Detroit Lions Buying Guide

NBA fans of a certain age will remember World B. Free, a flamboyant guard who averaged better than 22 points per game over a 10-year stretch from the late ’70s to the mid-’80s. Free (whose given name was Lloyd) was a shooter without conscious, a man who defined a bad shot as one he didn’t take. He consistently ranked among the league leaders in scoring but made only one all-star game and was never considered among the very best players in the league. Floyd was a volume scorer who typically shot 45% or 46% from the floor in an era when the league field goal percentage was 48% to 49%. Matthew Stafford might be fantasy football’s version of Free. (World B. Stafford has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?) The veteran QB is a volume passer who’s never been able to translate volume into greatness.

Stafford’s first two NFL seasons were derailed by shoulder injuries, but he hasn’t missed a game in the last six years. He’s ranked among the top 10 in pass attempts in all six of those years, including a four-year run in the top five (2011-2014) and consecutive years at No. 1 (2011-2012). Yet the only time Stafford ranked among the top five in QB fantasy scoring was 2011, when he finished fifth. Last year was the first time in that six-year span that Stafford ranked higher in fantasy scoring (seventh) than pass attempts (ninth). Stafford managed to stay in the top 10 in both categories despite playing in a dawdling Detroit attack that ranked 27th in offensive pace, averaging 28.49 seconds between plays. What helped was that the Lions ranked third in passing play percentage in 2016, and they’ve ranked No. 1 in three of the last six seasons.

The Detroit offense relied on a steady diet of short passes last season, and all of those short completions add up. Even if the offense doesn’t pick up the pace, it’s a good bet that the Lions will again tilt heavily toward the pass. Stafford’s fantasy finishes the last six years: QB5, QB10, QB7, QB15, QB9, QB7. No longer considered an exciting purchase, Stafford has a Fantasy Football Calculator ADP of QB15. He’s a rock-solid buy at that price.

For a guy who doesn’t score many touchdowns, Golden Tate has been responsible for some memorable ones. While with the Seahawks, his Hail Mary TD (non-)catch to beat the Packers on the final play of regulation effectively ended the 2012 referee lockout. Last November, he made a tightrope-walking sideline catch that ended with Tate launching himself in the air to bowl over safety Andrew Sendejo and get across the goal line – a play that gave the Lions an overtime victory over the Vikings and became a staple of 2016 highlight reels.

But again, Tate isn’t a prolific touchdown scorer. In five seasons as a full-time starter he’s averaged 5.2 touchdowns per year. Tate’s fantasy value is derived from reception volume. He’s exceeded 90 catches in each of his three years in Detroit, averaging 1,074 yards a season over that stretch. Tate was generally more productive last year in games that pass-catching RB Theo Riddick missed, and it’s possible that a full season of good health for Riddick could chip away at Tate’s reception total. Then again, the offseason departure of Anquan Boldin likely means that Tate will take more snaps from the slot, which bodes well for his involvement. Tate has an ADP of WR26, behind the likes of Kelvin Benjamin and Brandon Marshall, and almost two full rounds behind the overhyped Tyreek Hill. Tate is a rock-solid investment at his early-sixth-round price.

Marvin Jones exploded out of the gates last year like a champion thoroughbred, catching 23 balls for 482 yards and two touchdowns in his first four games, including a 6-205-2 evisceration of the Packers in Week 3. At that point, Jones owners were feeling as if they’d hit a superfecta. From Week 5 on, however, Marvin’s owners were starvin’. Jones turned out to be a mere pacesetter, racing out to a fast start only to be overtaken by much of the field on the backstretch. He topped 50 yards in only four of his last 11 games and didn’t score any touchdowns after Week 6.

In his defense, Jones endured a potpourri of nagging injuries over the course of the year. His fast start was a mirage, but the dreadful stretch that followed was probably an illusion, too. He remains a starter in a pass-heavy offense, which is worth something to fantasy owners. At an ADP of WR44, Jones is reasonably valued.

Rookie Kenny Golladay, a third-round pick from Northern Illinois, has been drawing rave reviews is favored to be Detroit’s third receiver. It’s possible he’ll catch only 30-40 balls in that role, but there’s also a non-zero chance that he’ll be a star from the get-go. There are much, much worse ways to spend a pick in the late rounds.

Some very smart fantasy writers have been honking their horns for Eric Ebron during the offseason, none more so that Pat Thorman of Pro Football Focus (@Pat_Thorman). Many fantasy owners look askance at Ebron because he’s produced seven touchdowns over his first three seasons, which makes it seem as if he’s underachieved, taking into account that he was the 10th overall pick of the 2014 draft. Au contraire, says Thorman, who notes that since 1980, only five tight ends have caught more passes than Ebron through their age-23 seasons: Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Tony Gonzalez and Todd Heap. Thorman also points out that Thorman has made yearly gains in yards, yardage per catch, drop rate and PFF passing game grade since entering the league.

Ebron, now 24, still has vast upside, and with Boldin gone, the young tight end could get more end zone looks and boost his TD total. He’s a bargain at TE14. There’s no way Ebron should be drafted behind Hunter Henry and O.J. Howard, both of whom have higher ADPs.

I want to love Ameer Abdullah. I really do. He was terrific at the University of Nebraska, and there have been moments during his first two years with the Lions when he’s looked like a potential 1,200-yard rusher. But there are a number of obstacles blocking Abdullah’s path to RB1 value. Theo Riddick owns the passing downs, and either Zach Zenner, Matt Asiata or Dewayne Washington might own the goal-line work. As noted earlier, the Lions have been one of the pass-heaviest teams in the league during the bulk of the Stafford era. Abdullah is a smallish (5-9, 203) running back who might have trouble withstanding a heavy workload over a full season, and he’s coming off a Lisfranc tear – a significant injury that could portend future foot problems. Abdullah has also had fumbling issues dating back to his days in Lincoln. Abdullah’s talent level keeps me mildly interested in him as his RB26 cost, but I won’t reach for him.

Theo Riddick may be a one-trick pony, but the trick is pretty good – he’s the David Blaine of pass-catching running backs. More so than with any other running back, Riddick’s value is tied to scoring format. He’s a starting-caliber back in PPR leagues but only bench material in standard leagues. His ADP of RB47 reflects standard-league value, and that price seems fair.

Zach Zenner, Dewayne Washington and Matt Asiata are skirmishing for roster spots. Zenner, a former small-school star at South Dakota State and an undrafted free agent, looked pretty good down the stretch last season, with 43-170-3 rushing and 12-120-0 receiving in Detroit’s final three games. Washington did little to impress with his 90 carries last season and had a lackluster college career at the University of Washington, but he’s big (6-2, 223) and tested out well at his pro day. Asiata was put on Earth to vulture touchdowns from other backs and to annoy fantasy owners. He has no fantasy value.


Player ADP Fitz Ranking Recommendation
Matthew Stafford QB15 QB11 Buy at discount
Ameer Abdullah RB25 RB18 Regard warily
Theo Riddick RB47 RB47 Buy in PPR
Golden Tate WR26 WR17 Pounce
Marvin Jones WR44 WR46 Consider
Eric Ebron TE14 TE11 Commit larceny