The Juggernaut Index is our annual attempt to rank every NFL team for fantasy purposes. We're not concerned with real-life wins and losses here, only fantasy potential. These rankings rely on hard, incontrovertible math. There are algorithms at work. This stuff is peer-reviewed. Seasons are simulated. You can't argue with science, so don't even try...
19. Detroit Lions
If they ever unveil a statue in Detroit to commemorate the Jon Kitna/Mike Martz years (unlikely), then we suggest using the image on the right.
That's Kitna for you in a nutshell. He's just out there making things happen...for the other team.
Over the past two seasons, Kitna has thrown 42 interceptions and he's fumbled 27 times, losing 15. He's also taken 114 sacks. Kitna has totaled 8,276 passing yards in his last 32 games, but that doesn't make him effective in real-life, or a must-start player in fantasy leagues.
In fact, there are scoring configurations in which Kitna's recklessness has made him un-ownable. (It should be noted that he gave the ball away in Seattle and Cincinnati, too. It's not like Martz was preaching turnovers). If the
36 35-year-old QB starts another 16 games this season, you can expect another big turnover total. But with Martz in San Francisco and presumably a more balanced offense in Detroit, you should not expect another 4,000 passing yards from Kitna. He'll probably need to win a few early games to keep a clipboard in the hands of Drew Stanton and/or Dan Orlovsky (or potentially Chris Simms).
Kitna is No. 18 in the Yahoo! composite quarterback ranks, and he wouldn't be nearly that high if it weren't for his exceptional wide receivers. Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson are each ranked among the top-20 at their position, although both players were limited by injuries in 2007. Williams missed the season's final four games with a PCL sprain, and Johnson was affected by a lower-back injury.
The 6-5, 235-pound Johnson is an obvious breakout candidate. Very few receivers are, or have ever been, this freakishly gifted...
He's got skills, indeed. We'll remind you of what Rivals said, back in the day:
He has incredible hands, speed, leaping ability, size and overall talent. He combines all the necessary ingredients to become an elite pro player. He creates an impossible matchup for even the best cornerback. His combination of skills gives an offense a rare weapon -- especially in the red zone ... At a position where most stars are prima donnas, he is a team-oriented star who can be a major difference-maker. Johnson is a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver with all the talent to become a special playmaker.
Draft him, even if you have to reach.
You can't reasonably expect Shaun McDonald to get another 127 targets, as he did last season, or another 79 receptions. Williams and Johnson are the Lions receivers who belong on public league rosters.
The Detroit running game, which was really just a theoretical construct in 2007, should be an actual threat this year. Tatum Bell may be the presumptive starter at RB, but this should be at worst a committee situation for rookie Kevin Smith in Week 1. Bell is not really considered a full-workload back, and there's also the fumbling issue -- although with Kitna around, his turnover contributions are just drops in the bucket.
Handling a sizeable workload has never been an issue for third-round draft pick Kevin Smith. He carried an astonishing 450 times for Central Florida last season, gaining 2,567 yards and scoring 29 TDs. He's a tough and elusive runner, though he lacks top-end NFL speed and he's not going to move a pile of tacklers too far downfield. And he obviously has some mileage.
We've ranked Smith 18 spots ahead of Bell, but neither seems like more than a low-end flex option in Week 1. Brian Calhoun is a possiblity to achieve fantasy relevance, but it might take an injury to another back (or two).
First-round pick Gosder Cherilus, a 320-pound tackle, helps the O-line. New protection schemes and less predictability will help the line, too. The Lions have the right RBs for a zone blocking attack; we just need to figure out if they have the right linemen.
The Lions defense gave allowed an NFL-worst 27.8 points and 377.6 yards per game in '07. They were the No. 14 fantasy defense (137 points), but much of the credit for that achievement should go to Brian Griese. Linebacker Ernie Sims (134 tackles) is the best IDP play here.
2007 Detroit team stats
Rushing: 80.5 Y/G
Passing: 242.4 Y/G
Points per game: 21.6
Red Zone possessions and TDs: 50, 25
'08 Schedule strength: .543
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