The Fantasy Football season is fast approaching, and our Fantasy Six Pack team is rolling out team previews. This time, I'm here with the 2021 Fantasy Football Detroit Lions Preview.
The 2020 Detroit Lions finished 5-11, which was bad enough to land them the 7th overall pick in the 2021 draft. They came away with stud left tackle Penei Sewell, who fits exactly what new head coach Dan Campbell wants to do - kick you in the teeth and bite kneecaps.
“We’re gonna kick you in the teeth, and when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re gonna get up. And on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off.”
New @Lions HC Dan Campbell had quite the introductory press conference 😳 pic.twitter.com/cWJTSFtJAQ
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 21, 2021
I don't think I need to spell it out further. This is not going to be Matt Patricia's Detroit Lions.
In addition to a new face at the head coach's seat is a new signal-caller as well. The Lions traded longtime starter Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for Jared Goff. We'll get to see if Goff is a product of Sean McVay's genius or if the former number one overall pick really has the talent to be a franchise quarterback for any team.
All of the information in the 2021 Fantasy Football Detroit Lions Preview is up to date as of June 21st.
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2021 Fantasy Football Detroit Lions Preview
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I'm not the biggest fan of Goff, but he's the locked-in starter here. The Rams paid heftily to swap Goff for Stafford and that's not something Goff is taking lightly. Goff is only three years removed from throwing for 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and just coming up short in the Super Bowl. He's followed that up with relatively disappointing 22 and 20 touchdown seasons, which was enough to get him shipped out of town.
Now in his 6th year, this is will be Goff's first year since his rookie season away from Sean McVay. The Rams' offensive attack has largely been attributed to the "genius" of McVay and his ability to scheme effective plays. If you interview 100 people on the street, more than half of them will tell you Goff owes McVay at least 50% of his $100 contract.
But that's not to say Goff is a bum. The problem with Goff as a fantasy quarterback this year is his supporting cast. While the offensive line is improved with Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, and now Sewell, the Lions have the worst receiving corps in the NFL. This is not up for debate. Starting wide receivers Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams have missed 12 and 16 games over the past three seasons and have one 1,000 yard receiving season between the two of them (Williams in 2016).
Goff's absolute ceiling will likely be Stafford's production in 2020: 4,084 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions - good for a QB15 finish. But Lions won't lean on Goff like they did Stafford and the Lions' pass-catching group isn't good enough to make him look better than he is (like they did in Los Angeles). Feel free to ignore Goff in all standard leagues.
While Goff and the passing game aren't interesting fantasy options, this backfield is one of the most intriguing ones for fantasy owners. D'Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams both scream upside in completely different ways.
In 2020, as a runner, Swift was just average. He actually functioned as the team's secondary back, only taking 114 carries for 521 yards (4.6 YPC). Where he really shined was in the passing game, where he caught 46 of 57 targets for 357 yards and two touchdowns. This is important because the Lions lack pass-catching weapons as noted above. Swift will not only catch a lot of balls out of the backfield, but the Lions have stated they will already have him run routes from the slot.
Campbell just talked about moving D'Andre Swift into the slot and letting him go 1-on-1 vs. linebackers. This is all going very well today.
— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) January 21, 2021
With Anthony Lynn at offensive coordinator for the Chargers, Austin Ekeler excelled when he ran routes out of the slot, catching 92 passes for 993 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019. Swift might not be as good as Ekeler, but even 50% of that production is massive. On top of that, Jared Goff targeted the slot position 32% of the time in 2020. The Lions' projected slot receivers are currently Kalif Raymond and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown who have a combined zero career catches.
If Swift picks up 40% of the 239 touches vacated by Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson and adds that to this projected receiving work, you're looking at a potential top 12 RB. He's a solid option at his current ADP of RB16 since he has a safe floor and massive upside.
Even with Swift in tow and in line for the lion's share (you see what I did there) of touches, Williams does have some value at RB46. As a backup for Aaron Jones, Williams was a perfect complementary piece while also filling in nicely in games Jones missed. While the Lions don't project to have as explosive of an offense that Green Bay had, Williams should play a similar role in Detroit. There are an aforementioned 239 touches being vacated and there's no way those all go to Swift. Projecting 60% of those touches to go to Williams puts him at about 143 touches, which is just about what he had in 2020, where he finished as RB41. An even rosier projection slots Williams as the Melvin Gordon to Swift's Ekeler.
However, if you're drafting Williams, the steady week-to-week production is nice, but he's a potential home run if Swift has to miss some time. We don't root for injuries, but we should plan for them. Swift missed three games had a brain injury in 2020 and wasn't even sure if it was a concussion or not. With the NFL taking head trauma more and more seriously, Swift could be sidelined for a longer period than most if he was to suffer another head injury.
So again, while we don't draft Williams hoping for Swift to get hurt, the reality is that he might. In that case, Williams has shown he's a capable starter, averaging 18.26 half-PPR points in the 10 games he's played more than 65% of snaps in.
Rookie Jermar Jefferson is a nice depth piece that will pay off for some owner in 2023 when Williams' contract expires. He's a strong one-cut runner who will play a role if either of the backs ahead of him gets hurt.
- Breshad Perriman
- Tyrell Williams
- Quintez Cephus
- Amon-Ra St. Brown
- Kalif Raymond
- Geronimo Allison
Not to be rude, but... this isn't exactly a depth chart that will strike fear into opposing defenses' hearts.
This type of situation is the worst for fantasy receivers. This receiving group will cannibalize itself as Goff looks to spread it out. Think about the 2019 or 2020 New York Giants, with Daniel Jones at the helm. They were a low-upside offense that centered around their running attack while also committing a high percentage of pass attempts to the running backs and tight end. Every once in a while Sterling Shepard or Darius Slayton would put up a good game, but you'd never be comfortable starting them.
That's how I project the Lions' receivers to be. Perriman and Williams are (somewhat) proven pros but neither is qualified to be the WR1 on an NFL offense. Still, at their current ADPs of WR86 and WR101 respectively, in deep deep leagues, that's a bit low.
Quintez Cephus and Amon-Ra St. Brown are nice young players, but in a limited offense, shouldn't factor into your draft plans.
Outside of Swift, Hockenson is the other young, exciting player that you can count on for a high fantasy finish at his position. Hockenson was the TE6 last year, turning 101 targets into 67 receptions, 723 yards, and six touchdowns. With the tight end position as weak as it is, he's worth considering at his current ADP of 53 (TE5) since he'll 1) play 75%+ of snaps and 2) likely lead the team in targets.
His 101 targets in 2020 was already fifth in the league, but it's easy to see that number increasing with the Lions losing 355 (!) targets this offseason. And as we touched on before, the replacement wide receivers brought in aren't the most impressive. So why not throw to your first-round tight end who compared favorably to Travis Kelce and see what happens?
Hockenson is my TE4 on the season and the first tight end in my tier right below Kelce, Darren Waller, and George Kittle.
With a new coach, quarterback, and mindset, the Lions aren't the team you're used to seeing. Well, let me take that back since they'll almost assuredly lose 10+ games in a tough NFC North division.
However, their offense has a few bright spots that you can reap fantasy rewards from. Their defense, while improved, is in its' first year under a new defensive coordinator. They won't be good enough to keep them from playing from behind. Hopefully, a motivated Jared Goff comes to prove his doubters wrong and this offense is better than we all protected.
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