2021 Franchise Focus: Detroit Lions

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2021 Franchise Focus: Detroit Lions

It’s going to be a painful year in Detroit, and it appears that new GM Brad Holmes and new coach Dan Campbell are OK with that.

This is a multi-year rebuild, made obvious by the fact that Detroit traded the franchise’s all-time leading passer, Matthew Stafford, to the Rams for three premium draft picks (including two future first-rounders) and QB Jared Goff, who now has Stafford’s big shoes to fill.

The Lions’ offense will be anchored by a solid offensive line this year, and RB D’Andre Swift was extremely promising as a rookie, but everything else is kind of quilted together. The receiving corps is a combination of inexperience from non-premium picks and castaway veterans. TE TJ Hockenson has flashed, but probably needs to get more consistent. And OC Anthony Lynn hasn’t exactly inspired confidence with some of his off-season comments.

There are zero expectations for this Lions team this year, and while we don’t expect they will score a ton of points, there might be some buying opportunities on the cheap for fantasy.

Detroit Lions Franchise Focus Companion Podcast

The Basics

Team FuturesOdds
Season Win Total (O/U)5 (+100/-122)
NFC North+2000
Playoffs (Y/N)+575/-1000
NFC Championship+6600
Super Bowl+15000

Season Prop Movement

  • Win Total: 5 (-110) in late March to 5 (+100)

  • Super Bowl: +10000 in early February to +15000

Premium 2021 Betting Preview from Tom Brolley found here.

Key Offseason Moves

AdditionsDraftDepartures
Jared Goff (QB)Penei Sewell (OT)Matthew Stafford (QB, LAR)
Jamaal Williams (RB)Levi Onwuzurike (DT)Adrian Peterson (RB)
Tyrell Williams (WR)Alim McNeill (DT)Kenny Golladay (WR, NYG)
Breshad Perriman (WR)Ifeatu Melifonwu (CB)Jamal Agnew (KR/PR, Jax)
Darren Fells (TE)Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR)Marvin Jones (WR, Jax)
Charles Harris (DE)Derrick Barnes (LB)Danny Amendola (WR)
Corn Elder (CB)Jermar Jefferson (RB)Kerryon Johnson (RB, Phi)
Michael Brockers (DT)Joe Dahl (OG)
Tim Boyle (QB)Oday Aboushi (OG, LAC)
Alex Anzalone (LB)Everson Griffen (DE)
Quinton Dunbar (CB)Danny Shelton (DT, NYG)
Kalif Raymond (WR)Jarrad Davis (LB, NYJ)
Shaun Dion Hamilton (LB)Desmond Trufant (CB, Chi)
Chad Hanson (WR)Justin Coleman (CB, Mia)
Sage Surratt (WR)Darryl Roberts (CB, Was)
Javon McKinley (WR)Duron Harmon (S, Atl)
Brock Wright (TE)Christian Jones (LB, Chi)
Michael Warren (RB)Chase Daniel (QB, LAC)
Damion Ratley (WR)Jesse James (TE)

Scott Barrett’s Fantasy Strength of Schedule

Quarterback: 4th-toughest (-0.59)

Running Back: 3rd-toughest (-1.38)

Wide Receivers: 13th-toughest (-0.35)

Tight Ends: 14th-easiest (+0.06)

Pace and Tendencies

Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.5 (5th)

Plays per game: 61.6 (26th)

When the game is within a score — Pass: 58.1% (16th) | Run: 41.9% (17th)

When the team is ahead — Pass: 53.7% (10th) | Run: 46.3% (23rd)

When the team is behind — Pass: 67.9% (11th) | Run: 32.1% (22nd)

After cleaning house this offseason, the Lions 2020 tendencies don’t provide a barometer for what their attack will look like this year. Former OC Darrell Bevell called plays during the 2019-20 seasons and was replaced by former Chargers HC Anthony Lynn. But here’s the thing: Lynn has never gone into a full offseason and regular season as a team’s offensive coordinator. That’s right. In his 21-year NFL career, Lynn has only called plays over a stretch of 14 games in 2016 when Greg Roman was fired after Week 2 and Lynn was named interim OC to close out the season. And, boy, did Lynn love to run the ball. Over the Bills final 14 games of the 2016 season, Lynn called a run on 51% of their plays when the game was within a score (2nd-highest rate), they were 55% run-heavy when ahead (3rd-highest), and they were 44% run-heavy when trailing (highest rate). Granted, having Tyrod Taylor’s dual-threat ability helped aid in the Bills run-first ways, but that season is the only indicator on the field of how Lynn will design the Lions offense. Off the field, Lynn has spent most of his time adamant that his Lions will run the ball a ton. Here’s a quote from mid-February a few weeks after Lynn was hired: “It will be an emphasis to run the ball and run it well. Defenses are too good to be one dimensional. You have to be balanced in your attack and approach. That's going to be our intention… I believe the more ways you can run it, the more ways you can pass it." That emphatic statement combined with his 14-game history with the Bills should make the 2021 Lions one of the most run-centric teams in the league.

Key Statistics

  • After the Lions barely used D’Andre Swift in their first four games, they finally let him loose in Week 6 after their bye. From then on, Swift started nine games and averaged 16.7 fantasy points per game (RB10 in this span).

  • Swift finished as a RB2 (top-24) or better in weekly scoring seven times across his final nine games.

  • From Week 1-4, Swift only played on 31% of the Lions snaps.

  • In Week 6-17, Swift played on 55% of the team’s snaps.

  • Swift ran 20.7 routes per game from Week 6 on, which would have ranked 11th-most behind all running backs over the full season.

  • Swift averaged 3.5 receptions per game, which is very quietly 13th-most by a rookie running back since targets started being tracked in 1992.

  • Swift put up 7.2 receiving fantasy points per game, which is more than Marshall Faulk (6.9), Le’Veon Bell (6.5), and LaDainian Tomlinson (6.0) had in their rookie seasons.

  • T.J. Hockenson finished as a TE1 (top-12) in 8-of-13 games prior to Matthew Stafford’s Week 15 injury.

  • Until Stafford got hurt, Hockenson had at least 60 yards or a touchdown in 12-of-13 games.

  • Hockenson finished the season as the TE5 in cumulative fantasy points (175.3), but that was still a whopping 137.3 points behind the TE1 Travis Kelce (312.6).

  • One positive thing about Jared Goff’s addition is that he’s been pretty efficient at getting the ball to his tight ends. Over the last two combined years, Goff ranks tied for fifth-best with Patrick Mahomes in completions (73%) to his tight ends. Only Derek Carr (77%), Kirk Cousins (77%), Jimmy Garoppolo (77%), and Aaron Rodgers (75%) have been better.

Huber’s Scheme Notes

Offensive

The Lions cleaned house both within its coaching ranks and its personnel. To think that Detroit actually entered Week 14 last season with a 5-7 record is pretty surprising. The decision to trade franchise QB Matthew Stafford in the package that brought back Jared Goff signaled a commitment to a full rebuild. Replacing former OC Darrell Bevell, Anthony Lynn will have the unenviable task of competing for positioning throughout the season with the Texans to select either Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler or North Carolina’s Sam Howell at the top of the 2022 draft.

We have quite a ways to go before that draft, and Goff is more than skilled enough to score plenty of points with this Lions’ offense. The most unique aspect already established within the offense is the outstanding quality along the O-line. Most veteran QBs dealing with a complete rebuild are forced to endure grueling pocket protection. Taylor Decker is one of the top-five LTs in the game, and Frank Ragnow is well on his way toward finding his name among the top centers. New GM Brad Holmes then went and selected the top O-lineman in the 2021 draft in Penei Sewell. Detroit’s offense had better be careful or they may end up dislodging their chances of selecting one of those coveted franchise QBs.

So much noise has been tossed around concerning the RB rotation, making it particularly difficult to make sense of what Lynn may actually be planning. However, the RB room is much lighter than you might expect. Yes, the Lions lured free agent Jamaal Williams over from Green Bay, but the new 17-game schedule made the decision to add a 1B to D’Andre Swift’s 1A a no-brainer. Other than those two, nobody on the roster is a threat to play anything more than a spot role. Health permitting, Swift is every bit this team’s lead back. But that doesn’t mean Williams will not have every opportunity to garner around 30% of the load.

The most significant mystery will not be how the backfield share is split, it’ll be with the distribution of run concepts decided upon by Lynn. Since Lynn didn’t have a RB in the mold of either Swift or Williams last season with the Chargers, it’ll be one of the interesting storylines early in the season running behind the potential of that O-line. One factor where we can lay our hats is the impending monster season for T.J. Hockenson. The 2021 season could actually end up being the year of the TE with Hock, Travis Kelce, George Kittle, Darren Waller, Kyle Pitts, and Dallas Goedert providing fantasy teams with far more elite options than the top-heavy business the position offered over the last decade.

Here is where things get messy for the Lions: what do we make of the WR corps? If you think Breshad Perriman and/or Tyrell Williams are going to take their opportunities to the bank, good luck. Perriman does offer some versatility, but Williams has done absolutely nothing of note in a hair under two full years. And it’s the WR room where Holmes may’ve installed his workaround to keep the offense in check in order to get his future QB. But, as already explained, Goff is going to move this offense. The most likely WR impact performers will come from rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown and sophomore Quintez Cephus. The two youngsters offer such compelling traits that they could establish themselves as the future at the position very early in the rebuilding process.

Defensive

Absolutely nothing went right for the Detroit defense last season. While the pass rush easily served as its “strength,” their run defense and coverage stood as the eye sores of the league. Better days could be on the horizon, it’s just going to take time. Time they have. A series of nagging injuries completely derailed Jeffrey Okudah’s rookie season. Then Amani Oruwariye, who provided solid work in limited action his rookie season, really took a sophomore step backward. The only other returning CB will be Mike Ford, a kid that gave the defense its sole bright spot after seemingly coming out of nowhere.

Okudah is going to be fine. He was too damn good in college for the Buckeyes to expect anything less. Unfortunately, the Lions will be in tough shape at the end of the year if Oruwariye or Ford are forced into taking on major roles on the outside. And perhaps that’s precisely how new GM Brad Holmes would like it to play out in order to shore up their draft slotting. Failing to address the secondary until the 101st pick in the draft really underlined the team’s expectations in red.

What can we expect from new DC Aaron Glenn? The coverage schemes are likely to undergo an overhaul. If his five seasons coaching the Saints’ secondary tell us anything, it’s that we can expect a top-15 rate of Cover 1 combined with a devilish mix of Cover 2 and Cover 6. But Glenn will be entirely dependent on the pass rush getting home in order to make this formula work. A very important curveball within New Orleans’ rotation is mixing in top-10 rates of Cover 0 (all-out blitz) and 3-Seam (matchup zone) without tapping too many resources into a true Cover 3.

When everything comes together within this type of schematic rotation, the results can be impressive. Unfortunately, the defensive personnel will simply field far too many holes to draw out miraculous results. Detroit was able to lure Mike ‘backer Alex Anzalone over from the Saints, a solid get. While his presence in run defense left plenty to be desired, Anzalone’s coverage prowess emerged on a top-five level last season. Even if Okudah instantly evolves into an elite CB1, free agent signee Quinton Dunbar locks down the other side, and the LB rotation plays out of their minds, the team's safeties are simply lacking in anything resembling starting calibur potential. In light of that fact, Detroit will once again be a weekly target of bullying by our offensive studs.

Projected Fantasy Contributors

Jared Goff (Proj: QB27 | ADP: 189 | Pos ADP: QB30)

Look, Goff has been a successful quarterback by any stretch, taking the Rams to the Super Bowl in what was just his second season under Sean McVay — and third overall — in the NFL, and things looked so good the Rams signed him to a mega extension. But despite the extension, it feels like the McVay/Goff relationship soured at the point Goff’s Rams put up just 3 points in that Super Bowl, declining all the way to the point that McVay preferred playing undrafted John Wolford in the playoffs last year. So make no mistake that new GM Brad Holmes — erstwhile of the Rams — understands Goff’s limitations, and knows well that the big prize in trading away Matthew Stafford were the three picks (two 1sts and a 3rd) that Detroit acquired in the deal. Meanwhile, Goff does give new coach Dan Campbell an experienced signal-caller to usher in Detroit’s rebuild, even if he isn’t here to see it through. One thing that the Lions fans need to get used to seeing is a less aggressive thrower. Over the last two seasons, Stafford is tied for 10th in passer rating (99.8) and ranks 8th in yards per attempt (8.1). Meanwhile, Goff ranks a mediocre 24th-of-40 qualified QBs in passer rating (88.1) and 20th in YPA (7.3) in this span. Last year, Stafford was one of the league’s best passers on throws of 15+ yards downfield, ranking fifth-best out of 29 qualified QBs in on-target throw rate (67%) and 6th-best in passer rating (121.4) per SIS. Meanwhile, Goff ranked a lowly 27th in on-target passes (50%) on throws that traveled 15+ yards downfield. Only Mitchell Trubisky (47%) and Carson Wentz (43%) were worse. Goff’s 85.2 rating on these attempts ranked 20th. Over the last two combined years, Stafford’s average depth of target downfield when he’s given a clean pocket is 9.9 yards. Only Jameis Winston (10.6) is more aggressive. On the flipside, Goff’s aDOT from a clean pocket is 7.0 yards. That ranks 41st-of-46 qualified QBs ahead of only Teddy Bridgewater, Drew Brees, Justin Herbert, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Alex Smith. Goff has also been horrible against pressure over the last two years. Whereas Stafford ranks fourth-best in passer rating (80.3) when pressured, Goff is 29th with a 53.7 rating. So across the board, this is a major downgrade for the Lions. The good news is that on an overall weak team, the offensive line is probably the strong suit (including new RT Penei Sewell), and should be able to keep Goff upright for him to deliver accurate throws, which he can do when protected. It just won’t be the downfield bonanza Lions fans are used to with Stafford. Combined with a completely stripped-down receiving corps, and Goff is likely being correctly valued as one of the worst guaranteed starting QBs in the NFL from a fantasy perspective, at QB30 by ADP.

D’Andre Swift (Proj: RB13 | ADP: 25 | Pos ADP: RB16)

Look, if the Lions don’t make the same mistake they did last year under former coach Matt Patricia and his staff, Swift will be one of the best fantasy running backs, producing as both a runner and a receiver behind one the most underrated offensive lines in the game. Unfortunately, some of the new staff’s moves and comments have us feeling leery, especially since Detroit will be one of the worst teams in football (lined at just 5 wins). In 2020, the Lions finally let Swift loose in Week 6 after their bye — you might remember he dropped a pass in Week 1 that would have won the Lions the game, which probably cost him some trust and put him behind Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson on the pecking order. From Week 6 on, Swift started nine games and averaged 16.7 fantasy points per game (RB10 in this span). Swift finished as a RB2 (top-24) or better in weekly scoring seven times across his final nine games. From Weeks 1-4, Swift only played on 31% of the Lions snaps. In Weeks 6-17, Swift played on 55% of the team’s snaps. Swift ran 20.7 routes per game from Week 6 on, which would have ranked 11th-most behind all running backs over the full season. Swift averaged 3.5 receptions per game, which is very quietly 13th-most by a rookie running back since targets started being tracked in 1992. Swift also put up 7.2 receiving fantasy points per game, which is more than Marshall Faulk (6.9), Le’Veon Bell (6.5), and LaDainian Tomlinson (6.0) had in their rookie seasons. Peterson and Johnson are now gone. So… Swift’s primed to explode, right? Well… we’d be a lot more confident if the Lions didn’t go out of their way to sign Jamaal Williams to a multi-year deal this off-season, a back new OC Anthony Lynn has called a “classic ‘A’ back” and Swift a “speed-space back.” Lynn then opened his mouth again in early June when he said he’ll be riding the hot hand when it comes to his backfield. Add in the fact that the Lions sniffed around Todd Gurley and it’s fair to be skeptical, given Lynn’s track record. On a positive note, beat writer Tim Twentyman of the Lions’ official website wrote that Swift and Jared Goff are building a “nice rapport, especially on option routes,” and we know Goff loves checking down. It’s easy to give a full endorsement of Swift given his talent, but the situation around him is enough to justify a good number of backs in front of him, and the things Williams excels at — pass protection, goal line work, receiving — are all situations where Swift needs to play to get calorie-rich fantasy touches. The hope here is talent does win out in the end, and Swift gets enough work in the passing game to justify his cost.

Jamaal Williams (Proj: RB36 | ADP: 114 | Pos ADP: RB43)

A fun player to watch with his all-around skillset, no-nonsense playing style, and contagious playing personality, we don’t blame Williams for taking a two-year, $6 million deal from Detroit when so few running backs get guaranteed money over a multi-year span. However, we really wish he didn’t land here. Why? Because there’s no doubt his presence on a bad football team will limit the ceiling of someone we view as a rising superstar, RB D’Andre Swift. In four years with the Packers, Williams established himself as a reliable power type of back, carrying the ball over 100 times in each of his four seasons in a rotation with Aaron Jones. Over that four-year span, he also developed into a reliable, if not explosive, receiver, and one of the better pass-blocking backs in the league. That’s what worries us — coaches, especially conservative ones like new OC Anthony Lynn, will default to “reliable” over “untapped potential and youth” frequently. And hell, you don’t even need to ask us, as Lynn himself has suggested Williams is more of a “classic ‘A’ back” and Swift more of a slasher in comments this off-season. And Williams has proven to be a useful bell cow back when Jones has missed time. Since the start of the 2018 season, Williams has averaged 14.6 FPG in games Jones has missed vs. 7.9 FPG in games Jones has played — for reference, 14.6 FPG in PPR would have tied Swift for RB18 in 2020. Ultimately, we think the most likely outcome is the Lions realize that Swift is a special talent and play him as such, with Williams mixing in around 30-40% of the time. And with the chance that Williams’ snap share falls on calorie-rich downs like third down or in the red zone, he’s probably a worthwhile investment at his modest 10th-round ADP. Given his history in Green Bay when taking a lion’s share of the snaps when called upon, he can also produce big numbers if Swift were to be unavailable.

Jermar Jefferson (Proj: RB74 | ADP: 418 | Pos ADP: RB109)

Jefferson was a super-productive volume back at Oregon State, gaining 3222 yards from scrimmage on 557 touches (including 43 catches) in three years with the Beavers. While he has decent size at 6’0”, 206 pounds, he’s not really built to be a grinder. He doesn’t have elite timed speed (4.55), nor did he show functional pass protection ability in college. But, per our Greg Cosell, he has good vision, light active feet, excellent short-area burst and acceleration, and outstanding lateral quickness in confined space, and deceptive power and finishing toughness. But his draft status as a seventh-round pick suggests teams view Jefferson as a developmental committee back with the potential to be more than that if his receiving ability and pass-protection skills develop. He’s buried behind D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams as a rookie, and given the Lions were sniffing around Todd Gurley earlier in the off-season, there’s a chance he isn’t even #3 on this depth chart by the time September rolls around. He’s more of a dynasty stash, but there are skills to like here.

Breshad Perriman (Proj: WR63 | ADP: 204 | Pos ADP: WR74)

Perriman settled for a one-year, prove-it deal for the second straight year, and he chose another team where he can play right away. Perriman had a strong finishing kick with the Buccaneers in 2019 when he averaged 5.0/101.2/1.0 receiving per game in his final five contests. He parlayed it into a one-year deal with $6 million guaranteed ($6.5 million overall) from the Jets, but he once again struggled to stay healthy, which has been his biggest issue since breaking into the league as Baltimore’s first-round pick in 2015. He finished with 30/505/3 receiving on 60 targets for 99.1 FP last season while playing 90% of the snaps in 12 games — he dealt with ankle, knee, and concussion injuries. Perriman flashed his potential with three separate performances with 79+ yards but, like the rest of the Jets offense, he struggled with consistency playing in Adam Gase’s terrible offense. Perriman has averaged 16.5 YPR in his first five seasons of action — he missed his entire rookie season — and his combination of size (6’2”, 215 pounds) and speed (4.3 40-time) make him a tough cover when he’s on the field. He’s not the best fit with Jared Goff, who has been a suspect deep passer his entire career, but he could be the team’s #1 WR and the #2 option behind T.J. Hockenson in a passing game that has the most vacated targets (360) from last season. Perriman has a long history of inconsistent production and missed time — he’s 17 missed games in his last five seasons — so you’re better off chasing his spike weeks in best ball formats than in redraft leagues.

Amon-Ra St. Brown (Proj: WR69 | ADP: 202 | Pos ADP: WR73)

Normally, the 17th rookie WR drafted wouldn’t have much of a shot for fantasy relevance before the season started, but St. Brown landed in the ideal location to potentially make some early noise since the Lions have the most available targets (360) from last season. He had a strong season playing out of the slot at USC in 2019, posting a career-best 77/1042/6 receiving (13.5 YPR) as a sophomore. St. Brown moved to the perimeter as a junior after Michael Pittman left for the NFL, and he managed just 11.7 YPR on his way to 41/478/7 receiving in six games. Amon-Ra checked in at a shade under 6’0” and 197 pounds, but he showed some athleticism at his Pro Day with a 39” vertical and 127” broad jump. Our Greg Cosell compared St. Brown to another USC receiver, Robert Woods, because of his ability to line up all over the formation and his ability to create separation with his quickness and route running. St. Brown could challenge for immediate playing time as a slot WR in 11 personnel with just Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, and Quintez Cephus ahead of him heading into training camp. The Lions are going to own one of the league’s worst offenses, but they should at least be in plenty of pass-heavy scripts for St. Brown to potentially rack up some catches for PPR formats. Goff has also targeted receivers out of the slot the most since 2018 so St. Brown could develop into a solid floor option as a late-round pick in best ball drafts. There’s also a chance he could become a late flier in re-draft formats if he’s performing well in August.

Tyrell Williams (Proj: WR80 | ADP: 289 | Pos ADP: WR102)

Williams is looking to get his career back on track after injuries derailed his time with the Raiders in 2019-20. He followed his former coach, Anthony Lynn, to Detroit this off-season on a one-year, prove-it-deal to do just that. Now it’s time to see if his body cooperates since he has 40+ catches, 650+ yards, and 4+ TDs in each of the last four seasons when he’s been on the field — he also averaged 15.9 YPR in 2016-19. Las Vegas parted ways with Williams after two seasons after he signed a four-year, $44.3 million pact with the franchise in 2019. Injuries spoiled his once-promising career as he struggled to play through plantar fasciitis in 2019 before he missed the entire 2020 season with yet another torn labrum. Williams is a former 1000-yard receiver with Philip Rivers in 2016, and he can get vertical and he can burn opposing defenses on crossers with his 4.48 speed — he owns a career 16.1 YPR average. His big frame (6’4”, 205 pounds) and big-play ability also helped him to 22 TDs on 359 targets (6.1% TD rate) in 2016-19. The Lions have a league-high 360 vacated targets and Tyrell will be competing with Breshad Perriman to be the #1 WR in this offense — T.J. Hockenson is the top option in the passing game for Jared Goff. Williams was more interested in snaps and targets in 2021 as opposed to playing with a winner after missing the entire 2020 season. He’s just off the radar in re-draft formats but he’s a fine dart throw in the final rounds of best ball drafts if he can return to his old Chargers’ form.

Quintez Cephus (Proj: WR90 | ADP: 349 | Pos ADP: WR123)

The Lions have one of the thinnest wide receiver corps in the league and it wouldn’t be surprising if Cephus came from off the radar to be Jared Goff’s top WR at some point in 2021. The Lions could use a four-man rotation at WR with Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Amon St. Brown, and Cephus competing for targets and playing time. Our Adam Caplan described Cephus as a high-football IQ player but he was pressed into a role before he was quite ready last season — he saw a stunning 10 targets in the season opener without Kenny Golladay in the lineup. He finished his rookie season with 20/349/2 receiving (17.5 YPR) on 35 targets in 13 games. Cephus generated some buzz in minicamp for his expanded route tree and he’ll likely be competing with St. Brown for the #3 WR role heading into the season. Cephus is off the radar in most season-long formats but he’s worth a final-round dart throw in best ball leagues and he should be stashed in dynasty formats in case the talented second-year receiver breaks through in this weak receiving corps.

T.J. Hockenson (Proj: TE4 | ADP: 65 | Pos ADP: TE5)

Hockenson, who is entering his third season, is looking to continue the growth he experienced from his rookie season to his sophomore year. He exploded for 67/723/6 receiving on 101 targets for 11.0 FPG (TE5) in 2020 after posting just 32/367/2 receiving for 6.7 FPG in 12 games as a rookie. Hockenson was remarkably consistent last season with a run of 4+ catches and/or a touchdown in 12 of his first 13 games before his quarterback situation went to hell in the final three weeks. His quarterback situation could once again be an issue this season after the organization traded franchise star Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff in the off-season. Hockenson at least has a path to potentially lead all TEs in target share this season after the Lions moved on from Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. The Lions vacated a league-high 360 targets from last season and Hockenson could push for a quarter of the team’s targets after seeing an 18% share last year. Hock reportedly dominated in minicamp and, to no one’s surprise, he was the clear top option for Goff with Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman leading a shaky Lions’ WR corps. Hockenson has slipped a bit in fantasy drafts as the summer has gone along with Kyle Pitts rising up draft boards after the Julio Jones trade, which has created a buying opportunity in the late fifth/early sixth round. Hock has a chance to vault into the second tier of TEs behind Travis Kelce this season, but he’s going to need Goff to do his part to get up with Darren Waller and George Kittle.

Darren Fells (Proj: TE43 | ADP: N/A | Pos ADP: N/A)

The Lions initially signed Dan Campbell’s former Saints’ TE Josh Hill to replace Jesse James as the #2 TE this off-season, but Hill decided to retire two months later, which opened up a spot for Fells to step in behind T.J. Hockenson. Fells never really broke through as a fantasy option for the Texans the last two seasons, but he did just enough to be a pest for his teammates. He posted a combined 55/653/11 receiving on 76 targets in 32 games in 2019-20, and his 11 scores were tied for the seventh-most scores by a tight end in that two-year span. Fells will be doing most of his work as a blocker in two-TE sets and his red-zone activity will hopefully be scaled back in Detroit. He’ll likely be off the fantasy radar all season even if Hockenson would miss some playing time this season.

Hansen’s Final Points

The best thing I can say about Jared Goff this year is that he should be able to get the ball to T.J. Hockenson, but that’s really about it. He doesn’t run, has one of the worst overall receiving corps in the league, and he’s going to be in a conservative offense with a first-time play caller (for the full season) in Anthony Lynn, whose reputation around the league is not good. Goff is one of the most unappealing QB options on the board, quite frankly.

A lot has been made about new OC Anthony Lynn and his conservative nature and proclivity to use multiple backs with varying skill sets in his backfield, which is a problem for D’Andre Swift on both fronts. We’d prefer a more aggressive play caller for Swift’s catch totals, and it’s possible Jamaal Williams seriously caps Swift’s upside in terms of his role in the passing game and on top of the goal. None of this is good, but what is good is that the market’s have adjusted for the “AL” factor by pricing Swift as a third-round pick. I got Swift with the 10th pick of the third round in an expert draft on 7/14, for example, and he’s even slipping into the fourth round of some best ball drafts. The lowered price makes Swift more than palatable as a nice third -ound option, and since we do still believe in his high-end talent, we’d have to think 200+ carries and 50+ catches are in play. If you wind up taking a WR with one of your first three picks, then Swift is a really nice RB2 to target in the third round. Keep in mind the OL will be a strength of this team, perhaps their greatest strength.

I want to be careful not to overrate a player with a solid floor but a limited ceiling, and a guy like Jamaal Williams is a good example of that type of player. His fantasy contributions were negligible in Green Bay, despite being good at football and getting consistent touches. But now he goes to Detroit, where they are looking to set offensive football back at least a decade by running the ball a ton. They are paying Williams a nice chunk of change and he’s easily one of their four best skill players, so Williams should get meaningful snaps and touches as Anthony Lynn’s “A back” meaning he’s more of a downhill thumper than the slashing D’Andre Swift. Williams is very good in pass-protection and short yardage, so he is a threat to Swift, which also means Williams is a viable pick around the 10th round of a typical draft around 115 overall. Williams should have standalone value as a cheap RB3 or a good RB4, and he’s also a decent handcuff for Swift, since Williams has shown he can produce good numbers with a significant role.

I have supported him in the past, and he’s flashed why, even for a brief spell last year in a terrible season, but Breshad Perriman just hasn’t been able to put it together for a full season. Injuries, of course, have been the biggest issue, and they dogged him yet again in 2020. They will probably dog him again in 2021, so he’s someone most can pass on in fantasy drafts. But if you dig deep in your league, I do see him as the best “#1 WR” option for this team, and Jared Goff isn’t the worst QB to get production out of a WR. Perriman’s ADP is around 200, so he’s basically free, so using a late, late pick on him isn’t an awful idea. But he may be the first guy you cut in September, and if there are more injuries concerns this summer, it’s fair to give up on him. Maybe playing for his dad’s old team will help, but we’re sure as heck not counting on that.

He was only a fourth-round pick in the draft this year, so we can’t expect the world from a rookie who wasn’t even drafted in the top-15 at his position. But Amon-Ra St. Brown’s tape was pretty darn good at USC, and he’s in a great spot on the WR-poor Lions. A versatile player who is comparable to another former USC receiver, Robert Woods, St. Brown will have to play over Quintez Cephus at least if he’s to get snaps, which is doable with a good showing this summer. Playing inside is helpful for any rookie, and Jared Goff has targeted the slot the most in the NFL since 2018. It may be a stretch to draft him, since his ADP is 200+, but not if the vibes are good. Otherwise, we see him as an obvious potential WW add in the first half of the season.

It seems like it’s been a half a decade since Tyrell Williams was a thing for fantasy, but he should get a great opportunity this year on the WR-poor Lions. He did play for new OC Anthony Lynn in San Diego, and he averaged a strong 15.9 YPR in 2016-19. If he can still run, he could be on the radar even in one of the worst offenses, since the Lions have a league-high 360 vacated targets this year. His ADP is pushing 300, though, so there’s no reason to draft him.

He has to be on the radar because of the team’s serious need at WR, but with an ADP of 350+ there’s no reason to draft second-year man Quintez Cephus unless he’s blowing up in training camp. If so, and the rookie St. Brown doesn’t look ready for prime time, then Cephus will be a guy to prepare to grab on the WW early in the season.

TJ Hockenson could absolutely be a stud fantasy producer with volume, which is the key word for TJH this year. He’s entering his third NFL season, so he should be ready to show us the best he has to offer, but he will be in a new offense and with a new QB, so he will need some help to deliver the goods. It’s a downgrade from Matthew Stafford to Jared Goff, but Goff is hardly hopeless, and the helpt for Hockenson comes in the form of the 360 targets vacated from last season that need to be filled (at least 250+ of them should be on these Lions). We’re looking at a 25% target share for Hockenson, and since his ADP has remained very affordable with an ADP in the 60-65 range, he stands out as a nice TE1 option who shouldn’t preclude you from also having 4-5 strong options at RB/WR.

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