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Stadium: Ford Field (Dome)
Schedule Strength: 3rd
Postseason Weather issues: at Green Bay (Week 14)
Offensive Line Ranking: 18th
Head Coach – Jim Schwartz
Schwartz is yet another of the league’s head coaches whose background is purely defensive. Most notably, Schwartz spent eight years as the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans under famed head coach Jeff Fisher. While Schwartz was hired to ignite the Lions defense, like so many of the league’s defensive head coaches the offensive system will fall in the hands of the Lions’ offensive coordinator
Offensive Coordinator – Scott Linehan
A former college quarterback (hint, hint), Linehan entered the NFL as the offensive coordinator for the Daunte Culpepper-led Minnesota Vikings, made famous for their vertical passing attack with Cris Carter and Randy Moss (sound familiar?). Spending three years of turmoil as the St. Louis Rams head coach, Linehan was released and later hired as the Detroit Lions offensive coordinator. During his three seasons with Detroit, Linehan has proven that he will employ the same high-octane passing attack used during his time in Minnesota. Linehan also provides quarterback Matthew Stafford free reign to take multiple shots downfield to wide receiver Calvin Johnson on any play. Basically, expect more of the same in 2012.
QB – Mathew Stafford
Entering 2011, Stafford was projected by many to be a sleeper given his tremendous upside. The notable downgrade was a red flag injury prone status after missing 19 games during his first two seasons in the league. For those owners willing to take the risk, Stafford delivered in spades, finishing the season ranked fifth in quarterback scoring. Amongst the league’s most gifted young quarterbacks, playing amidst a pass-heavy offensive system, while throwing to the best wide receiver in all of football, Stafford should once again be viewed as a Top 6 quarterback entering 2012. Furthermore, examining the Lions schedule, we find seven of the final eight games being played indoors, while the only game that could present adverse weather is at Green Bay Week 14. Durability may still be in question as Stafford should be viewed as a yellow flag injury risk. However, Detroit is the only organization in the NFL with the backup worthy of handcuffing ( Shaun Hill), slightly lowering the risk of drafting Stafford. All factors considered, Stafford enters the preseason with a Player Rating of 9.2.
RB1 – Jahvid Best
Jahvid Best is listed on the Lions depth chart as the starting running back, so that’s where we’ll begin our evaluation. Best is an extremely gifted athlete both as a runner and a receiver, fitting perfectly into the Lions’ pass-heavy offensive system, becoming a threat to score on any play. The obvious concern is an ongoing concussion issue. Let me remind you that Best’s college career ended with a violent concussion, causing him to miss the final four games of his junior season. As a rookie in 2010, Best appeared in all but one game, giving us reason to believe his injury concerns were a thing of the past. However, in Week 6 of last season, Best suffered yet another concussion, causing him to miss the remainder of the year. What makes the situation even more peculiar was the manner in which the concussion occurred. Best reinjured himself not by hitting another player, but after hitting his head on the ground (it looked like any other play). In the weeks following, rumors leaked that Best, spurred on by his family, was contemplating retirement due to the ongoing head trauma. Making this situation even more difficult is the hot button issue concussions have become at the NFL’s league office. This sends up a huge red flag as Best is a serious injury risk equaling a Player Rating of 6.2. He may have a few good games early in the season, but the inevitable seems to be on the horizon.
RB2 – Kevin Smith
The 2008 Lions will forever be remembered for the 0-16 season. On that team, Kevin Smith became the lone bright spot running with great vision, strength and determination. Entering 2009 as the starter, Smith was putting together a solid RB2 type year, but a Week 15 ACL tear landed him on Injured Reserve. Smith would return in 2010, only to find himself on Injured Reserve once again with knee and shoulder problems. In 2011, Smith found himself jobless lingering on the NFL’s free agency. However, two weeks after Best’s injury, the Lions re-signed Smith, inserting him into the starting lineup Week 11. Filling in admirably, Smith finished the season seventh in fantasy scoring over final six games of the season. It should be noted that he did suffer a minor ankle issue, causing him to miss one game, making his ranking all the more impressive. On a personal note, I am a huge Kevin Smith fan (the football player and the movie director). I love his heart, toughness and positive attitude. However, he is what I like to categorize as “unlimited talent, zero durability.” A red flag injury risk, amidst an running back by committee causes Smith to have a Player Rating of 6.5.
RB3 – Mikel Leshoure
A powerful running back during his time at Illinois, Leshoure was selected by the Detroit’s Lions in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Leshoure would suffer an Achilles tear during training camp of his rookie season, landing the young ball carrier on Injured Reserve, to be lost for the season. Unlike knee or ankle injuries, Achilles typically do not linger, especially considering Leshoure suffered his injury before the season began, thus providing a full year of recovery. On the downside, Leshoure is proving to be one of the NFL’s leading knuckleheads after two marijuana convictions and a failure to appear in court. Per the league commissioner, his legal infractions will cost Leshoure the opening two games of the 2012 regular season. The shame is, Leshoure may be the most complete back on Detroit’s roster. At this juncture, the Lions backfield looks to be muddy waters starting the season. Considering the injury history of both Smith and Best, Leshoure’s fantasy value is more of a long-range projection, similar to DeMarrco Murray last year. It’s never good when three running backs need to be listed breaking down one position, but if you have the patience (of which I don’t), Leshoure is the most attractive of the three players and he’s worthy of a late-round flier with a Player Rating of 7.0.
WR1 – Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson is by far and away the most superior wide receiver in football, hands down (how about that for fantasy insight?). He is physical freak with track speed becoming a deep threat to score every time the ball goes up in the air. Let’s just say he’s earned the nickname. Playing inside a vertical passing offense, alongside a quarterback capable of delivering the deep ball only enhances Johnson’s status as fantasy football’s top wide receiver entering 2012. The lone knock on Johnson is his acceptance to the Madden Cover (don’t laugh). Although the Madden Curse is a term indicating some mystical force, I’ve done the research and found 11 of the 15 athletes to appear have gone on to become a bust. Of the remaining four, both Larry Fitzgerald and Drew Brees had a down year. Not so coincidentally, LaDainian Tomlinson set the single-season touchdown mark after rejecting the Madden cover. On a personal note, I’m not big on drafting wide receivers in the first round given the overwhelming positional value of running backs and quarterbacks, perpetuated by the overabundance of wide receivers in the later rounds. However, Johnson is certainly worth the choice as a true “beast mode” wide receiver with the Player Rating of 9.8 (just don’t walk under any ladders).
WR2 – Titus Young
During his rookie campaign, Young showed moments of brilliance, made all that more impressive for a rookie coming off the NFL Lockout. Already, we’re hearing reports of Young excelling during minicamps with quotes like “nobody can defend him” and “looks amazing.” At 5-foot-11 and 174 pounds Young is one of the smaller wide receivers in the NFL, but his agility and quickness are oddly reminiscent of Wes Welker. The Lions’ pass-heavy offensive system should supply enough firepower to sustain a second wide receiver. Now given an entire offseason to work with quarterback Matthew Stafford and with so much defensive attention going to Calvin Johnson, Young will definitely warrant consideration in every fantasy draft with a Player Rating of 7.6.
WR3 – Nate Burleson
Much was expected of Burleson entering the 2011 season playing opposite Calvin Johnson,, but he failed to cease the moment managing a meager 757 yards and three touchdowns, barely good enough for a WR4 spot starter. Many will be quick to note that I have placed Young ahead of Burleson, but I like the upside Young presents. Burleson has always been an adequate No. 2 2 NFL wide receiver, but mediocre doesn’t cut it in fantasy football now. He carries a Player Rating of 6.6.
TE – Bandon Pettigrew/ Tony Scheffler
Very few NFL teams have two tight ends able to create a tight end by committee. But the Lions have proven the will employ a number of different two tight end sets, especially down near the goal line. This is most evident when we examining the Lions’ 2011 tight end production. Although Pettigrew more than doubled Scheffler’s yardage total (347 vs. 777), Sheffler accounted for six touchdowns compared to Pettigrew’s five scores. Despite a mediocre season, Pettigrew still managed to finish 11th in tight end scoring. There is no indication of changes to the system once again, relegating Pettigrew to a low-end TE1 with a Player Rating of 7.5. Scheffler should remain undrafted with a Player Rating of 6.0.
D/ST – Detroit Lions
There is no denying Ndamukong Suh is the best young defensive player in the game today, and veteran defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch continues to play at a high level. However, the Lions have serious weaknesses in the secondary, while first round selection Nick Fairley continues to struggle with off-field issues. Still proving to be immature, the Lions D/ST has a long way to go before becoming fantasy worthy. We should avoid the Detroit D/ST with a Rating of 6.6.
K – Jason Hanson
As I began my evaluation, I had to double check to make sure Hansen was still a member of the NFL. Now entering his 21st season, the benefit to owning Hansen is a prolific Detroit Lions offense, while playing in a dome. Hansen’s major downfall is a lack of leg strength, as 50-plus yarders are no longer reachable. Even in 2011, despite all the Lions’ high-scoring offense, Hansen was amongst the low end fantasy options. Expect more of the same with a Player Rating of 8.0.
* Player Rating on a scale of 1-10 *
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