QB Matthew Stafford
(2012 QB Rank – #10, 22.8 FPts/G)
Stafford enters 2013 coming off a subpar season in which he had to battle issues at wide receiver and along the offensive line. With Nate Burleson lost to a broken leg and Ryan Broyles suffering a torn ACL, the desperate Lions were forced to acquire Mike Thomas from the Jaguars. You know you’re hurting when that happens. The truth is that Stafford’s play didn’t warrant the criticism he received. When you’re down in the fourth quarter, you need to try to make things happen, hence his high interception total. His touchdown-to-interception ratio dipped to 20-17 after being a solid 41-16 in 2012, but his yardage total remained solid, dropping only slightly from 5,038 to 4,967 as he came close to being just the second quarterback in league history to top 5,000 passing yards in consecutive seasons. In 2013, the Lions still have issues at wide receiver but have added another playmaker in former Dolphin Reggie Bush. If Calvin Johnson can push a few more receptions into the end zone, Stafford could re-emerge as a solid mid-tier QB1. We like the chances of that happening.
RB Reggie Bush
(2012 RB Rank – #14, 11.0 FPts/G; #14 PPR, 13.2 FPts/G)
When the Lions signed Bush this offseason, it seemed like a great pairing of an explosive, multi-dimensional running back in a heavily pass-oriented offense. It seemed like fantasy cha-ching. The only issue is that the entire fantasy world seems to be in agreement that Bush could be fantastic this year in Detroit, and that is causing his ADP to go through the roof. He was underutilized as a receiver during his two years in Miami, but Bush now has a chance to approach the 89 receptions he had as a rookie back in 2006. Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell combined to catch 86 passes last season and Bush should get most of those looks. Not hurting matters is that the Lions have issues at wide receiver opposite Calvin Johnson. As a runner, Bush is coming off his finest two seasons as he remained healthy throughout and last season came within 14 rushing yards of topping 1,000 for the second consecutive season. Consider Bush a solid mid-tier RB2 with major upside in 2013.
RB Mikel Leshoure
(2012 RB Rank – #20, 11.1 FPts/G; #18 PPR, 13.5 FPts/G)
After being taken as a second-round selection in the 2011 draft, Leshoure suffered a torn Achilles tendon, ending his year in the preseason. Last season he had another golden opportunity, playing in 14 games and amassing 798 rushing yards while catching 34 passes for 214 yards and scoring nine touchdowns. Solid numbers to be sure… unless you actually watched him play. He averaged a pedestrian 3.7 yards per carry and 6.3 yards per reception and really only excelled as a short-yardage runner. With Reggie Bush in town, Leshoure will be relegated to more of a backup role, provided he beats out Joique Bell. While there are some pundits who are touting Leshoure as a solid flex option, we’re not going there. In fact, it won’t be a surprise if Bell beats him out. Still, consider Leshoure a respectable handcuff if he wins the backup job.
RB Joique Bell
(2012 RB Rank – #29, 6.7 FPts/G; #23 PPR, 10.0 FPts/G)
Here’s a little secret. The fantasy world seems to have handed the Lions backup role to Mikel Leshoure but there is a solid chance that Joique Bell steals it, making him an attractive late-round pick. The 2010 undrafted free agent failed to earn a single touch during the first two years of his career but came on strong last season with 414 rushing yards, 485 receiving yards and three touchdowns. While he had 52 receptions, those touches will mostly go to Reggie Bush in 2013. Bell’s value lies in his ability to offer the playmaking ability that Leshoure failed to provide, other than at the goal line. If Bell improves his chops as a short-yardage runner, there is little doubt that he will unseat Leshoure. Look no farther than his solid average of 5.0 yards per rush, which was considerably more impressive than Leshoure’s 3.7.
WR Calvin Johnson
(2012 WR Rank – #1, 14.2 FPts/G; #1 PPR, 21.8 FPts/G)
Well, what is there to say other than “Wow!”? Johnson was absolutely amazing in 2012, having the best season of any wide receiver in league history. He shattered Jerry Rice’s record for most receiving yards in a season, hauling in 122 passes for 1,964 yards and five touchdowns. Unfortunately for Johnson and his fantasy owners, the five touchdowns were a bit of a disappointment because he was regularly hauled down inside opponents’ five-yard lines. Hey, the fact of the matter is that had Johnson scored 10 touchdowns yet gained “only” 1,600 receiving yards, he would have come close to matching the 226 fantasy points he had last season. Sure, that’s nitpicking, but Johnson’s amazing real-life season didn’t translate as a truly amazing fantasy season. The Lions will throw it plenty once again in 2013, and there are question marks opposite Johnson with an aging Nate Burleson returning from a broken leg and Ryan Broyles coming off a late-season ACL tear. Johnson will be the first WR off the board in all drafts this season. The only question is whether he will blow away the next best WR.
WR Nate Burleson
(2012 WR Rank – #96, 6.8 FPts/G; #87 PPR, 11.3 FPts/G)
At 31 years of age (32 on opening day), it is safe to say that Burleson’s best days are behind. Always more hype than actual production, Burleson has topped 800 receiving yards just twice in his 10-year career and 1,000 yards just once, way back in 2004. A broken leg ended his season after just six games last year, but he was marginally productive before the injury with 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In 2013, Burleson figures to be an opening day starter with Ryan Broyles returning from a torn ACL suffered last December. That gives him an opportunity. Just don’t expect him to do much with it. There are younger options with more upside.
WR Ryan Broyles
(2012 WR Rank – #92, 5.4 FPts/G; #94 PPR, 8.1 FPts/G)
The Lions used a second-round pick on Oklahoma wide receiver Ryan Broyles in the 2012 draft even though he had torn his ACL in November of his final college season. While that looked like a questionable move, Broyles heated up in Week 7, catching 21 passes for 307 yards and a pair of touchdowns over the next six games. Unfortunately, he suffered another torn ACL in Week 13, clouding his outlook for 2013. While offseason reports indicate that Broyles has had a solid recovery, there are no guarantees that he will be fully recovered by opening day, even if he is able to suit up. At 5’10” and 188 pounds, Broyles isn’t a great option outside, but he figures to get plenty of targets in the league’s most pass-oriented offense once he’s healthy. That gives him upside. If you’re willing to wait for him to get healthy, Broyles is worth a late-round flier.
WR Mike Thomas
(2012 WR Rank – #121, 1.6 FPts/G; #119 PPR, 2.9 FPts/G)
Hard to believe the Jaguars handed Thomas a $19-million, three-year contract extension with $9-million in guarantees in 2011, and almost harder to believe that a sinking Lions team traded for him last season. By season’s end, Thomas had proven to be a complete non-factor with only 18 receptions for 108 yards and a score. No matter that the Lions need increased production opposite Calvin Johnson. Thomas got paid and went in the tank.
TE Brandon Pettigrew
(2012 TE Rank – #21, 5.7 FPts/G; #16 PPR, 10.3 FPts/G)
Although the Lions were the league’s most pass-oriented offense, Pettigrew’s role decreased as his targets dipped from a career-high 126 in 2011 to just 102 in 2012. And he caught just 59 passes for 567 yards and three touchdowns, a pretty low figure given his 6’5” frame. Come to think of it, Pettigrew has been a bit of a disappointment in the red zone during his four-year career with just 14 touchdowns. Part of that lack of production is explained by his solid blocking ability. That counts when your team has three new starters along the offensive line as the Lions do in 2013, but it doesn’t make for nice fantasy numbers. Also not helping matters is the presence of backup tight end Tony Scheffler, who had 85 targets last season. Pettigrew rates as a low-risk, low-end TE1.
TE Tony Scheffler
(2012 TE Rank – #30, 5.7 FPts/G; #29 PPR, 6.6 FPts/G)
The Lions utilize two–tight end formations as much as any team in the league, providing Scheffler plenty of playing time in an offense that threw the ball 740 times in 2012. If there is one thing you can say about Scheffler, it’s that he seems to be more productive the less work he gets. In 2010, he was targeted 72 times and scored 2.9 PPG, due to his catching just one touchdown pass. He averaged a respectable 4.7 PPG with 42 targets in 2011, mostly because he scored six times. With a career-high 85 targets last season, he averaged just 3.8PP because he again found the end zone just once, although he had 504 receiving yards. What’s that mean? Even if Brandon Pettigrew were to get hurt, we have our doubts that Scheffler would see his production increase.