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The Lions entered the 2020 season with some modest expectations. In fact, I thought they were poised to take the leap. But injuries wrecked their lineups and ineffective play wrecked their play on the field. The team started out 4-7 and Head Coach Matt Patricia was fired. Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell took over as the Lions limped to a 1-4 finish, a 5-11 season and last place in the NFC North. Now, entering the 2021 season, it’s clear the Lions are in the midst of a full re-build, one that’s not likely to yield a great deal of on field success this season.
The Lions found the man to guide this next phase in Dan Campbell, who served as an assistant coach with Sean Payton in New Orleans. If nothing else, he figures to bring a fierce attitude, recruiting former Los Angeles Chargers’ Head Coach Anthony Lynn to run the offense. But most of the big moves this off-season for Detroit was seeing players leave. In fact, the Lions’ top two receivers, Kenny Golladay (Giants) and Marvin Jones (Jaguars), headed out in free agency. A number of veteran defenders and even kicker Matt Prater (Cardinals) rolled out of town as well.
But perhaps the biggest change is at quarterback, where the Lions traded franchise quarterback Matt Stafford to the Rams in exchange for some picks and former No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff. Goff played five seasons in Los Angeles, including four with Sean McVay. He led the Rams to the Super Bowl in 2019, throwing for 18,171 yards and 107 touchdowns during his time there. But Goff struggled in 2020, and the Rams decided to move on. Now, he gets a fresh start in Detroit.
The Lions also added a few pieces to the offense. Veteran backs Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson are gone, but the Lions signed former Packers’ running back Jamaal Williams to a two-year deal. In four years, Williams rushed for 1,985 yards and 10 TDs, adding 122 receptions for 961 yards and 8 TDs. He figures to be a big piece of the backfield committee. The team also worked on re-making its receiver group, signing veterans Tyrell Williams, most recently of the Raiders, and Breshad Perriman, who was with the Jets last season. They also drafted USC receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who had 178 receptions for 2,270 yards and 16 TDs in three seasons.
The Lions also used the draft to improve on the offensive line, using their top pick on Penei Sewell, largely regarded as the top offensive tackle. The team added a number of picks on defense as well as veterans to help re-build that unit as well.
Goff will be the quarterback, but how good will he be? He was QB18 in 2020, but turnovers and inefficiency hampered his play. That’s not likely to improve with a weak receiving group in Detroit. I suspect he’ll be a QB3, while the heart of the offense is the backfield. In addition to Williams, who was RB38 for the Packers last year, the team returns second-year man D’Andre Swift. Swift was RB18 in 2020, rushing for 521 yards and 8 TDs, adding 46 receptions for 357 yards and 2 TDs. I think the offense will run through the backs, both of whom can catch the ball. I suspect Swift will be a high-end RB2, possibly moving into low-end RB1 range, while Williams will turn in another RB3 season like he did alongside Aaron Jones with the Packers.
The receiving corps is more of a question. The best option is tight end T.J. Hockenson, who saw 101 targets and caught 67 passes for 723 yards and 6 TDs. He finished as TE5, and I suspect he’ll be Top 5 again. He’s the best and only real threat among the receivers. The wide receiver group is a work in progress at best. Williams, Perriman, St. Brown and second-year man Quintez Cephus will compete for targets. I doubt any finishes higher than WR5 territory. Currently, I suspect St. Brown will be the leading receiver, but it’s far from a lock. It’s probably a group best avoided in re-draft, while only St. Brown and Cephus hold dynasty appeal.
It’s going to take more than one off-season to turn things around in Detroit. I doubt Goff is the long-term answer, more of a stopgap as the team clears the decks and tries to right its salary cap issues. This will be another tough season, but the Lions might be scrappy thanks to the intensity and style of their new coaches. I still like Swift and Hockenson a lot for fantasy, but otherwise my expectations for Detroit are very low.
Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.