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 donât understand questions about Bestâs durability. He did have a couple of freak injuries in collegeâbut then, so did Adrian Peterson. Weâre not talking about reconstructed knees, or repeated stress fractures of the feet, or other injuries with long-term implications. Best is 5â˛-10âł, 200 pounds; heâs built like a three-down runningback, not like a wide receiver (*cough*ReggieBush*cough*). Best has scatback speed and moves, yes, but heâs also got great vision. Thatâll help him avoid the big hits, and make the most of that speed. If the Lionsâ offensive line can open any kind of space for him, heâll 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. Theyâre not that dissimilar: they both have great vision and solid hands, so the game plan wonât change much when one goes out and the other in. Best is faster and much more explosiveâbut Smith is an excellent blocker, and Bestâs 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.
Donât expect a lot of touchdowns from Best, because the Lionsâ offense wonât 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 everyoneâs been waiting for, Nate Burleson needs to earn his contract. In order for Megatron to conquer the world, âRecepticonâ 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 routesâbut heâs 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 guyâall 16 games.
Also, it would help if the defense would stop putting the offense down by double digits before the second offensive possession. âThrow it deep to Calvin Johnsonâ isnât 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 theyâll 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 linebackersâand 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. Heâs going to be a machine on third downs and in the red zoneâbut splitting him out wide, to match up against a starting cornerback? I donât see that happening. Scheffler, however, has that kind of speed, and the Lions will use it. The two wonât cancel each other out, per se; theyâll compliment each other. That said, I do think Pettigrewâs totals would have been higher if Scheffler hadnât come aroundâand 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 targetsâmaybe 60/40 Pettigrew. I expect more yards-per-catch for Scheffler, and more TDs for Pettigrew, but it wonât be a huge disparity. Given the limited number of passes to go around, I donât think either will be a dominant fantasy TE. But theyâll 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?
Iâve long been saying that the Lionsâ offensive lineâand especially, left tackle Jeff Backusâis nowhere near as bad as its reputation. The problem is that the line was built for running the ballâand you simply canât do it when youâre down by 14, 20, 27 or more. That said, I do believe the multiple injuries he suffered affected Staffordâs play. From the start of the year, every successive game would be better, then heâd get hurt, play poorly in his first game back, get better, get hurt . . .
In terms of talent, Stafford is absolutely the real deal. Heâs 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 âon ALL of his throws.â
Word has it that the Lions are comfortable enough with Staffordâs progress in the offense that heâll 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 wouldnât feel comfortable going into the year with him as my #1 QBâbut 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! Youâre absolutely spot-on in identifying the big problem with the Lions in 2010. The Lionsâ 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 Lionsâ offense is either an established, legitimate NFL starter, or a first-round draft pick with less than three years of experience. Thatâs something that hasnât been true since . . . well, since Iâve been alive.
Quarterback is arguably the teamâs 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 depthâin 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 teamâs on-field ability.
The progress from last year will be obvious immediatelyâbut theyâre 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 theyâre the third-best team in the division. The offense should take a major step forward, from âwretchedâ into âmediocrityâ, 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 frontâbut 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.
Iâd say the keys to improvement are: A) Staffordâs 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 cornerbacksâ ability to play much, much better this year than they ever have.
5-7 wins is the common thinking amongst Lions fansâand while Iâd like to point out that the âceilingâ is a game or two higher, the questions about the linebackers, secondary, depth, and lack of experience.