Detroit Lions 2020 Fantasy Outlook


Image courtesy of FantraxHQ

By JT Bowen

Instagram: @_jtbowen


Though the fast-approaching NFL season is still riddled with questions and will be heavily dictated by COVID-19’s presence over the next few months, with the majority of rosters set in stone, fantasy football rankings are similarly locked in.


Since the retirement of Calvin Johnson, beyond Matthew Stafford, Detroit has lacked consistent offensive star power relative to fantasy football options (sorry, Golden Tate). That narrative looks to be changing, with Kenny Golladay steadily working his way up the ranks for the past three seasons, now widely gaining recognition as a fringe top-10 receiver.


Despite Golladay’s growth into a stud at receiver, the majority of the other offensive skill players in Detroit have struggled with inconsistency, and factoring in key additions may have fluctuating value in the realm of fantasy football.


Today, I’ll be running through some of Detroit’s players and their outlook in terms of fantasy viability this year. Let’s get started.


Quarterback


Matthew Stafford


Stafford’s fantasy relevance is well-documented at this point. For most of his career Stafford has put up gaudy numbers, as the absolute lack of a running game has forced him to routinely throw 35 or more passes a contest. Throwing predominantly to Calvin Johnson but a number of other receivers throughout his tenure have helped him turn in one of the most prolific 10-year stretches of any quarterback, setting the record as the fastest to ever reach 20,000, 30,000, and 40,000 career passing yards. If Stafford continues at the pace he has into his late 30s or early 40s, it’s not out of the question that he one day holds the record for most passing yards ever. Although his numbers haven’t equaled playoff success, they certainly have in fantasy.


Betting on a player returning from a serious injury, especially at quarterback, to captain a fantasy team is never a great idea. For that reason, it’s hard for me to rank Stafford anywhere above #12 in standard, single-QB formats as a low-end QB1. I would try to target a safer option as a Week 1 starter, such as Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan, but make no mistake, Stafford should absolutely be rostered in all leagues as a top-tier backup. Stafford played phenomenally through the first half of last year, before going down with an injury, and if he can recapture his 2019 form, is a quality starting option on a weekly basis.


Detroit’s tendency to go down to the wire in most games means Stafford will be passing a lot, especially in the second half. Despite the efforts to establish a run game in Bevell’s scheme, Stafford will still probably throw 25-30 passes a game. Throw in a tight end who figures to take a step forward and a quality pass-catching option out of the backfield, and Stafford has a top-8, if not higher, ceiling for quarterbacks. Keep an eye on him in Round 12 or past that as an upside swing at QB, and at worst an awesome QB2.


Omitted: Chase Daniel and David Blough


Neither of these players warrants being drafted, and even if Stafford did get hurt, can’t be viewed as starting-caliber fantasy quarterbacks.


Wide Receiver


Kenny Golladay


I already talked about Kenny Golladay’s rise to stardom, so I’ll try to keep it brief here. Kenny Golladay is approaching bonafide WR1 status in most leagues and is at worst a stellar second receiver on any roster.


Golladay is clearly more valuable in standard formats than he is in PPR, as he averaged only a tad over 4.0 receptions per game last season. However, his red-zone prowess and big-play potential more than makeup for his deficiencies, as he led the league in receiving touchdowns with 11, and maintained a great 18.3 YPC over the season.


The Northern Illinois product does struggle with consistency, as in five contests last season he tallied less than 45 yards. However, in what’s looking like a contract year, and Matthew Stafford hopefully throwing to him all 16 games instead of David Blough and Jeff Driskel, Golladay looks primed for another massive year with no major additions to the receiving corps and additional time to grow his rapport with #9. In a 12-member league, Golladay is a solid option towards the end of Round 2 and at the beginning of Round 3, slightly more valuable in non-PPR formats.


Marvin Jones Jr.


Despite being displaced by Golladay as the #1 option in the offense over the past two seasons, Marv still remains a great secondary wideout for the Lions. Though he’s probably not a feel-good WR2 in any fantasy format, the California product is a player capable of putting up WR3/4 or potentially FLEX numbers and is worth a draft pick as a productive and proven wideout somewhere in the 75-90 range of most drafts.


Like Golladay, Jones Jr. is more valuable in non-PPR, nearing about five receptions per game in the 13 games he suited up for last season before ending on IR. However, also similar to Golladay, Jones’s ability to work downfield on circus catches, as well as find the end zone (tied for 4th in receiving TDs), is intriguing.


The former Bengal has ended two consecutive seasons on injured reserve, which has to be concerning for prospective fantasy owners. However, Jones has shown during his time in Detroit to be a viable option, maybe not an ideal weekly starter, but a well-rounded fantasy player in a pinch and a constant threat for a huge game (see four-touchdown last year effort against Vikings, Minnesota).


Danny Amendola


I’m mainly including the journeyed Texas Tech product out of respect for his career longevity, but also his quietly-awesome 2019 campaign. Amendola was somewhat of an uninspiring signing early in the free agency period last offseason but proved he can still produce, totaling over 60 catches and approaching 700 yards in his eleventh season, ultimately earning a one-year extension from the Lions.


Though he works out of the slot, Amendola didn’t perform markedly better in PPR formats above standard formats as one might expect, narrowly beating out Kenny Golladay for receptions per game at a bit above four. Additionally, this is probably skewed by a trio of eight-catch games, as in the majority of contests he had less than four catches. Amendola also only tallied one touchdown, which came in the first week on a busted coverage play against Arizona.


Amendola is a great locker room leader with a sure set of hands who figures to remain the starting slot man for Detroit at age 34, but he’s not a starting option and hard to justify drafting in anything other than 16-team PPR leagues.


Omitted: Quintez Cephus, Marvin Hall, Jamal Agnew


A few weeks ago, the receiver room in Detroit beyond the trio at the top was fairly cloudy, but after Geronimo Allison’s opt-out and the cuts of Travis Fulgham as well as Chris Lacy, I’d assume Detroit takes two of these three as their WR4 and WR5. Seeing as Detroit almost exclusively runs out of three-receiver sets, none of these guys are particularly valuable and aren’t worth drafting. Hall is a nice big-play threat but isn’t a legitimate weekly option. If a starter were to get hurt, especially Amendola, Cephus could be an interesting option as the next man up in the slot, but he and Agnew aren’t worth a roster spot unless an injury occurs. Not even going to mention guys like Tom Kennedy or Victor Bolden, who likely won't make the roster.


Running Back


D’Andre Swift


Detroit’s second-round pick this year and a consensus top RB in the class, Georgia halfback D’Andre Swift figures to be heavily featured in the offense this year. Swift, despite playing behind some great backs in Athens, was productive both on the ground and as in the passing game for the Bulldogs, and his 6.6 average yards per carry marks a school record.


Right now, and admittedly we won’t know until the regular season begins, I would say Swift looks like the starter in the offense — a team in a make-or-break year doesn’t splurge on an RB to not play them. However, Kerryon Johnson, despite his injury issues, is a talented runner as well that Detroit still loves, and may cut into Swift’s carries if he can stay healthy.


Even if Johnson garners the majority of carries, which seems unlikely, Swift still has tremendous value as a pass-catcher, to the point where it wouldn’t be surprising to see him used as a receiver in Bevell’s scheme. Many Lions fans fondly remember Theo Riddick, who was the team’s (and one of the league’s) premier pass-catching backs before he was somewhat unceremoniously cut prior to camp last year. It’s not unreasonable to believe Swift can replace, if not improve upon, Riddick’s peak in Year 1 while also adding value on the ground.


Swift, if he can remain healthy, should be a major factor in Detroit’s offense. While it’s hard to project statistics for him, something in the realm of 600+ receiving yards, 80+ receptions, 400+ rushing yards and 8-10 touchdowns doesn’t feel all that lofty, and that’s assuming Kerryon stays healthy, which is far from a given. Despite being a rookie, Swift is talented enough to end the season as a quality RB2 and a great FLEX option if all goes right, and drafting him from Round 6-7 in PPR, 7-8 in standard is a good range considering his upside.


Kerryon Johnson


Arguably the biggest question mark on the Lions offense is Kerryon Johnson and his role this season. While he has performed well and shown flashes of being a franchise back, his struggles to stay healthy and the D’Andre Swift selection doesn’t spell out job security for the third-year Auburn product.


It’s hard to envision Johnson being a reliable RB2 in most fantasy formats this season, and even harder to envision him appearing in all 16 games this year. Any value as a receiver has pretty much been absorbed by Swift, and it seems unlikely that Johnson, assuming Swift is healthy, gets more than 15 carries a game.


If there’s a silver lining though, it’s that Kerryon won’t be relied upon to start every game, which should help him to stay healthy and remain fresh over the entire season. Additionally, Kerryon is effectively playing for his job, and if he wants to extend his career in Detroit beyond this season he’ll need to ball out.


Johnson will be a factor in this offense, and seeing him exceed 800 yards rushing and eight touchdowns if all goes right isn’t unfathomable—the talent is clearly there. But Kerryon’s usage in the offense and ability to stay healthy is up in the air, and he’s a risky fantasy play, at least until his role is better defined. Johnson is certainly more valuable in non-PPR formats, but even then, it’s difficult to justify selecting him before Round 9 in 12-member standard leagues, given his low-floor and injury concerns. Good upside pick down the line, but not dependable as a weekly difference-maker on a fantasy roster until proven otherwise.


Omitted: Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson, Jason Huntley


I don’t expect any of these guys to have a major role on a weekly basis unless an injury occurs, which is admittedly very possible. If Kerryon goes down, Bo can be rostered and potentially started depending on how his role shapes up to be, and if Swift gets hurt, whoever the Lions take between Ty and Huntley (assuming they don’t take both) is the next up for the go-to pass-catching back, but shouldn’t be added unless they are productive in the first week or so after Swift is out.


Tight End


TJ Hockenson


Another uncertainty on the Lions offense lies in Iowa standout and last year’s first-rounder, TJ Hockenson. Hockenson, like most first-year tight ends, struggled to find his footing in the league as a rookie but showed strong flashes in a tremendous Week 1 performance against Arizona. If Hock weren’t to take a big step forward in his second year, it would be considered a massive disappointment, and after Eric Ebron’s tenure in Detroit, would start to raise questions of a bust in the making.


That’s what makes Hockenson so difficult to evaluate. Coming into the league, and across the shortened season he played before going down with an injury, Hockenson clearly showed that he wields the talent and athleticism, a capable blocker with sticky hands and great size, a total package at the tight end position. Ideally, Hockenson will start to come into his own and harness his potential, growing into a safety blanket and weapon in the middle of the field for Matt Stafford, but that’s far from a given. After the top 8 or so tight ends, there’s a stark drop off in the league-wide tight end hierarchy from a talent standpoint, and we can only hope Hock can work his way into that conversation as Lions fans.


Of all the ‘upside’ players Detroit has in terms of fantasy production, I think Hockenson has the most, and arguably in all of fantasy as well. Stafford has lacked a difference-maker at tight end, from Brandon Pettigrew to Eric Ebron and everyone in between, and Hockenson could finally change that.


Lions D/ST


Unless you have a top-tier unit like last year’s Patriots, defenses can typically be streamed weekly depending on the matchup. Right now, while I think Detroit’s defense should be better than last season’s, they simply don’t look like they’ll be a consistent streaming option until they prove otherwise. A mediocre linebacking corps, shaky depth along the defensive line, and a new-look secondary don’t exactly scream ‘shut-down’, at least at this point. Maybe I’m being cynical, but I can’t recommend spending a pick on the Lions’ defense, as they’ll likely be available off the waiver wire.


That’s not to say the Detroit defense can’t end up being solid. As evidenced by the 49ers last season, a total defensive turnaround is possible from year-to-year. Additions like Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon, and Danny Shelton during free agency, as well as Jeff Okudah and Julian Okwara in the Draft, should help improve turnover margins and coverage. Individual improvements in players like Tracy Walker and Jahlani Tavai are possible if not probable, and a new coordinator in Cory Undlin could spur a defensive 180. And of course, the lows Detroit’s defense hit last season make it difficult for the unit to get any worse.


The Lions defense has the potential to be one of the league’s better units, but I simply can’t buy into them as a reliable fantasy option, especially with some proven great defenses in the league, until I see it. Keep an eye on them off the waiver wire a few weeks into the season.


Kicker


Matt Prater


KIckers remain among the most volatile players in fantasy. You can always delve into offensive and defensive statistics, and Detroit’s red zone struggles would suggest Prater can flourish with more field goal opportunities, but for the most part, it’s extremely difficult to predict on a weekly basis. Prater is widely recognized as one of the best kickers in the association, possessing a massive and consistent leg during his tenures in both Denver and Detroit. Behind Justin Tucker and Harrison Butker, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more reliable and battle-tested kicker than Prater. Top-10 kicker in the league for me no question, and worth being drafted as such in the final rounds of your fantasy draft.


After months of speculation, major doubts surrounding football, and waiting, football looks to be just weeks away from returning. The recent postponements of Big 10 and PAC-12 football seasons aren’t encouraging, but the NFL is a stubborn league, and right now, fantasy football looks to be returning as a staple of football fans.


Keep calm, stay safe, and draft Matt Stafford above Aaron Rodgers.

and Jahlani Tavai are possible if not probable, and a new coordinator in Cory Undlin could spur a defensive 180. And of course, the lows Detroit’s defense hit last season make it difficult for the unit to get any worse.


The Lions defense has the potential to be one of the league’s better units, but I simply can’t buy into them as a reliable fantasy option, especially with some proven great defenses in the league, until I see it. Keep an eye on them off the waiver wire a few weeks into the season.


Kicker


Matt Prater


KIckers remain among the most volatile players in fantasy. You can always delve into offensive and defensive statistics, and Detroit’s red zone struggles would suggest Prater can flourish with more field goal opportunities, but for the most part, it’s extremely difficult to predict on a weekly basis. Prater is widely recognized as one of the best kickers in the association, possessing a massive and consistent leg during his tenures in both Denver and Detroit. Behind Justin Tucker and Harrison Butker, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more reliable and battle-tested kicker than Prater. Top-10 kicker in the league for me no question, and worth being drafted as such in the final rounds of your fantasy draft.


After months of speculation, major doubts surrounding football, and waiting, football looks to be just weeks away from returning. The recent postponements of Big 10 and PAC-12 football seasons aren’t encouraging, but the NFL is a stubborn league, and right now, fantasy football looks to be returning as a staple of football fans.


Keep calm, stay safe, and draft Matt Stafford above Aaron Rodgers.


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