantasy football tour of the NFC North concludes today, with the Detroit Lions.

Quarterback

A bad start in 2015, and an offensive coordinator chance during the bye week, gave way to a strong finish for Matthew Stafford. From Week 10 on (eight games), Stafford averaged 272.4 passing yards per game with 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions over that span. Losing Calvin Johnson hurts his fantasy outlook for this year, but that also sets Stafford up to be a potential value in drafts and auctions.

Running Backs

Ameer Abdullah averaged 4.2 yards per carry as a rookie last season, and he averaged 4.8 yards per carry over the final seven games. January shoulder surgery does not seem to be a lingering concern, so Abdullah should lead the Lions in carries this year. I’m not quite on the breakout hype train, but Abdullah looks like a solid RB2/RB3.

Theo Riddick led all NFL running backs in receptions last year, with 80 (on 99 targets) for 697 yards and three touchdowns. But he also only had 43 carries in 2015, so Riddick’s fantasy value is centered firmly in PPR leagues.

I wrote about Stevan Ridley from a fantasy angle when the Lions signed him, and I still see him as a potential asset if things break right. An undisclosed injury kept him out of offseason work, but Ridley is worth a look in touchdown-heavy leagues on draft day.

Zach Zenner is likely competing with Ridley for the same role, and he may earn a roster spot after an injury shortened his 2015 rookie season. It will take injuries for Zenner to be worth attention from fantasy owners.

Wide Receivers

Golden Tate has totaled 189 receptions on 272 targets over two seasons with the Lions, and Johnson’s retirement opens up more opportunities. I see Tate as a high-end WR2/low-end WR1 in PPR leagues this year, but he’s never been a prolific touchdown scorer and that caps his overall fantasy upside.

After setting career-highs in catches and yards last year with the Cincinnati Bengals (65 for 816), Marvin Jones was signed in free agency to help fill the void left by Johnson. Volume should help drive solid numbers, and we shouldn’t forget that Jones had 10 touchdown catches in 2013, but he’s a decidedly unexciting fantasy wide receiver.

Jeremy Kerley was also signed in free agency, and he could be Detroit’s No. 3 wide receiver. 2012 was a high-water mark for Kerley’s fantasy value, and even that (56 receptions for 827 yards) was solid at best.

T.J. Jones was reportedly a star of offseason work, and Stafford has twice pegged him as a breakout candidate. There’s some potential if he can beat Kerley out for the No. 3 role, but I’m safely ignoring Jones in fantasy until further notice.

Andre Roberts and Corey Fuller are in the mix to fill out Detroit’s wide receiver depth chart, but without significant injuries fantasy owners can and should ignore them.

Tight End

Eric Ebron‘s numbers went up during his second season (47 catches for 537 yards, five touchdowns), and as with any Lions’ pass catcher there’s a good chance he’ll see more targets in 2016. I see top-10 fantasy tight end upside here, with the potential to be a steal in drafts and auctions.

Brandon Pettigrew is working his way back from a torn ACL, and he seems on track to start the season on the PUP list. From a fantasy angle, nothing to see here.

Kicker

Matt Prater‘s overall numbers in 2015 were not great (22-for-24 on field goals, 36-for-39 on extra points), but he was 5-for-6 from 50-plus yards out. The Lions’ offense may once again not give him a ton of field goal opportunities, but expect Prater to make the most of his chances and be a viable bye week fill-in.

Team Defense/IDP

The Lions forced just 18 turnovers in 2015, which put them toward the bottom as a fantasy defense, but there’s a chance for better things this year. That said, fantasy owners should be focusing on defensive end Ziggy Ansah (14.5 sacks in 2015)and now-healthy linebacker DeAndre Levy (151 total tackles in 2014). If you’re looking for an IDP sleeper, linebacker Tahir Whitehead (85 total tackles in 2014) fits the bill as he moves into a starting job.

 


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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]