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2012 Team Report: Detroit Lions

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backup(s): Shaun Hill, Kellen Moore [R]

Starting QB: Matthew Stafford finally completed his first 16-game season in the NFL in 2011. The result was 5038 yards, 41 touchdowns to 16 interceptions, and a standing as the No. 4 fantasy quarterback. Although injuries to the running back position probably forced the Lions to throw the ball more, Stafford's targets not named Calvin Johnson were often inconsistent. Fortunately, Stafford�s supporting cast had enough players hitting at the right moments to generate strong production as a complement to Johnson. The Lions receivers should take another step forward this year, which means Stafford is among the safer picks as a starting-caliber fantasy quarterback in 2012.

Backup QB: Shaun Hill is one of the better backup options in the league because he has no reservations with attacking a defense vertically. However, he�s not a fantasy backup as much as a viable bye-week/free agent option if Stafford misses time. Kellen Moore is a knowledgeable and prolific college quarterback with potential to develop into a Ty Detmer-like back up that can guide an offense, but not win games as the marquee player.

Running Backs

Starter: Kevin Smith
Backup(s): Mikel LeShoure, Jahvid Best, Joique Bell, Keiland Williams, Stefan Logan
Fullback(s): Keiland Williams, James Bryant

Starting RB: The Lions depth chart was among the most unsettled in the NFL this offseason Jahvid Best is a big-play talent but he suffered another severe concussion and missed 10 games in 2011. He is still on the PUP list and won't see the field at least until the first third of the season is done. Mikel Leshoure has feature back dimensions, but the second-year player is coming off an Achilles injury that cost him his rookie year before it even began. He was also arrested twice this spring for marijuana-related crimes and charged with a felony. These arrests have lead to Leshoure being suspended for the first two games of the season. This definitely puts him at the end of the line as far as starting goes. Kevin Smith has been healthy, performing well in camp and in preseason games. Fantasy owners are generally concerned about his injury history. If Smith stays healthy he'll at least be an RB2 in a high-powered offense.

Backup RBs: Despite the various uncertainties surrounding Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith and Mikel LeShoure, the Lions did not make any significant moves to acquire more runners to fortify the depth chart. Reserve Joique Bell lacks top-end speed, but he is a talented player with excellent balance, good hands, and enough burst to become a fantasy surprise if none of the three runners ahead of him stay on the field. Bell is not an option to draft at this point of the preseason, but he is a name to monitor as this Detroit backfield situation evolves. Keiland Williams is pushing Bell for that final spot and playing mistake-free football in contrast. There's a good chance he is the No.2 back entering the season until LeShoure returns to the fold. Stefan Logan is also seen as a running back in the Darren Sproles mold.

Fullback: Keiland Williams really isn't a fullback, but he lacks the top-end speed required of a tailback. He won't break off a long run, but Williams can generally get a few yards when needed. His lack of bulk, however, keeps him from being a bruising back. On the other hand, James Bryant is getting a good amount of pub as that type of bruising fullback. That said, the Lions rarely use a fullback, so Bryant will need to be more than just a blocker to even make the team. If they need someone to block out of the backfield, the Lions can just put one of their tight ends back there.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Calvin Johnson, Titus Young, Nate Burleson
Backups: Ryan Broyles [R], Wallace Miles, Kassim Osgood

Starting WRs: Calvin Johnson was the most productive receiver in football last year with 1681 yards, 16 touchdowns, and his career-best 17.5 yards per catch on 96 receptions. Last year was probably a career-year for the 2013 Madden cover athlete, but fantasy owners should still expect Johnson to perform as a top-five fantasy receiver in 2012. Johnson is still in his athletic prime, and his quarterback is an ascending talent coming off his best year. Nate Burleson posted a career-high 73 receptions last season. He often disappeared from games, however, and his 757 yards and three touchdowns made him no better than an unpredictable bye-week option. The Lions are counting on second-year receiver Titus Young and most notably rookie Ryan Broyles to overtake Burleson soon. Young is having a fantastic summer and looks poised to break out. With teams focused on bracketing Calvin Johnson and accounting for Brandon Pettigrew up the seams, Young could wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

Backup WRs: Ryan Broyles has big-league talent as a deep threat and red zone weapon. He is coming off an ACL tear, but he has been playing in the preseason and looking good. He could be a sneaky waiver wire stud if the Lions suffer injuries to its receiving corps. Stefan Logan is in Detroit as a special teams ace. The Lions wanted to use him in a role somewhat like Darren Sproles, but he got hurt in the preseason game against the Ravens. Monitor his injury prognosis. Kassim Osgood is a big target with some down field build-up speed. He was best-known early in his career with the Chargers before a unimpressive tenure in Jacksonville.

Tight Ends

Starters: Brandon Pettigrew
Backups: Tony Scheffler, Will Heller

Brandon Pettigrew had career-highs in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, placing him 11th among fantasy tight ends in 2011. However, those totals only amounted to an increase of 13 fantasy points from the year before as the 12th-ranked tight end in 2010 fantasy leagues. Pettigrew is also splitting opportunities with Tony Scheffler, who gets strong matchups from the slot as a move-tight end. There is no reason to not expect similar production from Pettigrew in 2012. Tony Scheffler was not a starting-caliber fantasy tight end in 2011, but his numbers ate into Brandon Pettigrew's potential to become an elite fantasy tight end. Scheffler�s skill in the slot provides a valuable dimension for the Lions offense. Think of him as a benefit to Matthew Stafford"s fantasy production and a detriment to Pettigrew's upside.

Place Kicker

Jason Hanson : Jason Hanson's 2010 injury did not slow him down in 2011. He made 24 of 29 (82.8%) field goals, including five from 50+ yards, and a ton of extra points. Veteran long snapper Don Muhlbach was re-signed for the specialist trio. The question in camp is who will be the punter/holder. Ryan Donahue won the job as a rookie last year, but missed the second half of the season with a quad injury. Ben Graham was signed to finish the season. Both remain on the roster. After two years near the bottom, the Lions climbed to 16th in attempted kicking points in 2010 and then up to 12th in 2011.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Stefan Logan, Ryan Broyles [R]

RB Stefan Logan handled most every punt and kick return for Detroit last year, but there may be a change in the future after the selection of Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles in this year's draft. Head coach Jim Schwartz sees Broyles as a playmaker, and special teams returns are one way to get the ball into his hands.

Punt Returners: Stefan Logan, Ryan Broyles [R]

As Broyles is recovering from an ACL injury and may start training camp on the PUP list, Logan may enter the season as the primary return man. But don't be at all surprised if that changes before the season is out. If it does, Logan might have a difficult time sticking on the roster.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jeff Backus, LG Rob Sims, C Dominic Raiola, RG Stephen Peterman, RT Gosder Cherilus
Key Backups: T Riley Reiff [R], T Corey Hilliard, C Dan Gerbery, C Bill Nagy (inj), T Jonathan Scott (inj)

PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Left tackle Jeff Backus is a tough and gritty player who has never missed a game due to injury. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the quarterbacks he is charged with protecting as Backus can be exploited in pass protection. The Lions know he is a problem and have used a first-round pick on Riley Reiff out of Iowa. Reiff is a well rounded and nimble young pass blocker, but recent comments from the coaching staff hint that Reiff will not start as a rookie. Backus will likely see out the last year of his contract as the starter. While that might not be great news for Matthew Stafford, that is good news from the perspective of cohesion, as the Lions are on track to be one of only three teams to return all five starters at all five positions. Left guard Rob Sims is a consistent performer, who reported to offseason workouts overweight. The Lions wanted Sims to gain 10 pounds, but he gained 20 (oops). This is likely not a big concern as Sims has plenty of time to shape up before the season starts. Center Dominic Raiola is undersized and has been written off many times in his career. He is actually a good performer, however, often using leverage and technique to block much larger players. Right guard Stephen Peterman is a decent player known for his toughness. Many times Peterman has been carted off the field or has broken bones, but most often he just keeps playing through pain. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is a mostly good player who battles with bouts of inconsistency. Cherilus was benched early in 2011, but he settled down and had an above average campaign down the stretch. In other depth, Corey Hilliard is in competition with Johnny Culbreath for a possible swing tackle role. Line coach George Yarno is considered one of the better line coaches in the league, and he often is asked to get the most out of below average players. Overall this Lions line is focused on pass blocking rather than run blocking, and they should improve in the future when Reiff transitions into the lineup.

Team Defense

Last year, the Lions were a team to watch that could finally make a jump into respectability as a fantasy defense. They were a team that you could draft after several top defenses were off the board and still feel comfortable about their expectations as a team that could surprise. Surprise they did. In many league formats, the Lions finished at the top or at least in the Top 5, thanks to a strong contribution from all areas. Their pass rush totaled 41 sacks, the team totaled 34 takeaways and altogether scored 7 defensive TDs, including 5 INTs returned for a TD. It may be difficult to repeat turnover stats from year to year, but the Lions have a strong core of young defensive standouts at DL, LB and secondary. The draft was top heavy with offense and brought in some defensive talent, but probably not anyone who will make an immediate impact this year. The Lions allowed 24.2 points per game last year and were among the bottom half in terms of passing TDs allowed, so there is cause for concern from that standpoint. They are not a stifling defense like Baltimore San Francisco or Pittsburgh, but they make plays, force turnovers and get pressure on the QB. The Lions are potentially a strong Def/ST, but the majority of their fantasy success last year came on turnovers and scores from turnovers - two facets of defense that are difficult to repeat, especially from a team that doesn't have a history of such. On the bright side, the pass rush is strong, the core of young talent is good and the coaching staff has worked wonders to improve an area that was lacking for years. The Detroit Def/ST will not be forgotten in drafts, due to their strong outcome last year, however they are a risky Top 5 selection. Consider pulling the trigger on Detroit after 8-10 other Def/ST units have been selected.

Defensive Line

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

Starting DL: The Lions return all four starters on their defensive line, led by third-year defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Suh, the second overall pick in the 2010 NFL draft, was unable to duplicate his sensational 10-sack rookie season. Suh also had several personal fouls, including the infamous stomping incident against the Green Bay Packers. Lining up next to Suh will be veteran Corey Williams, who had a subpar 2011 season. Williams is a solid run-stopping interior lineman and is also capable of generating a pass rush. Defensive end Cliff Avril has developed into an elite pass rusher and set career highs last year with 29 solos, 11 sacks, and 6 forced fumbles. Avril, who was designated as the Lions' franchise player, signed his one-year tender and returned in time to play in the second preseason game. Starting opposite Avril is veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch. The 33-year-old Vanden Bosch had eight sacks last year and brings a tremendous work ethic and much needed veteran leadership to the Lions' defense. The Lions are hoping to reduce Vanden Bosch's snap count in order to keep him fresh throughout the season.

Backup DL: The Lions boast one of the deepest defensive lines in the NFL, generally using an eight-man rotation. Among the key reserves is second-year defensive tackle Nick Fairley, the Lions' first round draft pick in last year's draft. Fairley suffered a foot injury in training camp and was never a factor for the Lions last year. The Lions expect Fairley to be a significant contributor this season. Run-stuffing interior lineman Sammie Lee Hill adds more quality depth and gives the Lions a strong four-man rotation at defensive tackle. Lawrence Jackson is the top backup at defensive end and has been a solid pass rusher when healthy. In his two seasons with the Lions, Jackson has 10.5 sacks in only 21 games. Reserve defensive end Willie Young has great speed and finished with three sacks last year. Young is one of the most improved players on the roster and should see significant snaps in the defensive end rotation. Rookie Ronnell Lewis was a exceptional special teams player in college and will battle for a roster spot. Veteran Andre Fluellen can play both tackle and end and adds versatility to the line. Everette Brown, a former second-round pick of the Carolina Panthers, will battle for a roster spot.

Linebackers

Starters: WOLB DeAndre Levy, MLB Stephen Tulloch, SOLB Justin Durant
Backups: MLB Ashlee Palmer, OLB Douglas Hogue, OLB Tahir Whitehead, MLB Travis Lewis

Starting LBs: Prior to last season, the Lions had a glaring hole a middle linebacker and they filled it by signing free agent Stephen Tulloch to a one-year contract. Tulloch, who played in Tennessee when head coach Jim Schwartz was the defensive coordinator, had a solid season for the Lions, racking up 111 total tackles, 3 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries, and 2 interceptions. The Lions rewarded Tulloch by signing him to a five-year contract. Joining Tulloch in the starting lineup is DeAndre Levy, who moved to weak-side linebacker last year. Levy, who battled injuries for most of the 2010 season, played in all 16 games last year and registered 73 solos and 36 assists. Levy, who can also play middle linebacker, is the Lions' best coverage linebacker. The other linebacker spot will be filled by Justin Durant, who is entering his second season with the Lions. Durant, who missed three games last season due to injuries, finished the year with 53 solos and 15 assists.

Backup LBs: With the departure of key reserve linebacker and special teams player Bobby Carpenter, the Lions are looking for veteran Ashlee Palmer to fill his shoes. Palmer is a versatile linebacker who is capable of playing all three linebacker spots and is also a very good special teams player. Second-year linebacker Douglas Hogue is athletic with good size and speed, but was raw coming out of college and is still adjusting to the pro game. The Lions are hoping that Hogue can become a key reserve this season. The Lions made a trade to move into the fifth round of the draft and selected Temple linebacker Tahir Whitehead. Whitehead was a great special teams player in college and that will likely be his role this season. The Lions drafted Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis in the seventh round. Lewis, who was a very productive college linebacker, ran poorly at the combine and that caused his draft stock to fall. He is likely ticketed for special teams duty if he makes the final roster.

Defensive Backs

Starters: FS Louis Delmas, SS Erik Coleman, CB Chris Houston, CB Jacob Lacey
Backups: S Amari Spievey, S John Wendling, CB Dwight Bentley, CB Alphonso Smith, CB Kevin Barnes

Starting DBs: The Lions secondary struggled in the second half of the season and those struggles coincided with the loss of starting free safety Louis Delmas to a knee injury. The Lions missed Delmas' leadership and coverage skills badly and their pass defense was torched over the last several games, including their playoff loss to the Saints. Delmas missed five full games and most of a sixth and although he played in the playoff game, he was clearly not 100%. Delmas is currently injured and his status for week one is uncertain. Veteran Erik Coleman is currently listed as the starting strong safety for the Lions. Coleman battled injuries for most of last season and only played in four games, but he has several years of starting experience. Chris Houston returns at one of the starting cornerback spots for the Lions. Houston battled injuries late in the season and missed two games, but still managed to pick off a career-high five passes. With the departure of Eric Wright, the other starting cornerback spot is up for grabs. Aaron Berry was the leading candidate to earn the job, but he was released after a pair of offseason arrests. Jacob Lacey, who started 10 games for the Colts last season, is tentatively listed as the starter. Lacey will have to hold off Alphonso Smith and rookie Dwight Bentley to win the starting job.

Backup DBs: The Lions will have an open competition for the starting cornerback spot opposite Houston. Lacey will battle for the starting job with several players, chief among them third-round pick Dwight Bentley. Bentley should see significant playing time in subpackages and will be given a chance to win a starting spot. Alphonso Smith has shown the ability to make big plays, but he will have to play more consistent to earn the starting spot. Jonte Green is another rookie cornerback with good speed and will be in the hunt for playing time. Rookie Chris Greenwood, who played college football at Division-III Albion, had abdominal surgery and will begin the season on the PUP list. The Lions acquired cornerback Kevin Barnes from the Redskins on August 27th. Barnes was the Redskins nickel cornerback last season but lost the job this year to veteran Cedric Griffin. Amari Spievey, who started 15 games at strong safety last year, is currently listed as a reserve at safety. Spievey, who was drafted as a cornerback, racked up 70 tackles and picked off four passes last season. John Wendling is also competing for playing time at safety and is also an elite special team player.

Last modified: 2012-09-02 20:01:41

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