The Matt Patricia era began in disappointment, with the 2018 Lions finishing just 6-10 and last in the NFC North. Plenty of new coaches suffer through a losing season, but with losses to the Jets, Bills and 49ers, the Lions probably should have managed a better record. The Lions beefed up their TE corps after basically punting on the position last season, and TE T.J. Hockenson, TE Jesse James and WR Danny Amendola will compete for the 9.8 targets per game, 6.3 receptions per game and 73.8 yards per game vacated by Golden Tate. They replaced offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter with Darrell Bevell, a move with confusing fantasy implications. Bevell ran the Seahawks offense for the past seven seasons, an offense notorious for remaining run-heavy despite the presence of one of the best QBs in the league. On the other hand, Bevell’s early coaching history was entirely focused on the passing game, and he’s helped develop Brett Farve, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.
Key Departures:Golden Tate, WR (mid-season trade); LeGarrette Blount, RB
Key Acquisitions:T.J. Hockenson, TE; Danny Amendola, WR; Jesse James, TE; C.J. Anderson, RB
2019 Fantasy MVP
Kenny Golladay, WR“Babytron” took a big step forward as a sophomore, emerging as the Lions’ top passing threat and topping 1,000 receiving yards. He’s a constant big play threat, finishing ninth in the NFL in air yards and logging 19 gains of at least 20 yards. That came despite Matthew Stafford attempting the fewest passes of his career since he became the full-time starter in 2011. If the new offensive coordinator either helps Stafford improve as a passer or sparks a transition to a more pass-focused offense, Golladay’s numbers could jump even without any improvement on his part. The additions to the Lions’ passing game are not direct threats to Golladay’s workload, as none of them can stretch the field like he can. After Tate was traded midseason, Golladay’s per-game production barely changed – he went from 4.7 catches for 71 yards per game to 5.0 catches for 73 yards per game.
2019 Fantasy LVP
C.J. Anderson, RBPeople who rely too heavily on season-long totals might wrongly conclude that the Lions operated a time-share backfield. That’s not what happened. Kerryon Johnson was the primary running back until he got hurt. Then, with five games remaining and no hope at a playoff spot, they put all of the RB pounding on free-agent-to-be LeGarrette Blount. More than half of Blount’s total rushing yards (56%) and almost half of his carries (49%) came in those last five games. Anderson has now been brought in on a one-year contract to fill the exact same role – afterthought when the Lions have a chance, expendable punching bag if things are going poorly. The Lions’ offensive line is not as good as the 2018 Rams’ was, nor is the overall offense as intimidating, so the situation is much worse than the one that enabled Anderson to rush for 100 yards in three straight games near the end of last season. He’s likely to see more work than he did for the Panthers at the beginning of last season, and Anderson is probably underrated in terms of his actual ability. But he’s likely to be used as a one-dimensional backup, whereas his draft cost or his early season DFS salaries are likely to imply a more reliable role.
2019 Breakout Player
Kerryon Johnson, RBJohnson earned some buzz before his rookie season, but the second-round draft pick emerged gradually, with less than 10 carries in three of the first four games. But it didn’t take too long for him to become an emerging fantasy factor. He logged double-digit carries in six of his last eight games, topped 85 scrimmage yards in six of those, including three games of more than 100 scrimmage yards. Though the Lions had expected to use him as a part-time back, he was clearly their dominant RB by midseason. A knee injury cut short what could have been his breakout campaign, and a surprisingly-not-bad showing by Blount with Johnson out caused many to forget just how good Johnson had been. But Johnson showed he can perform at an NFL level, and he’ll have had roughly 10 months to recover and prepare for his sophomore campaign by the time the season starts. If Johnson starts eating into Theo Riddick’s target share, he could easily become a top-15 RB. Riddick has seen at least 65 targets in each of the past four seasons, but Johnson had a better catch rate, a higher broken tackle rate, and averaged more yards after the catch than Riddick.
Final Thoughts:Stafford’s attempted passes has decreased steadily since 2012, at a time when the rest of the league is increasing their reliance on the passing game. According to QBR, 2018 was his worst season as a full-time starter. If the new offensive coaching staff can help Stafford improve, that would be a good sign for this entire offense, but such an improvement is in no way guaranteed. The schedule won’t do them any favors, as the Lions face one of the most daunting lineups in the NFL. Just two games each against the Bears, Vikings and improved Packers alone would make for a difficult schedule, but games against the Broncos, Chargers, Cowboys and Eagles add to the degree of difficulty. One final schedule note – they face the Bears in Week 13, the Vikings in Week 14 and the Broncos in Week 16. In standard leagues, that means they’d have tough matchups in the final week of the regular season, the first week of the playoffs, and the week of the championship.
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