We at Razzball realize that exporting our views across the country has damaging consequences on the blogosphere. To help make amends, we are reaching out to leading team blogs and featuring their locally blogged answers to pressing 2010 fantasy football questions regarding their team. We feel this approach will be fresher, more sustainable, and require less energy consumption (for us anyway). The 2010 Detroit Lions Fantasy Football Preview comes courtesy of The Lions In Winter.

1. Jahvid Best looks like has been handed the starting running back duties. Obviously coach Schwartz enjoys watching his highlight reels, but will he be able to handle every down duties? Do you expect a big year from him?

I don’t understand questions about Best’s durability. He did have a couple of freak injuries in college–but then, so did Adrian Peterson. We’re not talking about reconstructed knees, or repeated stress fractures of the feet, or other injuries with long-term implications. Best is 5′-10″, 200 pounds; he’s built like a three-down runningback, not like a wide receiver (*cough*ReggieBush*cough*). Best has scatback speed and moves, yes, but he’s also got great vision. That’ll help him avoid the big hits, and make the most of that speed. If the Lions’ offensive line can open any kind of space for him, he’ll do very well.

Kevin Smith may, or may not, be ready to go at the start of the season, but his presence ought to be a boon to Best. They’re not that dissimilar: they both have great vision and solid hands, so the game plan won’t change much when one goes out and the other in. Best is faster and much more explosive–but Smith is an excellent blocker, and Best’s still an unknown there. Either way, I believe the Lions want to run it 25-30 times a game; there will be plenty of work for Best, regardless.

Don’t expect a lot of touchdowns from Best, because the Lions’ offense won’t go from terrible to prolific in nine months. But, something like 1200 yards, 7 TDs, and ample receiving love is perfectly attainable.

FWIW, I put my money where my mouth is, and traded way up in my 16-team dynasty league to snag him.

2. Most of the fantasy football world believes Calvin Johnson will have a rebound season. What needs to happen for that belief to become reality?

For Calvin Johnson to have the glorious fantasy season everyone’s been waiting for, Nate Burleson needs to earn his contract. In order for Megatron to conquer the world, “Recepticon” has to repeatedly burn the teams that ignore him on second and third down.

Historically, Burleson has excelled at creating, and exploiting, space in short- and medium-depth routes–but he’s also excelled at getting dinged up. If Calvin is going to take his place amongst the elite fantasy Johnsons (har har), Nate will have to make it impossible for teams to double-cover the big guy–all 16 games.

Also, it would help if the defense would stop putting the offense down by double digits before the second offensive possession. ”Throw it deep to Calvin Johnson” isn’t surprising anyone when the Lions are down 17-0 in the second quarter.

3. The Lions picked up Tony Scheffler and also have 2nd year TE Brandon Pettigrew. I was pretty high on Pettigrew until his injury and now comes Scheffler. Do you see the two canceling each other out for fantasy or will Pettigrew still be hobbled while Scheffler gets a chance to take over?

This is a good question, and the answer is that they’ll each have a valuable role. Scott Linehan loves to toy with 2-TE sets, because of the flexibility. Especially on third downs, he likes to use an athletic TE as a mismatch on weakside linebackers–and he likes to motion them out wide to flummox cornerbacks as well. I blogged extensively about how the Concussion-induced Retirement of Longtime Role Player Casey Fitzsimmons was going to be a much greater on-field loss than anyone realized, because of his ability to play that role. Just four days later, the Lions traded for Scheffler.

Pettigrew is a very big, powerful athlete with soft hands, but he is not a Gonzalezesque downfield threat. He’s going to be a machine on third downs and in the red zone–but splitting him out wide, to match up against a starting cornerback? I don’t see that happening. Scheffler, however, has that kind of speed, and the Lions will use it. The two won’t cancel each other out, per se; they’ll compliment each other. That said, I do think Pettigrew’s totals would have been higher if Scheffler hadn’t come around–and Scheffler would have been a better producer on a team without Pettigrew.

Fantasy-wise, presuming Pettigrew is 100% at the start of the season, I see a roughly equal split of targets–maybe 60/40 Pettigrew. I expect more yards-per-catch for Scheffler, and more TDs for Pettigrew, but it won’t be a huge disparity. Given the limited number of passes to go around, I don’t think either will be a dominant fantasy TE. But they’ll both be bargains, and Pettigrew could be a steal in TE-mandatory leagues.

4. Matthew Stafford has shown the ability to lead in pressure situations. Does he take a big step forward this season with the addition of Best, Burleson, and Scheffler or will the offensive line not be able to keep him upright?

I’ve long been saying that the Lions’ offensive line–and especially, left tackle Jeff Backus–is nowhere near as bad as its reputation. The problem is that the line was built for running the ball–and you simply can’t do it when you’re down by 14, 20, 27 or more. That said, I do believe the multiple injuries he suffered affected Stafford’s play. From the start of the year, every successive game would be better, then he’d get hurt, play poorly in his first game back, get better, get hurt . . .

In terms of talent, Stafford is absolutely the real deal. He’s not only a natural leader, and an extremely gifted thrower, his football IQ is off the charts. It was true even in the disastrous Seattle game, where he threw 5 picks, and no TDs, and nuked his end-of-year stats in the process. It was his first game back from the knee injury, and almost every pass was underthrown. Third-string QB Drew Stanton said that after they reviewed the film of the game, that Stafford threw to the correct receiver “on ALL of his throws.”

Word has it that the Lions are comfortable enough with Stafford’s progress in the offense that he’ll have the ability to check at the line, including run/pass switching. With all the weapons around him now, I fully expect a big step forward. From a fantasy perspective, I wouldn’t feel comfortable going into the year with him as my #1 QB–but he could definitely be one of the bigger surprises.

5. Everything seems to be looking up for the Lions this season in reality and fantasy. Do you believe they are deep enough to survive the inevitable injuries of a NFL season? What do you feel is the key for the team to consistently play well?

Great question! You’re absolutely spot-on in identifying the big problem with the Lions in 2010. The Lions’ starting 22 is dangerously close to real NFL talent levels; Peter King has said that if the Lions were in the NFC West, they might win it this year. Every single starter on the Lions’ offense is either an established, legitimate NFL starter, or a first-round draft pick with less than three years of experience. That’s something that hasn’t been true since . . . well, since I’ve been alive.

Quarterback is arguably the team’s strongest position. With a young franchise quarterback in place, a 28-year-old backup who knows the system, and has a winning record as a starter, and a talented local boy as a project, the Lions are set at QB. The defensive line, too, is blessed with talent at both tackle and end, and has both starters and rotational depth–in fact, the Lions will certainly be cutting an NFL-caliber lineman or two. After that, however, the Lions are paper-thin, and any injury would mean a devastating blow to the team’s on-field ability.

The progress from last year will be obvious immediately–but they’re playing in what might be the most stacked division in football. The Bears spent a zillion dollars in a moonshot effort to win it all, and at best they’re the third-best team in the division. The offense should take a major step forward, from ‘wretched’ into ‘mediocrity’, with occasional explosive flashes counterbalanced by youthful mistakes, and still being hung out to dry . . . the defense, as you might guess by my tone, will improve greatly up front–but the Lions have had the worst defense in football for years now, and I felt better about the back seven going into 2009 than I do going into 2010.

I’d say the keys to improvement are: A) Stafford’s ability to use the weapons around him, and 2) Defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril regaining form, and making good on potential respectively, and III) the cornerbacks’ ability to play much, much better this year than they ever have.

5-7 wins is the common thinking amongst Lions fans–and while I’d like to point out that the “ceiling” is a game or two higher, the questions about the linebackers, secondary, depth, and lack of experience.

  1. John says:

    Is Best gonna due anything with returning duties? and what do you think of his current ADP? i’ve seen him go real high lately.

  2. Doc

    Doc says:

    @John: They want him to be the main back so i doubt they’ll risk injury on returns.

    I see 53rd overall which would be 4th round. I think that is good for him. PPR I could see going a bit higher.

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