For defensive coordinators throughout the NFL, there's really no solution to the Megatron problem, short of using actual Autobots to defend him. Calvin Johnson's combination of size, speed, strength, leaping ability and sure-handedness is unrivaled at his position. He's the league's most dominant receiver by a wide margin.
Johnson not only finished as the top-scoring fantasy wideout last year, but he beat the No. 2 (Jordy Nelson) by 46.9 standard fantasy points. He topped the No. 12 fantasy receiver (Marques Colston) by 102.9. Over the final four games, playoffs included, Johnson eclipsed 200 yards three times. That's just insane. His year-end yardage total (1,681) was the seventh-best in NFL history. He had 10 catches that covered 40-plus yards, leading the league.
So yeah, Calvin is a badass, an impossible coverage assignment for any single human.
Detroit's offense is fueled by huge, field-flipping plays — or at least by the threat of such plays — and Johnson's presence is of course critical. He demands an uncommon level of attention from opposing defenses, thus creating opportunities for teammates. When paired with a cannon-armed quarterback like Matthew Stafford, Johnson has to be considered one of the scariest offensive weapons of the fantasy era. No reasonable argument can be made for selecting any receiver ahead of him in drafts.
Beyond 'Tron, there's additional talent in the Lions' receiving corps. Second-year wideout Titus Young has been a high-buzz player throughout the offseason, and the hype is all coming from local beat writers. (Here's an sample). It's not as if fantasy experts are simply spinning a story, unsupported by eyewitness accounts. Young is a big-play threat, a second-round pick in 2011 who hauled in 48 balls for 607 yards in his rookie campaign. He'll likely make a jump in value in 2012, assuming good health. The Lions put the ball in the air 666 times last season (there's an obvious sign of their intrinsic wickedness), so this offense can easily support several ownable pass-catchers. Titus will no doubt be one of 'em. I can't say he's some great fantasy bargain, however, as he's the No. 32 receiver selected in recent drafts (ADP 82.0). Young is being taken ahead of every receiver from the Chargers, Raiders and Titans. So he's not cheap.
Nate Burleson is still in the fold and he's coming off a 73-catch, 757-yard season. The Titus zealots haven't been able to wish him away. He'll cede snaps and targets to Young this year, but Nate isn't out of the mix. Dynasty drafters should take a long look at Ryan Broyles, a second-round rookie wideout from Oklahoma. Broyles is just nine months removed from ACL surgery and the Lions are bringing him along slowly, but he'll eventually become a useful piece for this team. Check the tape. He projects as a future slot machine, a terrific weapon in PPR leagues. Broyles was a two-time All-American at OU and he holds the career FBS record for receptions (349). His 2010 stats were just absurd: 131 catches, 1,622 yards, 14 TDs.
Brandon Pettigrew is the primary tight end in Detroit, and he's established himself as a tremendous PPR contributor (and an excellent blocker, not that fantasy owners care). He isn't quite a top-tier TE, but he's emerged as a high-volume receiver in a high-yield offense. He's definitely a fantasy starter. Pettigrew actually ranked second among all players at his position in targets last season, just ahead of Gronk (126 to 124). Megatron tends to hog the red-zone looks in Detroit (as he should; he's unstoppable), so Pettigrew hasn't yet delivered a notable touchdown total. That's the only real flaw in his fantasy profile.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford finally gave us a full 16-game season in 2011, and it turned out to be an all-timer. His 663 pass attempts were the third-most in league history and his 5,038 yards rank fifth (but only third in 2011). Stafford has the arm strength necessary to reach Detroit's vertical threats, no matter how deep they run, and he can squeeze bullet-throws into tight windows. He's a great talent, surrounded by other great talents. Since his rookie season, the primary worry with this player has been health, not raw ability. Stafford has a cluttered medical file, including injuries to his throwing shoulder, and he's currently dealing with a minor issue with his left hand. (Nothing to fret about, but it's additional red ink). Still, he needs to be one of the top-five QBs drafted in any fantasy format. If he's sidelined due to injury at any point in 2012, backup Shaun Hill will get interesting. Hill averaged 244.2 yards per game for Detroit back in 2010, tossing 16 TD passes over 11 games.
The Lions' ground attack was basically an unproductive, injury-prone sideshow last season, ranking 29th in the league at 95.2 yards per game (4.3 YPC). The team totaled just nine rushing TDs, a sad number for such a high-powered offense, and no Detroit back topped 400 yards. However, the Lions did manage to complete 86 passes for 789 yards and five scores to RBs, boosting the value of this many-headed backfield. Kevin Smith figures to be the Week 1 starter, and he won't cost much at the draft table (ADP 75.3, RB29). Smith had exactly one great game last year, in an incredibly friendly mid-season match-up (201 total yards, 3 TDs vs. Carolina), then he taunted us with modest workloads the rest of the way. He's another guy with a messy medical chart, but clear fantasy utility.
If Detroit doesn't find an interesting running back on the discard pile fairly soon, Smith and Keiland Williams will open the year as this team's one-two punch. Jahvid Best has been placed on the PUP list due to lingering concussion issues — brutal news, but it makes him undraftable — and Mikel Leshoure has been suspended for Weeks 1 and 2. (Dude had a busy offseason). Leshoure was shelved during what should have been his rookie year after tearing his Achilles in camp. He's little more than a late-draft flier at this point, and he's appropriately going several rounds later than Smith (ADP 111.2, RB44).
Detroit's defense has talent at each level, but its strength is clearly its gifted-yet-undisciplined front four. Ndamukong Suh is a terror, if also a maniac. The Lions ranked in the bottom-third of the league in terms of yards and points allowed last season, but they led the NFL in defensive TDs with seven, so they scored well for fantasy owners. In IDP leagues, we'll be drafting DE Cliff Avril (11.0 sacks), MLB Stephen Tulloch (111 tackles) and FS Louis Delmas, though he's recovering from a knee procedure.
This franchise made the postseason last year, their first appearance since '99, but the Lions were steamrolled in New Orleans. They allowed 45 points and a staggering 626 total yards to the Saints. If the defense can make a (significant) leap in the season ahead, Detroit will be a tough bunch to get past in January. This fella couldn't be more excited...
2011 team stats: 29.6 PPG (NFL rank 4), 95.2 rush YPG (29), 316.9 pass YPG (4), 32.74 (10) yards/drive (29), 0.109 turnovers/drive (8)
Previous Juggernaut posts: 32. Miami, 31. St. Louis, 30. Indianapolis, 29. Jacksonville, 28. Cleveland, 27. Arizona, 26. Seattle, 25. Minnesota, 24. Tampa Bay, 23. Buffalo, 22. New York Jets, 21. Washington, 20. Oakland, 19. San Francisco, 18. Kansas City, 17. Cincinnati, 16. Denver, 15. Tennessee, 14. San Diego, 13. Pittsburgh, 12. Baltimore, 11. Dallas, 10. Carolina, 9. Chicago, 8. Houston