Lions Offensive Profile Under Jim Bob Cooter
2015-2017 Pass Attempts Rank: 4th, 11th, 10th
2015-2017 Rush Attempts Rank: 30th, 31st, 31st
2015-2017 Play Volume Rank: 17th, 29th, 28th
2015-2017 Yards Per Play Rank: 20th, 17th, 9th
Unaccounted for Air Yards from 2017: 804 (24th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2017: 1 (31st)
Projected Starting Lineup
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Passing Game Outlook
Matthew Stafford is one of fantasy football’s safest late-round quarterback investments with top-nine finishes in five of the last seven years. The Lions have embraced a pass-first approach with Stafford under center, ranking top 11 in the NFL in pass attempts in 9-of-9 seasons since drafting him. Stafford’s limitations are his lack of rushing upside and OC Jim Bob Cooter’s slow-paced, ball-control offense, which ranked 29th and 28th in play volume the past two years. Cooter’s offense still leans pass heavy and high percentage; Stafford’s completion rate is 66.1% over the past three years compared to 59.6% in six seasons before that. This year’s Lions draw one of the NFL’s softest pass-defense schedules in Weeks 1-8, although Warren Sharp rated their pass-defense slate toughest in the NFL thereafter. Nevertheless, Stafford’s floor is bankable, and Detroit has built what projects as the best offensive line of his career.
Marvin Jones shook off an uneven first season in Detroit to explode for top-ten fantasy results in year two, leading the NFL in yards per reception (18.0) and ranking ninth in receiving yards (1,101). Jones has finished 16th and 8th among wide receivers in Air Yards as a Lion. Jones put a stranglehold on deep targets in Detroit’s 2017 passing game and recorded a 51.6% catch rate on 20-plus-yard throws, fourth best among 59 qualified receivers (PFF). Jones’ signature game came on Thanksgiving, roasting elite CB Xavier Rhodes for 6/109/2 receiving on nine targets. (Rhodes did shut down Jones for four yards on three targets in their Week 4 meeting.) One concern was Jones’ loss of 4.5 targets and 24.1 yards per game when Kenny Golladay played, although Eric Ebron’s departure frees up 86 targets and Detroit did little to replace that usage. Ultimately, Jones is a role-secure No. 1 receiver in a pass-first offense with plus quarterback play. He’s a fringe WR1 who’s being drafted as a mid-to-late WR2.
Golden Tate also falls into the high-floor category with 90-plus catches all four years in Detroit despite Jones’ displacement of Tate as Stafford’s No. 1 receiver. Mainly a slot player at this stage of his career, Tate’s calling card is his run-after-catch prowess; Tate has ranked top five among NFL wideouts in yards after catch in four consecutive years, and top three in missed tackles forced (PFF) in six straight. 2018 will be both Tate’s age-30 campaign and his contract year. Although Tate is unlikely to suddenly morph into a fantasy league winner, he is a stable WR3 pick who typically produces in the low-end WR2 range.
Kenny Golladay exploded onto the 2017 scene as a third-round rookie from Northern Illinois with a big preseason and 4/69/2 eruption against Arizona in Week 1. His progress slowed by a Week 3 hamstring injury that cost Golladay five games and nagged him for over two months, Golladay hit pay dirt just once more the rest of the way. Still, Golladay showed by far the best Game Speed among Lions wide receivers in Josh Hermsmeyer’s Next Gen Stats charts and gained 30-plus yards on six of his 28 receptions. As a sophomore, Golladay should have No. 3 duties all to himself on the perimeter of Detroit’s three-wide sets after sharing third-receiver duties with T.J. Jones for most of 2017. Golladay’s raw volume projection is too light for meaningful re-draft value, but he would become an every-week fantasy starter if Tate or Jones got hurt. Golladay is a high-upside late-round pick in best-ball leagues.
The Lions are missing 121 targets from last year’s team, 112 from tight ends. Tentatively first in line is Luke Willson, who signed a one-year, $2.5 million deal after hovering between 15 and 22 receptions per year across five seasons in Seattle. Willson is a high-end athlete with 4.51 speed, but the Seahawks used him to block on 60% of his 2017 snaps. More blocking duties are likely to fall on massive Levine Toilolo (6’8/260), who is essentially a sixth offensive lineman. Toilolo blocked on 73% of his snaps in Atlanta last year. The Lions’ highest-ceiling option may be 2017 fourth-round pick Michael Roberts, who caught 16 TDs in his final season at Toledo. Roberts blocked on a whopping 81% of his rookie-year plays, however.
Running Game Outlook
The Lions were smitten enough with Kerryon Johnson to trade up for him at the No. 43 pick, where they took him over Derrius Guice. Johnson was a plus-sized (6’0/213) workhorse at Auburn, earning 2017 SEC Offensive Player of the Year with 1,585 yards from scrimmage and 20 TDs. Johnson only caught 32 passes in three college seasons, but he looked smooth in the passing game on tape. Johnson blazed an above-par 4.52 forty at Auburn’s Pro Day and tested as a 63rd-percentile SPARQ athlete, good for top ten in this year’s running back class. Johnson’s main fantasy concerns are Theo Riddick to siphon passing-down work and LeGarrette Blount at the goal line. Johnson could conceivably exceed 200 touches as a rookie but still provide low weekly ceilings due to shortages of catches and TDs.
Theo Riddick and LeGarrette Blount are role-specific backups to Johnson in what projects as a three-way committee. Although Riddick is an inefficient runner (3.44 career YPC), he’s topped 50 receptions in three straight years and led the Lions’ backfield in snaps played in each of Cooter’s three seasons as coordinator. Riddick’s fantasy value skews heavily toward PPR leagues, but he can be a serviceable non-PPR flex in bye-week crunches. Blount was a situational battering ram for last year’s Eagles, averaging 4.42 yards per carry but scoring only three touchdowns and finishing 33rd among 47 qualified backs in Football Outsiders’ rushing Success Rate. Whereas Riddick offers at least some fantasy appeal each week, Blount is a wholly touchdown-or-bust option.
2018 Vegas Win Total
The Lions’ Win Total opened at 8.0 with -120 odds on the under. Working against Detroit is a schedule Warren Sharp rated seventh toughest in football, including six top-ten teams. Facing each NFC North team twice is especially daunting with Aaron Rodgers back and the Bears in improved position. The Lions do have regression factors working in their favor after going 3-5 in one-score games, while Detroit’s passing game is among the best in football. Detroit’s offensive line should be the best of Stafford’s career. On defense, concerns remain at pass rusher and off-ball linebacker. I think 8.0 is a spot-on Lions Win Total, so I’m taking the over for better-money odds.