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2011 Team Report: Detroit Lions

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backup(s): Shaun Hill, Drew Stanton, Zac Robinson

Starting QB: Early reports from Detroit are that Matt Stafford is 100% recovered from his shoulder injury from last season. He returns to take the helm of a passing offense that threw for more than 4000 yards last season and will probably throw for another 4000 this year as well. The knock on Stafford is that he can't stay healthy and he should be approached with caution at this point as well. He's looked sharp in practice already, and the player-only workouts, but it really comes down to when the hitting starts. Stafford could have a career year if he can stay healthy, with Nate Burleson returning as the #2 WR behind Megatron Calvin Johnson and rookie Titus Young filling the #3 slot. With weapons like this, whoever is at the helm in Detroit will have a very solid season.

Backup QB: Shaun Hill filled in well for Stafford last season, throwing for 2600 yards and 26 TDS. He also missed some playing time due injury, but he finished as Detroit's top passer for 2010. He'll start this season as a backup to Stafford again, but could easily step in of Stafford struggles or is injured again. Perennial backup Drew Stanton considered free agency before returning to Detroit. He has been with the Lions since his rookie season, and he'll battle with Zac Robinson for the final QB slot on the roster.

Running Backs

Starter: Jahvid Best
Backup(s): Jerome Harrison, Mike Bell, Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown, Mikel LeShoure (IR) [R]
Fullback(s): Jerome Felton, Matt Clapp

Starting RB: Jahvid Best showed flashes of greatness last season, but spent most of the year battling a painful turf toe injury which limited his overall performance. If he can finish an injury-filled season as the #24 overall fantasy back, imagine how he might perform if he were healthy the entire way?! He and rookie Mikel LeShoure were slated to be Detroit's version of 'Thunder and Lightning' this season, but LeShoure's season ending injury ended that before it started. For now it's all Best, all the time.

Backup RBs: Maurice Morris continues to fill in as backup, and he becomes the obvious choice to fill in for Best much like he did last season. Morris had mixed results last season for the Lions, and could be on the bubble to make the final roster because the Lions signed Jerome Harrison and Mike Bell. Harrison is actually a very good runner and could make noise if Best goes down, but he has trouble staying on the field because of his pass blocking among other things. Mike Bell is a mediocre, try hard guy who can get what's there, but not much more. Aaron Brown was the 'change of pace' back last season, but it will take a bit of time to determine where all of these guys fit into the mix.

Fullback: Jerome Felton is more of a lead blocker at times, but he also is good for a carry or three and can also act as a safety valve/check down type of receiver if the blitz is coming too quickly. However, his fantasy value is so limited due to his lack of yards, that he isn't an option unless your league requires a FB separate from the standard RBs.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson
Backups: Titus Young, Rashied Davis, Stefan Logan, Derrick Williams

Starting WRs: Nate Burleson finally provided the Lions with something that they have desperately needed for the last several years: someone who can catch the ball and start opposite Calvin Johnson. Johnson is a pure stud WR and he'll finish among the top fantasy WRS, no matter who is under center. Burleson has always been more of a possession type of receiver, but he fills in nicely as a complement to Johnson because he's usually facing single coverage from one of the weaker secondary defenders. While Titus Young may compete for playing time, Burleson's experience and sure hands will keep him in the lineup either way.

Backup WRs: Titus Young was a bit of a surprise pick for the Lions, but he was probably the best WR on the board at that point in the second round, and he will make an excellent complement to Calvin Johnson for years to come. The lockout probably ruined any chance he had to crack the starting lineup before the second half of the season, but he's definitely one to keep an eye on in this offense. Rashied Davis has his share of nice catches from his time in Chicago, but he has never been a consistent enough WR to count on from a fantasy prospective. He's buried on the depth chart in Detroit, and will only become relevant for your fantasy team is there are a series of injuries to the guys in front of him.

Tight Ends

Starters: Brandon Pettigrew
Backups: Tony Scheffler, Will Heller, Richard Dickson

Brandon Pettigrew rebounded nicely from an injury filled rookie season to have a nice break-out year in 2010. While many predicted that Tony Scheffler would be the big weapon for the Lions from the TE spot, it was Pettigrew who emerged as the safety valve when the WRs were not open down field. He remains a solid option for your fantasy team and should flirt with the top 10 for fantasy TEs again this season. Scheffler and Will Heller will certainly see action in dual TE sets, and might even snag a catch or two each week, but neither will be much of a fantasy option unless Pettigrew gets hurt.

Place Kicker

Jason Hanson, Dave Rayner : Veteran long snapper Don Muhlbach does not have any competition in camp. Veteran kicker Jason Hanson and veteran punter/holder Nick Harris do. Hanson can certainly still kick, but he'll need to show no lingering effects from injuries that caused him to miss games each of the last two years. If his health is still questionable that could open the door for last year's injury replacement, journeyman Dave Rayner, to retain the job. Harris faces undrafted rookie challenger Ryan Donahue out of Iowa, one of the top rated punters in this year's class. Early results in camp have both Hanson and Harris keeping their jobs. After two years near the bottom, the Lions climbed to 16th in attempted kicking points last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Stefan Logan, Aaron Brown, Prince Miller

Punt Returners: Stefan Logan, Nate Burleson, Marcus Harris

Late last preseason, the Steelers released RB/WR/return-specialist Stefan Logan and the Lions grabbed him. He went on to finish as the third ranked fantasy returner in the league. He'll handle both kickoff and punt returns again this year, and is hoping to see some work on offense. RB Aaron Brown is the primary backup on kickoffs and WR Nate Burleson is the primary backup on punts. Neither was needed for those roles last year. In the preseason opener, Logan had a 31 yard kickoff return. WRs Tim Toone and Nate Hughes handled the other returns in the game.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jeff Backus, LG Rob Sims, C Dominic Raiola, RG Stephen Peterman, RT Gosder Cherilus
Key Backups: Jason Fox (suffering from foot injury), Donald Thomas, Dylan Gandy

Team Defense

The Lions defense starts with one of the best young players in the league -- former #2 overall pick Ndamukong Suh. Suh is a rare breed -- the massive size of a tackle but blessed with quickness and strength to rush the passer as well. The Lions drafted Nick Fairley out of Clemson as well, which was supposed to provide them with a dominant middle right away. Fairley, however, is on the shelf with a foot injury that could potentially be nagging all year. Corey Williams will likely begin the season as the starter. The Lions also have veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch as an experienced edge rusher in his second year with the team. The linebacking corps is headlined by new acquisition Stephen Tulloch, who came over from Tennessee. Tulloch is an athletic outside linebacker who will help to improve this defense and contribute to the team's rapidly-growing bandwagon. Another new acquisition -- and a much-needed one for this often-abused secondary -- is cornerback Eric Wright, who signed after spending his first four seasons in Cleveland. Wright wasn't considered to be on the top-tier of free-agent corners like Nnamdi Asomugha or even Johnathan Joseph, but he'll be a welcome addition with Detroit and is an effective player. This secondary still has a lot of room for improvement, though, if the Lions are to fulfill their high expectations.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Corey Williams, DE Cliff Avril
Backups: DT Nick Fairley, DT Sammie Lee Hill, DT/DE Andre Fluellen, DE Lawrence Jackson, DE Willie Young

Starting DL: The Lions finished dead last in total defense in both 2008 and 2009 and prior to last season, they made several moves to address the problem. They were much better last season and one of the primary reasons was the play of last year's defensive rookie of the year, Ndamukong Suh. Suh, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, had a dominant season, racking up 48 solos, 17 assists, and 10 sacks. Veteran Corey Williams will man the other DT spot. Williams is a solid interior pass rusher and is also adept at run defense. Lining up at one of the DE spots is Kyle Vanden Bosch, who signed as a free agent prior to last season. Vanden Bosch brought much needed leadership to the defense and his effort and energy rubbed off on the rest of the defense. Vanden Bosch only played in 11 games because of injuries, finishing with 34 solos, 15 assists, and 4 sacks. Starting at the other DE spot is Cliff Avril. Despite missing three games, Avril set a career high with 7.5 sacks.

Backup DL: The Lions entered the draft with several needs, but they quickly ignored them when standout DT Nick Fairley fell to their 13th pick in the first round. At one point, the Panthers were considering Fairley with the first overall pick. Fairley broke a bone in his foot early in training camp, but when healthy he is expected to play a significant role as part of the Lions' DL rotation. Run-stuffing DT Sammie Lee Hill adds more quality depth and gives the Lions a strong four-man rotation at DT. Andre Fluellen can play both tackle and end and adds versatility to the line. Lawrence Jackson was acquired for a sixth-round draft pick prior to last season and is the primary backup at DE. Jackson had a career-high six sacks in only 10 games last year. With the departure of Turk McBride, Willie Young will get first crack at the fourth DE spot. Young has good speed and quickness but needs work on technique.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB DeAndre Levy, MLB Stephen Tulloch, OLB Justin Durant
Backups: OLB Bobby Carpenter, OLB Ashlee Palmer, OLB Douglas Hogue, OLB Isaiah Ekejiuba

Starting LBs: The Lions had a glaring weakness at linebacker and they addressed it in free agency by signing LBs Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant. They will join holdover DeAndre Levy in what should be a much improved Detroit LB corps. Tulloch has practiced some at OLB during training camp, but he has played MLB for most of his career and most observers expect him to play there for the Lions. Tulloch is a strong run defender, as evidenced by his career-high 160 tackles last season. Tulloch played for Jim Schwartz when he was in Tennessee, so the transition to Detroit should be seamless. Levy, last year's starter at MLB, is expected to play WLB for the Lions. He is very good in coverage and can play all three LB positions. Durant comes to the Lions from Jacksonville and adds a solid athletic presence to the defense. Like Levy, Durant has had problems staying healthy. Durant is likely to play SLB for the Lions.

Backup LBs: It's clear that the Lions improved their starting LB group by signing Tulloch and Durant. A residual effect of those moves is that LBs that started last year are now quality backups. One of those players is Ashlee Palmer, who started five games last season. Aside from being a quality backup, Palmer is also a very good special teams player. The Lions re-signed LB Bobby Carpenter to a one-year contract. Carpenter has experience as a starter and is a solid special teams player. Rookie Douglas Hogue, a fifth-round pick in the 2011 draft, has good speed and agility, but is somewhat raw and will need time to develop. He will focus on special teams this year. Reserve Isaiah Ekejiuba is versatile enough to play all three LB spots and is also an outstanding special teams player.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Chris Houston, CB Eric Wright, SS Amari Spievey, FS Louis Delmas
Backups: CB Alphonso Smith, CB Nathan Vasher, CB Aaron Berry, CB Brandon McDonald, S Erik Coleman, S John Wendling, CB/S Maurice Leggett

Starting DBs: Prior to free agency, the biggest weakness the Lions had was at cornerback. One of the starting spots will be filled by Chris Houston, who re-signed with the Lions just before training camp. Houston, who struggled in his last year with the Falcons, was a solid addition to the Lions last year. The other starting spot belongs to Eric Wright, who played with the Browns last year. Like Houston the year before, Wright comes to the Lions after struggling in his last year with his former team. The Lions are hoping a change of scenery will help Wright revert to the form he showed in his first three years with Cleveland. Amari Spievey is having a strong camp thus far and is considered the favorite to start at strong safety for the Lions. Spievey was drafted last year as a cornerback, but switched to safety just before the season started. Starting free safety Louis Delmas is looking to bounce back from an injury-plagued 2010 season.

Backup DBs: For the first time in years, the Lions have quality depth in the secondary. Reserve CB Alphonso Smith was brilliant at times last year, picking off five passes. However, he was also burned too often, most notably by Tom Brady in the Thanksgiving day game. Aaron Berry was having an outstanding camp last year before suffering a season-ending injury. Veteran Nathan Vasher is a solid backup cornerback with several years of starting experience. Brandon McDonald, another player with experience as a starter, will battle for a backup spot. Safety Erik Coleman was signed as a free agent and is battling Spievey for the starting job at strong safety. Safety John Wendling was a Pro-Bowl alternate on special teams last year. Maurice Leggett can play both corner and safety and will battle for a roster spot.

Last modified: 2011-08-26 09:16:50

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