After a disastrous 2019 Lions team was riddled by injuries, some optimism headed into 2020. Matt Stafford was returning from injury, and breakout WR Kenny Golladay was ready to increase their chemistry. Promising young tight end T.J. Hockenson was poised to step up after a disappointing rookie year in which he missed five games. The backfield looked improved with a healthy Kerryon Johnson and a fresh face in D’Andre Swift, selected 35th overall. He and third overall pick CB Jeff Okudah were ready to provide the residents of Detroit some much-needed hope.
We all know how that went.
Detroit finished at 5-11 in another brutal season of injuries, letdown performances, and one score losses. Lions fans weren’t the only ones disappointed – so were fantasy owners. TE T.J. Hockenson was the only Lions player to finish inside the top 12 at his position. Golladay got hurt, Stafford underperformed, and the backfield was split between Adrian Peterson and D’Andre Swift. Shortly after the season ended, Stafford approached Lions management. If it were my guess, he said something along the lines of, “it’s not me, it’s you.” They mutually agreed to part ways, and after about a week, he was sent to Los Angeles in exchange for Rams QB Jared Goff, two future first-round picks, and a third-round pick.
On top of the change at QB, the Lions are replacing each of the three major coaching positions. Dan Campbell takes Matt Patricia’s spot as head coach (Lions fans rejoice). Former Chargers HC Anthony Lynn joins the team as offensive coordinator, and Aaron Glenn comes on as the defensive coordinator. Things are certainly going to look different in Motown going forward. How will this affect our dynasty teams?
Goff had a promising first few years in LA, including a Super Bowl appearance and a top-six fantasy finish. He took a step back in 2019 and 2020, reverting to a below-average starter and losing the faith his team had in him. A change of scenery was in order, and it came. Unfortunately, that change brings him to Detroit. A dysfunctional organization with little to no pass-catching weapons is not the ideal spot for a struggling quarterback to revive his career.
Goff finished as the fantasy QB18 in 2020. Now, instead of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, his top WRs are Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman. Hockenson and Swift will make up some of that difference, and the offensive line will be bolstered by rookie Penei Sewell, but the situation doesn’t look great overall. Additionally, there were rumors that the Lions might draft a QB, so we can’t assume his job is secure. With two first-round picks in each of the next two drafts, they have the assets to replace him.
The one thing Goff has going for him is youth. At age 26, if he can rebound, he could stick around as a mid-QB2 on our dynasty rosters for years to come. However, I wouldn’t look at Goff as any more than a low-end, short-term QB2 until he proves otherwise, as he may not be a starting QB for much longer.
Swift was one of the few bright spots for the Lions in 2020. While he was initially Adrian Peterson’s backup, he quickly earned more snaps and touches than the future HOFer as the year went on. And, more importantly, he was effective with them. He posted 878 yards and 10 TDs from scrimmage on 160 touches. His numbers were good enough for RB18 in 13 games played. The talent he flashed at Georgia clearly translated to the NFL. Many fantasy owners are worried by his team’s situation, though. The belief that the Lions won’t have many scoring opportunities and that they will be unable to run the ball much as they fall behind in games has people hesitant about his upside. However, a look at the history of the Lions coaches suggests they may run the ball more than expected.
Offensive Coordinator Anthony Lynn is a former running backs coach, for starters. On top of that, he does have one year as a team’s offensive play-caller for us to look at. In 2016, Lynn’s Bills were second in the league in run-rate (48.6%) despite being a mediocre 7-9. One year is a small sample, but it’s fair to expect Lynn’s offense to run the ball, even when behind. It’s also worth noting that, while they were high-powered offenses, the Saints team that HC Dan Campbell hails from has been top 5 in rushing attempts in two of the last three years.
The bottom line: Swift is a young stud and should be considered a top 10 dynasty RB. He’s young and talented. He’s on a team that won’t be afraid to run the ball (behind a bright young offensive line, by the way). And he’ll log plenty of receptions, as the Lions’ passing game will have to run through their TEs and RBs given the state of their WRs.
A highly effective backup to Aaron Jones over the past few years, Williams joins the Detroit backfield on a 2-year, $6 million deal. Jamaal has proven he can be more of a 1b than a true backup. He earned at least 100 carries and 25 receptions in all four of his years in Green Bay. All while playing behind Aaron Jones, one of the best RBs in the league over the last few years.
Jamaal has a versatile skill set, as he can run it between the tackles, catch passes out of the backfield, and excel in pass protection. Jamaal has standalone value as a flex play while backing up Swift. He is also a potentially high upside handcuff should anything happen to Swift. You can acquire him in the early teen rounds of startups right now, and he is a good value play there. That said, he is still a 26-year-old RB stuck behind a young stud for at least two more years. If you are looking for long-term upside, Jamaal may not be your guy.
The Lions selected Jermar Jefferson in the seventh round of the 2021 draft. He was an efficient runner over his three years at Oregon State. He ripped off a lot of big runs with his long speed and good vision to find the hole. However, he isn’t much of an athlete, and he goes down fairly easily. There isn’t a lot of upside here. If you’re a fan of Jermar, he can be found in the 20th round or later in SuperFlex startups – but I wouldn’t expect much from him.
Am I allowed to say no one? No? Ok, fine.
Williams is the only current Lions skill player with a 1,000-yard season to his name…but it was all the way back in 2016. He missed the entire 2020 season with a shoulder injury and was mediocre in the three years before that. Now, he joins the Lions on a 1-year, $4 million contract. He looks to be the WR1 in Detroit by default, but it’s in an offense that won’t have many scoring opportunities, and he just isn’t a good enough player for us to confidently say he’ll command a lot of targets. He’s also 29 years old and may have some lingering injury concerns. If you’re a contending team with a WR need, it might make sense to draft him in the mid-20s or send a future third-round rookie pick for him.
Perriman has flashed in a few games over the past two years but hasn’t managed to put it together. Admittedly he hasn’t had the best QB play (Joe Flacco, Baker Mayfield, Jameis Winston, and Sam Darnold), but Goff isn’t THAT big of an upgrade. He’s also suffered some minor injuries in all but one year of his career and is entering his age 28 season. He’s on a 1-year, $3 million contract – his value is similar to Tyrell’s. Consider taking him in the mid to late 20s of your startup if you’re a contending team. He’s most likely inconsequential, though.
Cephus was a fifth-round pick for the Lions in 2020, and he looked alright when he got his chances. His 10.0 yards per target led Detroit (among players who played more than five games). The big-bodied deep threat was thought to have slipped a bit in the draft due to some sexual assault allegations that forced him to miss his 2018 season in Wisconsin (the case was later dismissed). While he has yet to put it all together, it shouldn’t be shocking if he takes the WR1 spot in Detroit and becomes fantasy-relevant. Williams and Perriman are on 1-year contracts, so the depth chart is particularly wide open next year – although they’ll likely bring in at least one or more receivers. You can grab Cephus in the late teens/early 20s, and he has more upside than most of the guys going around him.
With the 112th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Lions selected arguably the best name, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and nickname, the Sun God, in the class. He comes out of USC, where he operated mainly out of the slot. Amon-Ra proved to be an effective short-yardage and red zone weapon for the Trojans over the past three years. His strong release and ball skills will be his bread and butter, although his lack of separation skills may limit his potential. He also comes from a really interesting family that you can read about here.
The Lions added UDFA Sage Surratt out of Wake Forest as well. Some felt that Surratt was a surprise UDFA, as he was highly productive in his last year of school despite poor QB play. He excels at boxing out defenders and winning at the catch point and could prove to be efficient in the red zone. However, the fact is UDFAs rarely succeed, so we can’t get too excited.
The bright side for St. Brown and Surratt is that we should know fairly soon whether they’ll be good or not, as there isn’t much competition ahead of them. If they don’t earn snaps and targets pretty quickly, we’ll know we can pretty comfortably move on. With Williams and Perriman on 1-year contracts, should the Lions let them walk and not bring in multiple WRs next offseason, it will be a sign that they trust at least one or both of these players.
Hockenson was the eighth overall pick in the 2019 draft. While he hasn’t quite lived up to that hype, he has certainly flashed potential. He suffered some injuries his rookie year before breaking out in 2020 to the tune of 723 yards, 6 TDs, and a TE5 finish in PPR scoring. He’s a talented young player and is likely the best pass catcher on his team. Targets from Goff won’t be as high quality as the ones he got from Stafford, but Hockenson will get plenty of them.
Hockenson’s only 100-yard game so far was in his debut in 2019. Unfortunately for fantasy managers, he’s an extremely well-rounded player and gets a lot of blocking snaps. On the bright side, this does keep him on the field and makes his floor about as high as it comes. That said, we shouldn’t have Kelce/Waller type expectations for him, as he’s not the type of explosive pass catcher that they are and is unlikely to command 120+ targets annually the way they do. However, he has shown enough to be considered a clear second-tier TE in both dynasty and redraft.
While there isn’t much excitement about the Lions as an NFL team, they have a few high-impact fantasy players. Namely, Swift and Hockenson, who are both bright young talents that can be cornerstones of our fantasy rosters for years to come. A strong 2021 performance will solidify their values as such. If you want any shares, now is the time to buy.
A change of scenery and a new coaching regime could be good for Jared Goff. Should he hold his own and lead the Lions to a few wins, he could secure the starting job for the future and remain fantasy relevant. However, any Lions player outside of Swift, Hockenson, and Goff is little more than a dart throw for fantasy purposes. Contending teams may take a swing on Tyrell Williams or Breshad Perriman for some flex help. Those looking to the long term could take a chance on the young pass catchers like Cephus, St. Brown, and Surratt. The likelihood that any of those five end up being impact makers on dynasty teams, though, is low.
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