Calvin Johnson is one of the most dominant receivers of this generation. He has the ability to lead the league in touchdowns, yards-per-catch, and receptions any given season. It speaks volumes to his still untapped upside that following a 122-catch, 1,964-yard season we consistently mention ‘yes, but he only caught five touchdowns’. Outside of his rookie season when names like Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey had more targets, Johnson has led the Lions in targets by at least 27 looks each season and on two occasions by around triple digits. Calvin, one of the few players in the NFL routinely referred to by his first name alone, IS the Lions franchise and offense. Johnson has missed just four games in his six seasons, but what if he were to be absent from the Detroit offense for a lengthy amount of time or an entire season?
Ryan Broyles, WR
The second-year receiver already has some significant buzz leading up to the season. Losing Calvin Johnson would clear nearly 200 targets from the Detroit’s 2012 passing game pool. There is no WR1 waiting in the wings on the depth chart, but Broyles showed a diverse game in college and his brief flashes before injury as a rookie. Broyles was hyper-efficient in his limited time, can provide a reliable short-and-intermediate target that Matthew Stafford will sorely need, and has the upside of an ascending NFL talent with a healthy stretch of time. Broyles would become an every week starter in PPR scoring and a WR3 in non-PPR formats as the season progresses.
David Akers, K
Detroit struggled in terms of red zone efficiency in 2012 with a healthy Calvin Johnson drawing the seldom-seen triple coverage near the goal line. The odds are stacked against them turning that around without a Madden create-a-player wreaking havoc. Instead of the occasional touchdowns in red zone, the Lions offense would become a field goal machine. David Akers would think he is in San Francisco again as one of the dominant fantasy kickers. In addition to plenty of attempts, Akers would enjoy the luxury of a dome for nine games (plus one in Arizona) this season.
Reggie Bush, RB
Losing a high-volume target in the passing game is a mixed bag. One on hand, the remaining options could see an uptick of work if the offense can stay on the field to maintain their weekly usage. On the other hand, a safety-clearing and headache-causing force like Calvin Johnson makes everyone’s job that much easier with room to roam underneath. Fantasy owners are already expecting an increase in Bush’s passing game work moving from Miami to Detroit, which will only be less efficient with safeties closer to the line of scrimmage and keying on Bush with regularity. In addition, Bush’s fleeting touchdown opportunities could diminish from a handful to 'do not hold your breath' in this scenario. While Bush may turn into a buy in this situation, there is enough downside to keep him at the status quo in fantasy circles.
Joique Bell, RB
Bell is viewed as a sneaky value play in the late rounds this season and nothing would really change for the underrated back. Bell was one of the league leaders in running back receptions in 2012 and was efficient in the run game. The acquisition of Reggie Bush has extinguished the previous buzz about Bell this offseason, but Bell would remain an end-of-the-roster back capable of weekly flex use in PPR in an offense searching for targets in the passing game. A 'what if' injury to Reggie Bush has more impact on Bell's role in 2012 than Calvin Johnson.
Tony Scheffler, TE
Outside of an efficiency spike in 2011 that saw Scheffler catch six touchdowns on just 26 receptions, the wide receiver-tight end hybrid has been in decline since 2008. Outside of that six-touchdown mirage, Scheffler has just seven total scores in four of the last five years. His drop rate has been too high over the last two seasons and he converted just 2-of-20 red zone targets into scores in 2010 and 2012 combined. Scheffler's ability to get down the seam for a big gain is the one thing keeping him in the hold category.
The underwhelming former first round NFL draft pick has lived off a high volume of targets for three years running. He has scored just one touchdown from outside the red zone in his entire career, has a horrendous drop rate considering the short-range targets he sees with regularity, and has not even held up his end of the bargain from a blocking perspective. Nothing would change for the low-upside tight end option.
Matthew Stafford, QB
When considering the ‘life after Calvin’ situation for Detroit, Stafford is the first and most notable fantasy casualty. This article from last summer, a well done piece by Scott Spratt, charted receiver dependence for different fantasy quarterbacks. That exercise fits perfectly with the discussion in this piece. In 2011, Stafford was more dependent on Johnson than even Brady-to-Gronkowski. This was before Stafford’s down season in 2012 that relied on an attempt total that made even Sean Payton and Drew Brees say ‘whoa, they throw the ball around the yard a ton’. Stafford is a trendy upside target in 2013 because of the expected passing volume of the Detroit offense and the likely rebound in touchdown rate. Without Calvin Johnson to fuel that scoring bounce back to normalcy, Stafford would be left depending on a high volume with little upside. Think of 2012 Carson Palmer in that case.
Mikel Leshoure, RB
Leshoure was the goal line back of choice in 2012, his first season back from an injury in the summer of his rookie season. With Reggie Bush siphoning away his 34 receptions from a year ago, Joique Bell a more efficient player all-around, and the Lions struggling to get down to the goal line with the same regularity post-Calvin, there is not much to like with Leshoure.
Corey Fuller, WR
Fuller is the most likely receiver to fulfill any degree of what Calvin Johnson offers down the field. Fuller is 6’2” with above-average burst off the line and long speed. On the flip side, Fuller is a rookie with a wide range of possible outcomes if he were to see significant playing time. As an occupant of the waiver wire in all but the deepest of leagues, Fuller would be an intriguing add to see if he can develop quickly to a prominent role.
Joseph Fauria, TE
Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler have been disappointing options soaking up undeserved targets for a few seasons now. Fauria has a huge catching radius and was dominant in the red zone at UCLA. Given the lack of other options Detroit would have in the pass game near the goal line, Fauria presents upside especially in non-PPR scoring.
Edwards is the opposite of fellow rookie teammate Corey Fuller. The diminutive Edwards is not athletic considering his size and was propped up by his college team’s passing volume for production more than demanding the ball. He was already on the periphery of fantasy radars and would require more than a Calvin Johnson absence to gain prominence.
Mike Thomas, WR
Thomas had some buzz back in 2010 when he soaked up 99 mediocre targets for a horrid Jacksonville passing game. He turned back into a pumpkin after that, posting a forgettable 2011 and then disappearing in Detroit. The window is closing on Thomas having a roster spot in the NFL, let alone being an intriguing fantasy name to know.
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