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Andy Behrens

Juggernaut Index No. 18: The Detroit Lions

Andy Behrens
Roto Arcade

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The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. This is not an NFL power ranking. We're reviewing each team's projected fantasy contributions — that's it.

It would be fair to say that the Lions have struggled a bit over the past decade.

In five of the past 10 years, this team has finished with three wins or less. Detroit's record is 42-118 during that stretch, and the team's total point differential is -1,225.

Nope, that's not a misprint: Over the last 10 seasons, the Detroit Lions have been outscored by 1,225 points.

And we probably don't need to remind you that this team was off-the-charts bad in 2008 and 2009, winning just twice in 32 attempts. The average score of a Lions game over the past two years: 31.6 to 16.6.

So, um … yikes. It makes you wonder why the man pictured above is smiling. Could be chemicals in the face-paint. Or the tight headband. Or perhaps he's recalling a favorite moment from the Eric Hipple years.

Or, just maybe, he's feeling optimistic about his team's offensive firepower in 2010.

The NFL is a league where teams can easily flip trends, and players rewrite the scouting reports each season. Ignore the Lions at your own peril, fantasy owner. There's talent in Detroit. This team has improved the receiving corps, the backfield, and the O-line. They appear to be built for shootouts — a necessity in today's NFC North — and they have a rifle-armed young quarterback at the controls.

Also, for the first time in forever, the Lions will actually have their head coach and both coordinators returning. Detroit fans have grown accustomed to regime change, not stability and consistency. But this appears to be the beginning of a new era. I'm not going to make any predictions about wins, but if Detroit's skill players can stay healthy — huge if, obviously — this offense will improve by six points and 50 yards per game.

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Of course any significant improvement on offense has to be led by Matthew Stafford(notes), which means he'll need to make a leap his second season. Stafford has a terrific arm, capable of completing any throw in the playbook, but his rookie year was full of misfires (53.3 completion percentage) and bad reads (20 INTs). He missed six games due to knee and shoulder injuries, so durability is a concern. You'll recall, however, that he sat in the final 2-3 weeks only because the franchise didn't want to take any unnecessary risks with its $72 million quarterback.

At Stafford's current Mock Draft Central ADP (125.6) you're almost guaranteed a profit. He's drafted as a low-end backup QB, yet his setup is excellent. In fact, when you compare Stafford's talent, his resumé, his receivers and his team's run-pass mix to Kevin Kolb's(notes) situation in Philly, it's tough to justify the 46-pick difference in ADPs. If you're planning to draft an unproven quarterback, at least find yourself a potential bargain.

The most dangerous weapon in Detroit's receiving corps is Calvin Johnson(notes), who also happens to be one of the most physically gifted receivers in NFL history. Johnson's combination of size, speed, leaping ability, sure-handedness, and body control is almost unrivaled. Nonetheless, he was a fantasy disappointment in 2009 as he dealt with a knee injury of unknown severity, and he was absolutely swarmed by opposing DBs on every route. The '09 Lions didn't have another receiving threat on the roster who demanded attention. (Bryant Johnson(notes) apparently doesn't intimidate anyone). It was a frustrating year for Megatron to say the least, but his ceiling remains as high as any receiver's.

Johnson's 2010 outlook improved after Detroit acquired Nate Burleson(notes) and Tony Scheffler(notes) during the offseason. Those two aren't ranked particularly high for fantasy purposes, but they're both credible NFL talents. They'll cause defenses to divert resources away from Megatron-control, so that's a win. Brandon Pettigrew(notes) has returned from last year's knee injury, though he may always be a more valuable tight end in reality than in fantasy. He's a stellar blocker, but Scheffler should see more targets.

If there's a sleeper among the Lions' receivers it could be Derrick Williams(notes), a third-round pick in 2009. He lined up all over the field at Penn State (and always seemed to find the end zone against Iowa, which is probably why I've mentioned him). Williams was relegated mostly to kick return duty in his rookie campaign, but long-term, he's a slot receiver with potential.

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The Lions' ground game hasn't produced a 1,000-yard runner since Kevin Jones(notes) in 2004, but Jahvid Best(notes) has a legitimate chance to eclipse that mark as a rookie. Best is a ridiculously elusive back with exceptional speed. Check the highlights. (Sorry 'bout the porn soundtrack). His 4.35 40-time was tops at his position at the combine. He's a skilled receiver who projects as a PPR star, and there's a small rookie-year discount at the draft table, too (ADP 38.3)

The worry with Best is health, not skill. He dealt a medley of injuries while at Cal — concussion, foot, elbow, hip — and he doesn't quite have workhorse size (5-10, 195). Still, he's a rare talent, worth an early pick. There's no such thing as an injury-proof player in our game, so don't let the medical chart scare you off. The Lions' run-blocking should improve a bit this season, following the addition of LG Rob Sims(notes) via trade.

Running back Kevin Smith(notes) is recovering from ACL surgery, so he'll be limited to one practice per day in camp. At this stage he's looking like a handcuff, not a major threat to Best's workload. If you start seeing a lot of Maurice Morris(notes) or Aaron Brown, then you'll know something has gone horribly wrong.

And speaking of horribly wrong…

The Lions defense ranked dead-last in the NFL last year in both yards (392.1) and points allowed (30.9). The line generated very little pressure (26 sacks) and the secondary was brutal. You can't accuse the team of failing to address its weaknesses, however. They've replaced three-fourths of the D-line. Detroit selected DT Ndamukong Suh(notes) with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, and it's tough to imagine him being anything less than a multi-year Pro Bowler. Again, we refer you to the film room. The Lions further enhanced their line by adding Kyle Vanden Bosch(notes) and Corey Williams(notes). If you're looking for an IDP on this team, target FS Louis Delmas(notes) (94 tackles) and MLB DeAndre Levy(notes) (85), then hope for the best.

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Photo via US Presswire

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