The 2017 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the 2017 NFL standings. The next team on the docket:
Detroit Lions (9-7)
Matthew Stafford may never again approach the lofty heights he achieved back in 2011 (5,038 passing yards and 41 touchdowns), but he remains firmly entrenched as a solid back-end QB1 with a stable floor. Since 2012, Stafford has put up no fewer than 4,257 passing yards in any campaign, while averaging 27.8 total touchdowns touchdowns per season over that span. A beneficiary of the Lions perpetual bottom-5 rushing offense, Stafford is ensured a spot among the NFL leaders in pass attempts each year. Still just 30-years old, Stafford is an ideal fantasy selection for owners who like to wait on quarterbacks in their drafts.
The running back position continues to be one where success eludes Detroit, as Reggie Bush remains the only Lions RB to have a 1,000-yard rushing season (1,006 to be exact) to his name in the past 14 years, and is also the last running back to have a 100-yard rushing hame for the team (117 yards on Thanksgiving Day 2013). Ameer Abdullah was a popular post-hype sleeper last Summer, as the former 54th overall pick in 2015 was finally healthy and theoretically had little competition for carries. Abdullah ended up proving his doubters correct, as the under-sized yet shifty back just didn’t seem capable of shouldering a full workload, receiving more than 15 carries just twice all season while also battling a neck injury late in the year. Abdullah’s inefficiency lead to the Lions signing LeGarrette Blount during free agency, perhaps signaling the end of the line for the former in Detroit.
Theo Riddick remained the Lions most consistent running back from a fantasy standpoint, and has posted back-to-back 53 catch seasons after going for 80 back in 2015. Riddick’s lack of run game usage limits his fantasy value to leagues that award points for receptions (PPR), however. Tion Green (an undrafted rookie out of the University of Cincinnati) began seeing the field beginning in Week 13 as a clock grinder and goal-line hammer — though the Blount signing likely leaves Green without a clear role in the offense. Injuries thrust second-year seventh round draft pick Dwayne Washington into a larger role during his 2016 rookie season (though he continues to be hampered by the injury bug) and is an owner of a career 2.8 yards-per-carry average through two NFL seasons. Also showing flashes in 2016 was Zach Zenner, who last season found himself buried on the depth chart despite the Lions run game woes, though he did end up getting re-signed and figures to at least have another chance to compete for a role this summer. In connecting all the dots, the Lions backfield as it stands projects Blount as the lead runner with Riddick as the pass-game complement, though it’s reasonable to assume Detroit will bolster their backfield depth with a rookie runner or two in April’s draft.
In leading the Lions in receiving yards and touchdowns, Marvin Jones finally broke through and had the season many were expecting a year ago. After fading badly over the second half of 2016, many had written Jones off, making him one of the better value picks last Summer. While Jones did start the 2017 season off the same way he ended 2016 (with just 14 catches for 184 yards and two scores through his first five games) he averaged 83 receiving yards per contest and scored seven times over his final eleven games. Going into his age-28 season, look for Jones to remain the Lions’ primary big play receiver and red zone target in 2018.
Golden Tate has impressively managed no fewer than 90 catches in any of his four NFL campaigns as a member of the Lions, and has recorded more than 1,000 receiving yards in three of those four. Turning 30 this August, Tate is locked in as the Lions’ primary possession receiver who can grind out tough yards on short catches, though he doesn’t offer much touchdown upside. As has been the case for much of Tate’s career in Detroit, his fantasy value will be much higher in PPR leagues than standard.
Preseason darling Kenny Golladay began the regular season with a bang as the Lions no. 3 wideout, going 4-69-2 in Week 1, then cooled off the next two weeks before suffering a hamstring injury that cost him the ensuing five contests. When Golladay returned to the field in Week 10, he essentially rotated with T.J. Jones at the third wideout spot, and didn’t find the end zone again until Week 17. Golladay possesses more theoretical upside than Jones (T.J.), and should enter training camp as the clear favorite for no. 3 duties, but will likely need an injury to either Jones (Marvin) or Tate to carry consistent fantasy relevance. That said, Golladay’s usage will be worth monitoring during the preseason, as it would make sense for the Lions to give Golladay snaps in since released, Eric Ebron’s old role. T.J. Jones is capable of making a big play or two, but figures to slot in as no better than the Lions no. 4 wideout. He is currently rehabbing a shoulder injury after undergoing surgery last January.
Coming off a career-best 711 receiving yard campaign in 2016, many thought former 2014 tenth-overall draft pick Eric Ebron was finally ready to become a fantasy tight end mainstay this past year. Instead, Ebron failed to clear 40 receiving yards in 10 of 16 games played, and caught just two or fewer passes eight times. Though he did put together a nice a little run of 20-210-2 during the fantasy playoffs (Weeks 14-16) for any owners who kept the faith. Unfortunately for Ebron, the Lions ultimately decided he no longer fit into their offensive plans going forward and released the enigmatic young tight end earlier this month. With backup tight end Darren Fells jumping ship to the Browns during free agency, 2017 fourth-round pick Michael Roberts sits atop the Lions depth chart at the position. At this point in the offseason, most of the top free agents have already made deals with other teams, so Detroit will likely need to turn to the April draft or swing a trade in order to restock their tight end depth. It is a possibility that the Lions may not produce a fantasy friendly asset at the position in 2018.