Whatever else you believe to be true about Detroit's new head coach, Jim Caldwell, at least he's not a lunatic. The Jim Schwartz era has ended. There will be no more angry end-of-game headset spikes, no more physical confrontations with opposing coaches.
Honestly, it's difficult to imagine any two people who are more dissimilar than Caldwell and Schwartz, in terms of demeanor. The former is so outwardly chill and composed that, at times, he appears to be lightly sedated; the latter is often a raving madman, unhinged and spitting-mad.
Back in June, veteran players offered these descriptions of Caldwell's approach:
"He talks to everybody like men and shoots you straight, and I think he expects it back," linebacker DeAndre Levy said.
"It's such a calming feeling," center Dominic Raiola said. "It's just a different style of coaching, but just around the building, everybody has a responsibility. That's all you've got to do. Easier said than done, but he's treating everyone on the same level."
If ever there was a team that needed clarity and calm and discipline, it's these Lions. The roster is loaded with talent, particularly at the offensive skill spots, but the team's play has been erratic (and occasionally hysterical). Caldwell's arrival can't possibly hurt — fans groaned at the hire, but that man's résumé is top-notch. (Three Super Bowls, with two wins as an assistant. Remember, he was Joe Flacco's OC during the Ravens' remarkable title run.) Detroit also hired Joe Lombardi as its new offensive coordinator, which seems like a win. Lombardi had spent the previous seven seasons in New Orleans as an assistant, including five as Drew Brees' position coach.
Let's hope the new coaching staff can smooth out the rough edges in Matthew Stafford's game, while still allowing the mega-atomic-rocket-armed QB to pile up stats. Stafford's flaws are well-known — reckless gun-slinging, volatile mechanics — as are his strengths. He's a creative passer, and his arm is awesome — like alien weaponry. Stafford has ranked as a top-five fantasy QB previously (2011), and he clearly has the talent and setup to do it again. I'm not quite as bullish as Brad, but we can all appreciate Stafford's considerable upside. There's little doubt that Detroit will again put the ball in the air 580-plus times, so volume won't be any sort of concern.
Calvin Johnson is among the most physically dominant receivers in NFL history (6-foot-5, 235, 4.35 speed, 42-inch vert), and he already holds an impressive collection of league records, including the mark for single-season receiving yardage (1,964). What's his ceiling? I really have no clue. It might be 2K yards and 20 TDs. It might be higher. He's awesome. Uncoverable. Johnson is routinely the focus of opposing defenses, yet he's still averaged 111.7 yards per game over the past three years. That's just silly. He's produced four seasons with at least a dozen TDs, and you can expect a fifth in 2014. Calvin is a first-half-of-Round-1 receiver, the highest-rated wideout on most boards.
Golden Tate will start opposite Johnson, which is borderline unfair. Tate finished as a top 30 fantasy receiver last season, despite playing in an offense that ranked next-to-last in pass attempts. Not only will he see a target spike this year (from 99 to perhaps 130), but he can expect more single-coverage than ever. Very few receivers are as sure-handed as Tate, so he won't waste many of his opportunities. Simply put, he was a perfect signing for this team. I've landed Tate in multiple drafts already, and expect to snag him in 2-3 more. No one should be at all surprised if he gives us a top 15 positional finish.
The rest of Detroit's receiving weapons, other than the RBs, are for deep leaguers only. Ryan Broyles is attempting yet another comeback after another significant surgery, and he's had a nice preseason. But Kevin Ogletree and Kris Durham remain in the team picture as of this writing. Rookie tight end Eric Ebron is an exceptional athlete and a high-ceiling prospect, but first-year players at his position are almost never significant fantasy contributors. Only two rookie tight ends in the past 20 years have even topped 100 fantasy points in standard leagues (Cam Cleeland, Rob Gronkowski). Ebron has also struggled with drops and blocking assignments this summer. Leave him alone, except in the largest leagues and/or dynasty format. Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria are still around, but not of interest at a loaded position.
The Lions' ground attack figures to be largely a two-man show, featuring Joique Bell and Reggie Bush. We can expect to see Theo Riddick in a cameo role as well, but there's no urgent need to own him. Bell has obvious every-down, all-situation ability. He's an effective power runner in goal-to-go situations — seven of his eight TDs last year were from inside the 2-yard line — and he's a serious receiving threat out of the backfield. Over the past two seasons, Joique has caught 105 passes for 1,032 yards. I'm a huge fan of the player, and his ADP is plenty friendly (88.2).
To me, it seems absolutely crazy that Joique is going almost 30 picks later than Reggie in Yahoo leagues. That's not to say that Bush is useless — we all know he's a gifted receiver, as well as a highlight-quality runner. But Reggie will clearly split touches with Bell, and Joique is the favorite for primary goal-line duties. I'm expecting Bell to be the better fantasy scorer, both in standard and PPR formats.
Detroit's defense should again be terrific against the run, thanks to an imposing front, and shaky against the pass. Fantasy-wise, this D is strictly a matchup play — you'll use 'em in Week 1 against the Giants, then again in Week 4 at the Jets. The NFC North schedule is of course a minefield, so it's unnecessary and unwise to hold the Lions D throughout the year. If you're IDP'ing, Ziggy Ansah, Stephen Tulloch, Ndamukong Suh and Levy should be on your cheat sheet.
And with that, we're down to three remaining juggernauts. Try not to let the suspense wreck your weekend, gamers. Draft well.
2013 team stats: 24.7 PPG (NFL rank 13), 290.6 pass YPG (3), 29 pass TDs (8), 112.0 rush YPG (17), 27.8 rush attempts per game (14), 39.6 pass attempts per game (6)
Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32. Oakland, 31. Miami, 30. Jacksonville, 29. NY Jets, 28. Tennessee, 27. Cleveland, 26. Baltimore, 25. Carolina, 24. Buffalo, 23. Tampa Bay, 22. St. Louis, 21. NY Giants, 20. Kansas City, 19. Houston, 18. Arizona, 17. Minnesota, 16. Pittsburgh, 15. San Diego, 14. San Francisco, 13. Atlanta, 12. Cincinnati, 11. Washington, 10. New England, 9. Indianapolis, 8. New Orleans, 7. Seattle, 6. Philadelphia, 5. Dallas