The 2018 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 and/or beyond. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the final standings.
Detroit Lions (6-10)
Over the Lions’ first nine games, Stafford managed a respectable 265 passing yards per game and threw multiple touchdown passes in seven of those contests. However, as Stafford’s supporting cast began to drop like flies (more on that below), so did his stats. Between Weeks 11 and 17, Stafford threw for more than 250 yards just once, and averaged less than a touchdown per game. When it was all said and done, Stafford concluded the 2018 season with his lowest passing output in terms of yards and attempts since 2010 (a year in which injuries limited him to just three games). With Lions’ head coach Matt Patricia having transformed the team from pass-happy to run-first, Stafford’s future sees him as more of a game manager going forward, which will make it difficult for the 10-year veteran to consistently post the low-end fantasy QB1 numbers we’ve been used to the last several years. Unless you play in a fantasy league that starts two quarterbacks, Stafford won’t be worth a draft pick this summer.
Second-round rookie Johnson began the season stuck in a three-man committee, though quickly ascended to the top of the pecking order after he put up the first 100-yard rushing effort by a Lions running back since November 2013 during the team’s Week 3 win over New England. Once the Lions made Johnson an offensive focal point, he looked like star in the making, averaging 99 total yards per contest in those he touched the ball at least 14 times. Even with the Lions grading below averaging in run blocking, only Green Bay’s Aaron Jones narrowly averaged more yards per carry (5.47) than Johnson’s 5.43 among running backs who carried the ball at least 110 times. Despite missing the Lions’ final six 2018 contests due to a knee sprain, Johnson has likely done more than enough to enter 2019 as the team’s featured back, and can be safely drafted this summer as a high-end RB2 with RB1 upside if he can be unleashed as a three-down workhorse. After ranking 24th with 49 avoided tackles in 2017 with Philadelphia, free agent signing Blount saw those figures crater to 61st and 19 this past season. Now 32 years old, Blount heads back to free agency this March and will likely find his services in low demand. Former preseason hero Zenner was plucked off the couch as a depth signing midseason, and only saw a sizable role when Johnson was out of the lineup (though made the most of the opportunity with at least 45 rushing yards in each of the Lions’ final four games). Also a free agent this offseason, Zenner would be nothing more than a potential touchdown vulture if brought back. Riddick is signed through next season, and figures to continue exclusively being used on third downs and hurry-up situations. However, with Johnson proving adept as a pass-catcher, the Lions may not feel the need to target Riddick 60-plus times as they have done in each of the last four seasons.
Despite being listed as third on the Lions’ wideout depth chart entering 2018, Golladay more than doubled his rookie year output. With both Marvin Jones (knee) and Tate (traded) out of the Lions’ lineup by Week 11, Golladay turned into a target hog, averaging 9.6 per game from that point forward. Marvin Jones is expected to be fine for 2019, though Golladay has announced himself as the Lions wideout to own going forward. Golladay figures to be a fine fantasy WR2, though the upside may be capped as the Lions convert their offense into more of a ball-control operation. Through seven games, Tate was on pace for his third straight season of at least 90 catches and 1,000 receiving yards, though found himself traded to Philadelphia at the end of last October. Tate’s trade initially appeared to be a huge boost to Marvin Jones’ waning fantasy value, as the Lions’ 2017 receiving leader had taken a bit of a step back this past season with just one game of more than 70 receiving yards. However, Week 11 saw Marvin Jones suffer a knee injury that knocked him out the rest of the year. The 29-year old Marvin Jones remains under contract for two more seasons, though it’s unclear if the Lions’ revamped slow-tempo offense can support two fantasy-relevant wideouts with Golladay assuming the mantle atop the team’s receiving heirarchy. Former 2014 sixth-round pick T.J. Jones has managed to do just enough to stick with the Lions throughout his five year career, and will head to free agency with a career 64 receptions, 814 yards and four touchdowns across 42 games played. With only a pair of former undrafted free agents in Powell and Andy Jones signed for 2019 and beyond as depth behind Golladay and Marvin Jones, the Lions could use some reinforcements in their wideout room. Tate’s name has been floating around as someone the team could potentially lure back during free agency, though if Detroit truly wanted to keep him around it likely wouldn’t have traded him in the first place.
Signed to a one-year, $2.5 million free agent contract last March, Willson appeared in line to serve as Eric Ebron’s replacement after the latter was unceremoniously cut. A fifth-round draft pick in 2013, Willson was arguably under-used in Seattle behind Zach Miller and later Jimmy Graham, averaging a healthy 12.6 yards per reception during his five-year stint on the West Coast. However, Willson flopped badly in Detroit, putting up career-lows in nearly every statistical receiving category, and his usage in terms of snaps didn’t at all increase despite a clearer path to targets than years prior. Perhaps Willson’s familiarity with newly hired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is a good enough for the Lions to give Willson a second chance, though it’s just as likely the front office decides to go in a different direction after general manager Bob Quinn publicly declared tight end a “position of need.” University of Iowa (is that the new tight end U?) standout T.J. Hockenson is someone the Lions are expected to give a long look with the eighth overall pick in April’s draft.