For a fourth straight season, Razzball will be interviewing local NFL beat writers for some actual in-depth football knowledge to shed some additional light on our fantasy football knowledge. Keep your eye out for an interview for every NFL team through the summer. This installment comes courteous of Sean Yullie from leading Detroit Lions blog Pride of Detroit:
1) Let’s start with the Lions’ biggest offensive free agent acquisition Reggie Bush, who gives Detroit as close to an every down back that they’ve had in years. I am very high on Bush this year and see him as a second round RB option – I think he gets involved both in the typical run game and frequent looks out of the backfield in the passing game ala Javhid Best a few years ago (I wish Best well – horrible to see the problems he’s gone through and now no longer on the Lions). How excited is Lions nation for Bush’s 2013 debut?
There is a lot of excitement surrounding Bush, mainly because the expectation is for him to be used like Best was in the offense. The Lions lacked a true playmaker out of the backfield last year with Best out, and Bush should be able to fit that role. He is an explosive runner, and he can also make plays in the passing game. At the very least, the hope is that he will keep defenses a bit more honest and give opponents someone to worry about other than Calvin Johnson.
2) Calvin Johnson is an absolute beast and far-and-away the league’s best WR, fantasy or otherwise. It’s a little hard to believe he started a bit slow last year with 100-yards in only 3 of his first 7 games and only 1 TD in that span. And he only scored 5 TDs total last year while beating the single-season receiving yards record (with broken fingers – awesome). Is there any concern that with a probable improved running game that he will be overdrafted? And is it a no-brainer to think he scores more TDs this year?
I don’t think an improved running game will have much of an effect on Johnson’s production. I say that because the Lions are always going to be a pass-first team. Bush may give them the luxury of being able to run more than they have in the past, but this team is ultimately built to sling the ball around. And Johnson is ultimately going to get the most targets on this team. Even with a drop in pass attempts, the Lions are still going to throw the ball more than most teams.
As for his touchdown numbers, there’s no doubt he will get more than 5 in 2013. He had some really bad luck last season, as he was tackled several times a yard or two away from the goal line. Assuming that isn’t as frequent this year, along with the fact that the Lions should have more weapons around him, Johnson should be in the end zone a lot more.
3) Lining up opposite from Megatron is Nate Burleson, who looked fantasy-relevant in 6 games before injury last year, and Ryan Broyles who looked solid as well in the middle half of the season before an injury as well. I won’t even mention the name of the big departure from the Lions receiving corps from last year, but which one of those two guys really steps up this year to fill the void opposite Johnson?
It’s gotta be Broyles. Yes, he is coming back from another torn ACL, but Broyles quickly became a favorite of Matthew Stafford last year once he got up to full speed. He runs excellent routes, and he’s very slippery in the passing game. I expect him to put up solid numbers on a consistent basis in 2013, especially in PPR leagues.
4) Last year Matthew Stafford was all over my “don’t draft” lists. It was more for the injuries and lack of a running game than anything, and while my call was right, he still almost topped 5,000 yards. Hard to see how he only racked up 20 TDs… Will we see more passing TDs this year from the Lions?
There’s no doubt that Stafford had a lot of struggles last year that need to be fixed this year. For example, he needs to be more accurate as a passer, and he needs to stop trying to force the ball so much. At the same time though, a lot of Stafford’s issues in 2012 were a result of his wide receivers and tight ends. Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles both got hurt, and Titus Young exited mid-season because of his behavior on and off the field. This led to guys like Kris Durham and Mike Thomas (acquired before the trade deadline) getting extensive playing time as the season progressed. Factor in drop problems for Brandon Pettigrew and the lack of a running game and a lot was working against Stafford.
Assuming the Lions don’t have as many injury issues, Pettigrew improves in a contract year and the running game is better, Stafford’s touchdown production this year should be more similar to 2011 (41 TDs) than 2012.
5) We’ve seen Bush go through a lot of injuries through his career. Who is the handcuff between Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell for Reggie Bush owners? And if there is an injury, will either of those guys emerge, or will it go to a running-back-by-committee?
I think Bell will ultimately emerge as the Lions’ No. 2 running back. Leshoure seems destined to become more of a short-yardage running back, or someone who you call upon to grind out tough yards. Bell, on the other hand, excelled last year as the Lions’ “closer” at running back. He was able to make plays in the passing game, and he showed a lot more play-making ability than Leshoure. Also, Bell was the first back off the bench behind Bush in OTAs and the Lions’ minicamp.
Expect the Lions to go with the committee approach if Bush gets hurt, but Bell seems to have more potential of putting up big numbers from a fantasy perspective.