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Detroit Lions Offense Preview: Calvin Johnson Is My Spirit Animal

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 02: Gosder Cherilus #77 of the Detroit Lions (L), Dominic Raiola #51 of the Detroit Lions (2nd L) and Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions (R) assist Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions to the bench after scoring the game-winning touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys at Cowboys Stadium on October 2, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. The Lions beat the Cowboys 34-30. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

The Lions have increasingly gotten better over the last couple of years. Is the dynasty finally ready to emerge?

The historically bad Detroit Lions have not had many seasons where they had a respectable offense (or defense for that matter.) There were the years of Barry Sanders and Herman Moore, but they lacked that all-important piece under center. They might have finally found that guy. The leading passer in the history of the Lions is Bobby Layne and not only did he play more than 50 years ago, but he has just 15,710 passing yards.

Matthew Stafford is halfway there after 29 starts.

Detroit is one of the oldest franchises in the NFL and yet Stafford might be its leading passer in a couple of years. Additionally, it was fourth in scoring last season (best since 1997) and it might just be on the brink of a dynasty thanks to Stafford and arguably the best player in the league: Calvin Johnson. The Bucs won a Super Bowl. The Saints won a Super Bowl. I don't see any reason why the Lions couldn't be right there over at least the next five years.

I haven't been too quiet about the fact that I'm a Seahawks fan, or that the Lions are also one of my favorite teams in the league, thanks to the fact that I just love so many of the players that they've acquired. I really like to write about the Lions, especially for fantasy purposes, so let's just jump right into it.

2012 Record: 10-6

Drafted Skill Players: Ryan Broyles, WR (2nd Round). Also: Riley Reiff, OT (1st)

Dearly Departed: Maurice Morris


Matthew Stafford

Last season, Stafford threw for 5,038 yards, 41 TD, 16 INT, 11.9 Y/A and a 63.5 percent completion rate. Some people want to put most of this on Calvin Johnson because of how amazing he is. Let's be a little bit more real than that, OK? In 2008, Johnson had 78 catches for 1,331 yards and 12 TD. And the Lions went 0-16. And Dan Orlovsky was the leading passer with 1,616 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT and 56.1 percent completions.

That season, Johnson almost had more yards than the leading passer.

Megatron is a special NFL player that could do well with anybody, but that doesn't mean that just anybody will do well because of him. I'd say that Stafford's numbers definitely go up significantly because of Calvin, but he'd still be a pretty good passer without him. The good news: HE'S NOT WITHOUT HIM. I don't expect much of a dropoff this season as the young Stafford could only get better, believe it or not.

2012 Projection: 65 percent completions, 4,900 yards, 37 TD, 18 INT

Shaun Hill and Kellen Moore

Stafford did miss 13 games in 2010, but he played a full season last year. I'm not worried about his health anymore than I am any quarterback. It would definitely be bad for Detroit if he did go down, though. Moore is a questionable player even as an NFL third-string quarterback. He did complete 10-of-15 passes against the Ravens in their last preseason game, but he was 4-of-14 in their first game. His best shot is the practice squad.

Hill was acceptable in 10 starts in 2010, throwing for 16 TD and 61.8 percent completions for 2,686 yards. This is how an average quarterback becomes "OK" because of Megatron, but doesn't turn into a Pro Bowl QB just because of him. In a pinch, Hill is interesting.


Keiland Williams

The Lions' running back situation is really hard to get a handle on. This is a pass-first-second-third kind of team, but in a pass-heavy offense, that doesn't mean that a back couldn't have fantasy value. When Jahvid Best was healthy, his skills allowed him to pick up yards in the passing game and have good RB2 value. The question is: Who the heck is gonna play?

Williams was called upon unexpectedly after injuries last year for 58 carries and he had 195 yards and 2 TDs. But I wouldn't say that the 26-year-old was ever worth a fantasy start last season. It's still possible that Williams will get first crack at starting this year with others out. I honestly wouldn't spend better than a late round pick on him, assuming the league was deep enough and you needed backup running backs.

Kevin Smith

The likely starter as of today would be Smith, who is actually younger than Williams. He looked crisp and explosive last season after being cut because of his terrible injury history and then re-signed when others went down. Smith had 140 yards and 2 TDs against the Panthers but didn't top 50 in any other game. I don't know if he got tired or what, but Smith averaged 3.2 yards per carry over his final three games.

In spurts, he looks awesome. Consistently, I wouldn't count on him.

Mikel Leshoure

Maybe the most promising back on Detroit is the least trustworthy. Leshoure missed all of last season with a torn Achilles and will be suspended for the first two games of the year. He's never played in a regular season NFL game and he hasn't played in a preseason game this year, either. He's "hopeful" to get one or two games under his belt in the preseason after suffering a sore hamstring, but that's no guarantee.

I wouldn't pin good value on such an unknown.

Jahvid Best

One of my favorite backs in the NFL, some doubt he can ever play again. If he were healthy, I would make Best my RB2. Count on it. But he's not going to play for awhile. I held onto him all season last year until they finally put him on IR and it cost me dearly to waste that spot, but Best had 677 total yards after six games with 27 catches. I believe in Best, but I can't trust that he'll be cleared to play soon enough.

Stephfon Green and Joique Bell could have an opportunity open up if injuries linger for others.

The Lions were 31st in the NFL in rushing attempts in 2011 but fourth in scoring. They aren't worried too much about who is getting carries, so best to just stay away and maybe take a flier on a guy. Smith is probably most worthy of a flier.


Calvin Johnson

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways:


I recently watched most of the Todd Marinovich story on Netflix and the whole deal about how his father basically tried to mold the perfect football player from conception and on. It worked up to a point, but eventually failed. Calvin Johnson could be an example on what that could have looked like if everything went right and never failed. He's huge, he's fast, he's got great hands, perfect balance and agility. The Lions are basically telling offenses, "Look, we're going to throw it to him, do something about it." And they can't.

Put two DBs on him? Doesn't matter? Put THREE on him? Not only could he still make the catch, but now you've just assigned three defensive players on one wide receiver so Stafford can go somewhere else for a wide open option. Johnson was the second overall pick in 2007. How much do you think the Raiders had wished they had ignored the "You can't draft a WR 1st" rule that year when they instead picked JaMarcus Russell?

It's true that most teams need a great quarterback to succeed, but Russell was hope. Johnson was basically as close to guarantee of an elite player as you'll get and it's paying off for Detroit. Without a quarterback for most of his five seasons in the league, Johnson has 366 catches for 5,872 yards and 49 touchdowns. He averaged 105.1 yards per game, and since I've been enamored with him since his rookie season and made sure to draft him, I coasted to tops in my leagues.

Will Johnson top his 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 TDs from a year ago? It's unlikely, but crazy enough, it's not impossible. He's the best.

2012 Projection: 90 catches, 1,500 yards, 14 TDs and that's my conservative estimate.

Nate Burleson

He received 110 targets last year and caught 73 passes for 757 yards and 3 TDs. His 1,006 yard/9 TD season from 2004 is a long ways away though. I think Burleson provides adequate production opposite of Calvin, but I do wonder if the 31-year-old will fade behind the young guys this season. He's not much of a big play threat.

I try to classify a "good" game for a receiver as either 100 yards or a touchdown with some yards. That's adequate production to me. Burleson had three games with a TD and zero 100-yard performances in 2011. I classify a "great" game as 100 yards + a TD or 2 TDs in a game or better. Burleson had zero such games.

2012 Projection: 55 catches, 550 yards, 2 TD

Titus Young

Young was targeted 85 times in 2011 and caught 48 passes for 607 yards and 6 TDs. All of his touchdowns came over the final nine games of the season. He didn't have a 100-yard game, but I'd already put him ahead of Burleson for fantasy at this point. He's younger, has a higher ceiling, and might already be ahead of him right now.

2012 Projection: 65 catches, 800 yards, 7 TD

Ryan Broyles

If anything happens to Young or Burleson, whether it's ineffectiveness or injury, Broyles could be sneaky. He was highly successful at Oklahoma before tearing his ACL, and Jim Schwartz liked his play in his preseason debut against the Ravens when he caught two passes despite playing only 10 snaps.

It's hard to say what he could do but I'll be keeping an eye on him because the Lions are going to pass for a ton of yards.

2012 Projection: Ehh... 35 catches for 500 yards and two scores.


Brandon Pettigrew

Over his three years in the NFL, his targets have gone from 54 to 111 to 126. I don't know how much higher that ceiling could get but after catching 66 percent of his targets (83 for 777 yards), I don't think it's going down. He doesn't have a very high YPC, making him more like a classic TE than these massive big-play hybrids we have now, but I think he's firmly entrenched as a solid TE1 after the first wave of guys pass through. With the potential to move up.

2012 Projection: 85 catches for 800 yards and 8 TD

That's it for today and I ain't Lion.

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