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Player Outlooks – Detroit Lions

By: — July 26, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

The Lions enter 2010 coming off another disappointing season. After going winless in 2008, the Lions managed just two wins in 2009 under Jim Schwartz’ first season as the team’s head coach. The arrow is pointing up in Detroit, however, especially on offense where the team has used the draft to add a number of solid skill position players over the last few years.

The Lions are hoping that second-year quarterback Matthew Stafford takes another step in his development and establishes better chemistry with talented wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Too often in 2009 they were not on the same page, resulting in Megatron catching less than half the passes thrown to him.

Detroit added several pieces in the offseason, which should help jumpstart the offense in 2010.

Nate Burleson was added to provide a deep threat and take some pressure off Johnson. In addition, Tony Scheffler’s acquisition provides insurance in case Brandon Pettigrew isn’t 100% healthy at the start of the season. Rookie first-round pick Jahvid Best reduces the concerns about the running attack as Kevin Smith fights his way back from injury.

On the offensive line, physical left guard Rob Sims was acquired from the Seahawks, and the team is hopeful that right tackle Gosder Cherilus shows significant improvement in his third season, after a disappointing start to his career.

While the Lions offense can’t be expected to break out in 2010, they have been building a solid foundation. Look for them to finish in the middle of the pack offensively this year, but the pieces are in place for long-term offensive success in Detroit.

QB Matthew Stafford
Stafford is coming off a decent rookie season in which he started ten games and threw for 2,267 yards with 13 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. His completion percentage was a disappointing 53.3%, but in his defense, the performance of the Lions wide receivers in 2009 was simply atrocious. Calvin Johnson missed two games and most of another with a knee injury, Bryant Johnson was a complete bust, and Derrick Williams did nothing as a rookie. With no threat opposite Johnson, he was double-teamed on almost every play, and the team’s other receivers failed to take advantage of that. Even when they did get open, too often they dropped catchable passes. The fantasy world seems focused on Jets sophomore quarterback Mark Sanchez, but Stafford figures to produce more fantasy points in 2010. Consider him a low-end fantasy backup with upside if Johnson avoids the injury bug and Burleson can take advantage of single coverage.

RB Jahvid Best
After the rookie draft, the consensus seemed to be that Best’s 2010 fantasy prospects in Detroit didn’t look promising. However, Best could put up good numbers this season. Detroit’s offense is on the way up (not way up, mind you) and Best will get extensive playing time early in the season. Kevin Smith might not be ready on opening day and, if he is, figures to struggle from his injury recovery. That translates into opportunity for Best. While Smith is a starting-caliber back best suited for early-down work, Best seems to be most apt as the third-down, change-of-pace back, so this could be a committee situation by the end of the year. Draft Best as a fantasy backup in redraft leagues. In dynasty formats, he offers excellent potential given the young talent Detroit’s offense features.

RB Kevin Smith
Smith appeared to be the Lions answer at the running back position after a solid rookie season in 2008. But he sputtered last year, was ineffective at times, and did not provide many big plays. The Lions traded up to take Jahvid Best at the back end of the first-round, so he figures to get an opportunity to play ahead of Smith. In addition, Smith is recovering from a knee injury suffered in Week 14 and may not be ready on opening day. Once healthy, Smith figures to rotate in and get the goal-line work. He is worth taking a flier on in the later rounds of most leagues, but avoid reaching for a player recovering from injury, particularly when their team has drafted a player in the early rounds to replace them.

WR Calvin Johnson
Johnson was, without question, one of the largest fantasy busts at wide receiver in 2009 with less than 1,000 yards and only five touchdowns. Johnson had various nicks and bruises that hindered his performance, and he was unable to beat double coverage as he had in 2008. Matt Stafford figures to improve significantly in 2010, and hopefully Johnson can remain healthy for 16 games. If that happens, Johnson could return to his 2008 form of 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns—a result more likely to happen if free agent acquisition Nate Burleson performs well. The Lions offense should be more explosive with the addition of running back Jahvid Best, and Johnson figures to benefit in the touchdown department. Coming off a poor 2009 season, Johnson could be considered a bit of a buy-low option.

WR Nate Burleson
Burleson moves to the Lions where he figures to get plenty of single coverage opposite Calvin Johnson. He was the Seahawks top wide receiver in 2009, finishing with 63 receptions for 812 yards and three touchdowns in 13 games. In Detroit, he may have difficulty replicating that production because Calvin Johnson eats up the targets, so Burleson may not get as many passes thrown his way. Look for Burleson to be more of a deep threat—a role he has played for most of his career. As with other receivers that run mostly deep patterns, Burleson has been extremely inconsistent from week to week. Consider him a backup wide receiver in all fantasy formats, capable of filling in on bye weeks if a solid matchup presents itself.

WR Bryant Johnson
Since leaving the Cardinals, Bryant Johnson has been a disappointment with the 49ers in 2008 ad with the Lions in Detroit last year. Although he is a gifted receiver with speed, size, and decent hands, Johnson has been a tease, unable to turn his natural ability into production on a consistent basis. The Lions signed Nate Burleson during the offseason, perhaps the premier free agent wide receiver on the market. His acquisition moves Johnson out of the starting lineup and likely off the roster due to his lack of ability on special teams. The team employs Dennis Northcutt out of the slot and wants to find playing time for their 2009 third-round pick Derrick Williams, making Johnson a likely candidate for a new team in 2010. Johnson’s talent has never translated into solid fantasy production and it isn’t about to now.

TE Brandon Pettigrew
Pettigrew was last year’s top-ranked rookie tight end but is recovering from a knee injury and may not be fully healthy on opening day; plus, he now has Tony Scheffler to contend with. In a nutshell, the odds of him breaking out are pretty much zilch. That’s too bad since he was playing well before he was hurt (15 receptions for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the three games before his injury).

TE Tony Scheffler
Scheffler goes from being a forgotten man in Josh McDaniels’ Denver wonderland to being a backup in Detroit. Makes you wonder what he did in his past life. While he has undeniable receiving ability, Scheffler is a poor blocker and is unlikely to get much playing time ahead of Brandon Pettigrew if Pettigrew is ready to start the season. Scheffler’s fantasy prospects are basically tied to Pettigrew’s availability, and he is worthy of a late-round pick only in larger leagues.

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