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Fantasy Opportunity Spotlight: Detroit Lions

A team-by-team analysis of coaches’ tendencies and using them to help create realistic fantasy football projections. @TubaDeus takes a look at the Detroit Lions.

Welcome to the new home of my yearly Fantasy Opportunity series! For those who didn’t see this series on Reddit last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill analyst. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously, individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day, players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.

As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.

Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.

Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.

Detroit Lions

Last Year’s Accuracy

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Projections1025420 (41.0%)605 (59.0%)40 (6.6%)330 (58.4%)105 (18.6%)115 (20.4%)
2020 Stats991367 (37.0%)624 (63.0%)42 (6.7%)325 (55.8%)106 (18.2%)131 (22.5%)
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.

Coaching Changes

It’s hard to say this was unexpected. After three straight years of double-digit losses, Matt Patricia finds himself kicked to the curb, thanks in no small part to a pitiful defense that was supposed to be his specialty. New head coach Dan Campbell faces a rough rebuild ahead of him as he inherits the league’s worst defense, along with an offense devoid of its star quarterback and top wideout duo. He brings Aaron Glenn with him from New Orleans to be his defensive coordinator. Former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn will round out the group as Detroit’s offensive coordinator.

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn: 'I expect to be the coach of  this team tomorrow' after humiliating 45-0 loss - oregonlive.com
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

Coaching History

Strictly speaking, Campbell is an offensive-minded coach, but he has never called plays at any level. He’s viewed more as a motivational head coach, and that’s exactly what he’s expected to be in Detroit. With that in mind, this offense will mostly belong to Lynn. Of course, that’s also a murky situation as Lynn hasn’t called plays since his one season as offensive coordinator of the Bills back in 2016. It’s not like we can say he had that much of an impact on the Chargers’ scheme when he took over as head coach. Lynn kept offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt as a holdover from the previous regime, and the Chargers’ offense barely changed after the head coach swap.

So that just leaves us with a single team (Buffalo) in a single year (2016) to draw from. Exactly what you want to see.

For what it’s worth, there is something notable to be said about Lynn’s one year in charge of Buffalo’s offense; he liked to run the ball. His 48.6% run rate that year was 2nd highest in the league. Huge surprise coming from the former running backs coach, right? Beyond that, though, the Bills offense was very average under Lynn. Buffalo finished as the 16th fastest offensive unit, and all three receiving position groups (wide receivers, running backs, tight ends) finished between 13th and 22nd for their respective groups in target share.

Looking Ahead

That may not be very much to go on, but it’s not nothing. As it so happens, the Lions are almost entirely devoid of receiving weapons heading into 2021. What they do have is a solid offensive line that has been further bolstered through the draft and a pair of solid running backs lining up behind it. For an offensive coordinator who has shown a preference for running the ball in the past (albeit in a tiny sample size), this seems like an obvious setup for a very run-heavy offense in Detroit. The run rate might be limited by the very high likelihood of playing from behind most of the year, but a run rate north of 45% would not be surprising.

Lions rookie RB D'Andre Swift's Week 13 status trending in right direction  after all - mlive.com
Mike Mulholland/MLive.com

When Lynn calls for passes, it seems unlikely that he will continue to feature balanced positional target shares. Specifically, the Lions feature multiple playmakers at tight end and running back while their top wide receivers are a pair of journeyman deep threats with long injury histories. Expect the tight ends and running backs to command well over league average positional target shares at the expense of the wide receivers.

One last item to note is total play volume. The Lions clearly intend to tank in 2021. They allowed several key veterans to walk in free agencytraded away their long-time franchise quarterback, and are beginning to collect draft picks for future years. The resulting lack of talent makes it difficult for the defense to get off the field, reducing the number of drives the offense gets. This is then compounded when the offense lacks the talent to extend the drives they do get, resulting in extremely low total play volume. This is most likely the situation Detroit faces in 2021.

2021 Projections

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Stats991367 (37.0%)624 (63.0%)42 (6.7%)325 (55.8%)106 (18.2%)131 (22.5%)
2021 Projections (17 Games)1012463 (45.8%)549 (54.2%)35 (6.4%)238 (46.3%)119 (23.2%)133 (25.9%)

Previous Entry: Denver Broncos

Next Entry: Green Bay Packers

Find this article helpful? You can follow me on Twitter and Reddit as @TubaDeus, though I spend most of my time on Discord.

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