2019 Lions fantasy preview: Can the team uncover its true identity?

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The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the end of July as training camps open. We’ll tackle pressing season-long fantasy questions, Best Ball tips (new on Yahoo for 2019) and team win totals. Next up, the Detroit Lions.

The Lions weren’t among ... the best of teams in 2018. They clinched their first losing season since 2015, and Lions fans the world over stared longingly at pictures of Calvin Johnson with each loss. But among all that negativity, Detroit possesses weapons that are of much interest to fantasy players.

Kerryon Johnson, Kenny Golladay, and Marvin Jones all have the potential to be fantasy studs, but will the team (and a seemingly declining Matthew Stafford) hold back their chances?

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Lions fantasy impact players
Lions fantasy impact players

Market Mover?

Lions OC Darrell Bevell commented in late May he wants to “exert will on our opponents” by being a “tough, hard-nosed, physical football team.” With that in mind is Kerryon Johnson OVERVALUED, UNDERVALUED or PROPERLY VALUED at his 37.9 ADP (RB20) in .5 PPR?

Liz: PROPERLY VALUED. I understand the worst case scenario for Johnson: A situation in which he cedes passing down work to Theo Riddick and goal-line looks to C.J. Anderson. That, of course, assumes that Riddick makes the team and Anderson isn’t cashed by November. That also makes the Lions offense woefully predictable.

Johnson is a versatile player with an every-down skill set. Yes, his pad level needs to come down and his running style could lead to another injury, but when he’s on the field he’s doing #werk. Averaging 5.0 true yards per carry (RB6) and managing a catch rate of 82.1 percent (RB5) as a rookie, the Auburn product can keep opposing defenses guessing. He’s also going to keep them breathless with his explosiveness and ability to hit the second level of the field, as evidenced by a 2018 breakaway run rate of nearly 7 percent (RB13). He’s an ascendant talent and a solid RB2 for fantasy purposes.

Andy: First of all, the questioner is leading the witnesses, which I do not appreciate. Kerryon was terrific in 2018 before injury interrupted his season (5.4 YPC) and he’s certain to have a substantial workload. (I’m not going to fret about C.J. Anderson’s arrival, because his late-season binge was entirely about situation. CJA is fine, but we shouldn’t expect more than a rotational role.) Johnson is an excellent all-purpose back with legit receiving talent. Assuming good health, he has a clear shot at 1200-plus scrimmage yards. And that’s basically what you’re paying for with a top-40 ADP, so I’ll say PROPERLY VALUED.

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TRUE or FALSE

BabyTron, Kenny Golladay, lays waste to Autobots this fall and finishes inside the wide receiver top-17 in .5 PPR.

Liz: PUSH. Kenny G is currently my WR17. He’s the rub. Do I believe he has the skills to finish inside the top-seventeen players at the position? HUNDO P (as the kids say, or did in 2017). Do I think his volume will be enough to guarantee it? NOPE.

New OC Darrell Bevell is going to spread the ball around. Perhaps Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Jesse James, and T.J. Hockenson don’t seem like elite weapons, but they’re bodies that are going to eat into Golladay’s target share. With the offense likely to take on a more balanced complexion, it’s hard to imagine Matt Stafford forcing the ball to Kenny G as much as he did in 2018. Ultimately, Golladay is going to make some highlight-worthy plays this fall and winter, but they won’t be consistent enough to carry fantasy teams on the regular.

Brad: FALSE. The separation between most wide receivers in the 15-30 range is relatively minute. There are arguments to be made swapping Tyler Lockett (My WR15) and Will Fuller (My WR30). Golladay falls somewhere in the middle.

On the plus side, though Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, and T.J. Hockenson will vie for Matthew Stafford’s attention, Golladay is sure to lure at least 110 targets. Last year, he posted a respectable 54 percent success rate, notched the ninth-best contested catch rate of any wideout and ranked WR17 in total air yards. Whether inside or outside the numbers, he routinely made high degree of difficulty catches.

What should give investors the most pause is Detroit’s strong desire to employ an old school, ground-and-pound approach. This offseason OC Darrell Bevell and Matt Patricia have hammered home this point. If the ball-control strategy proves effective, it’s doubtful Golladay’s production spikes from 2018’s WR21 finish in .5 PPR. Limited red-zone opportunities (WR20 in red-zone target% in ‘18) and other glaring inadequacies (WR77 in average target separation in ‘18) also play factors.

Bottom line, maintaining back-end WR2 value is the most likely outcome for Golladay, which explains why he’s my WR22.

OVER or UNDER

For the first time since 2011, Matthew Stafford tumbled outside the QB top-15 last fall, landing at QB20 in total fantasy scoring. His 21 passing touchdowns and 3,777 passing yards set new full-season career lows. OVER or UNDER 24.5 passing TDs for “Country Jay Cutler” in 2019?

Andy: Kudos to Stafford for destroying Aaron Rodgers in beer-chugging, which should probably replace the Wonderlic at the combine. It’s safe to wonder whether Rodgers can rebound from such humiliation.

As for Stafford’s on-field outlook ... well, that’s a problem. We’re not likely to see 600-plus pass attempts this year, a total Stafford reached every season from 2011 to 2014. This team’s receiving corps is plenty fun, and it was enhanced in a significant way via the addition of T.J. Hockenson. But I’ve got Stafford projected for something like 535-545 attempts and, at his career TD rate, that should yield 23 or 24 spikes. Thus, I’ll take the UNDER.

Brad: UNDER. I’m 10,000 percent here for Behrens’ suggestion of replacing the Wonderlic with a beer-chugging competition. It’s a Combine measurement which proves not only voluminous liquid consumption but leadership qualities. Would you rather rally around a dude who throws back blue-collar domestics or mango-flavored White Claws (Kirk Cousins, one can only assume)?

Stafford’s precipitous decline in attempts and subsequent across-the-board numbers last year will carry over into the new season. Yes, blame the busted back he painfully gutted through, but the scheme bears the most responsibility. As discussed above, this is a team that desperately wants to pride itself on eating clock. Additions on the defensive end imply it could improve on its No. 10 total D finish in 2018, which makes the wish a predictable reality. On maybe 530 attempts, Stafford tallies 21-23 TD strikes.

Best Ball Bargain Bin

Liz: T.J. HOCKENSON. Yeah, yeah, yeah … I know the trope: Rookie tight ends can’t produce in their first year. Sure. Except, Hock isn’t just any rookie tight end. Selected by the Lions with the eighth overall pick in the draft, the former Hawkeye was thought by many to be the most pro-ready player in the entire 2019 draft class. Don’t believe me? Then listen to the June 3rd episode of Matt Harmon’s Rookie Orientation Podcast, which goes DEEP on the 22 year old.

A player with advanced blocking AND receiving technique, he figures to be on the field A LOT. All those reps could lead to a mid-late season emergence that wows. He’s my TE17 and worth consideration in the thirteenth(ish) round of twelve-team exercises.

Brad: C.J. ANDERSON. The rolling dough ball left a trail of flour and fantasy fun during his brief stint with the L.A. Rams. His accumulated 3.47 yards after contact per attempt greatly impressed. The surroundings in Detroit aren’t nearly as supportive, but he should carve out a consistent secondary role behind Kerryon, possibly spelling the incumbent occasionally at the goal line. How many opportunities he earns will be determined by the Lions’ overall competitiveness. If everything clicks, he could be what Latavius Murray is to New Orleans, a low-yardage (550-600) rusher who snakes 6-8 TDs.

Mad Bets (From FanDuel Sportsbook): Detroit 6.5 wins OVER (-125) or UNDER (+105)

Liz: UNDER. In a brutal division and in a transitional year, it’s hard to imagine the Lions besting their 2018 record. Not yet.

Andy: I can’t even imagine wagering serious money on the Lions winning a respectable number of games. This is a team installing a new (and likely conservative) offense, and the head coach didn’t exactly impress last season. This is a five or six-win team. UNDER.

More Fantasy Team Previews

AFC East: Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots

NFC East: Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Washington

AFC South: Colts | Texans | Jaguars | Titans

NFC South: Buccaneers | Saints | Panthers | Falcons

AFC North: Bengals | Steelers | Ravens | Browns

NFC North: Lions | Vikings | Packers | Bears

AFC West: Chiefs | Chargers | Raiders | Broncos

NFC West: Rams | Cardinals | 49ers | Seahawks

Follow Brad: @YahooNoise

Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF

Follow Andy: @AndyBehrens

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