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2013 Team Report: Detroit Lions

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backup(s): Shaun Hill, Kellen Moore, Alex Carder

Starting QB: Matthew Stafford threw for nearly 5000 yards again last season, but his passing touchdowns fell from 41 in 2011 to just 20 in 2012. Although he chipped in four rushing scores, his fantasy stock tumbled from Top 5 to No. 10 overall. At several points in the season, it almost looked like Stafford's only goal was to feed Calvin Johnson the ball to help him beat Jerry Rice's single season receiving record. It didn't help Stafford's performance that there was a revolving door at the No. 2 wide receiver spot between injuries and underperformance. After Johnson's 122 receptions, Titus Young was the next closest with just 33 receptions, but he's not even with the team anymore. This season, the Lions hope to find someone that can line up opposite Johnson and give Stafford a another target to keep traffic away from Johnson's side of the field. The addition of veteran running back Reggie Bush will help with the running game, as well as the passing game. Bush has a proven track record for catching the ball and the extra dimension to the Detroit offense may be just what Stafford needs to stop throwing the ball 725 times a season.

Backup QB: After two injury-filled seasons, Matthew Stafford has now two 16-game seasons under his belt. Despite throwing the ball more than 725 times last year, there was little or no need for a backup quarterback. Shaun Hill has proven to be a serviceable backup over the years, and you can expect him to be the No. 2 guy for Detroit as he enters his seventh season. Any guy throwing the ball to Calvin Johnson has some decent value, but if Stafford is healthy, Hill won't see the field at all. Kellen Moore and Alex Carder will battle for a potential No. 3 spot on the team.

Running Backs

Starter: Reggie Bush, Mikel Leshoure
Backup(s): Joique Bell, Theo Riddick, Devin Moore, Jahvid Best
Fullback(s): Shaun Chapas

Starting RB: After missing the first two games of the season, Mikel Leshoure stepped in and had the bulk of the rushing carries for Detroit last season. However, the Lions quickly dialed back his touches per game to somewhere near 20. After 30 touches in his first game, Leshoure only had one game with more than 20 touches. His upside is clearly limited. Enter Reggie Bush. After two solid seasons in Miami, Bush comes to Detroit to pick up the slack that Leshoure can't seem to handle. Bush's style of play matches up well with Leshoure. Together, they can become one of the best RBBCs in the league. Unfortunately for both of them, it makes both of them risky from a fantasy prospective. Leshoure was already limited upside by the fact he's not going to be able to carry the ball 30 times a game. Bush can step in as a change of pace guy, but after seven seasons, he too isn't a guy who is going to carry the ball 25+ times a game. Look for Leshoure to hover right around 20 carries a game, and see fewer passes thrown his way. Bush will be there to make up the difference or even cut into Leshoure's action a bit. Approach this situation with caution.

Backup RBs: Joique Bell is a feel good story for the Lions. He came from a small college, just a few miles away from Ford Field, and he played well in limited duty last season. However, with the addition of Reggie Bush this offseason, Bell's future with the team is in question. They signed him to a one year extension, and will probably use him more on special teams since the Lions were unhappy with Stefan Logan's late season mistakes last year. Theo Riddick was a late round pick out of Notre Dame, and the Lions will see if he can add some speed to their backfield and special teams. Jahvid Best is still officially listed with the team, and the Lions probably hold out hope that he will be able to make it back. However, given that Best didn't play at all last season, there's very little chance he will make it back onto the field. Even if he does, he certainly won't be the explosive back that we saw during his rookie season. As heartbreaking as it is, it is time for the Lions and fantasy owners to move on.

Fullback: The Lions don't use a true fullback, and last season they would occasionally line up Joique Bell with Leshoure in certain two-back sets. Shaun Chapas is a big boy and he can bring it to the hole as a lead blocker, or swing out into the flat for the short dump. He's never going to be a big stat producer though, and with Reggie Bush in the mix now, he certainly won't be any threat to catch the ball.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson
Backups: Ryan Broyles, Corey Fuller, Mike Thomas, Kris Durham, Kassim Osgood, Brian Robiskie, Devin Thomas, Patrick Edwards, Chastin West, Lance Long, Troy Burrell, Dominique Curry, Terrence Austin

Starting WRs: The NFC North has a unique situation with one of the best quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers), running backs (Adrian Peterson) and wide receivers (Calvin Johnson) in the league. Johnson was one of the few bright spots on the Lions last season. With no clear No. 2 receiver, and Stafford throwing the ball 725 times in frequent losing efforts, Johnson couldn't help but see a lot of action. Johnson shattered Jerry Rice's single season receiving record, finishing with 122 receptions and almost 2,000 yards receiving. Although he only reached the end zone five times last season, his six games with 10 or more receptions makes Johnson an easy first round selection in most redraft leagues, especially those that award a point for each reception. Detroit's WR2 wide receiver from last season was Titus Young. Unfortunately he couldn't get his priorities straight and he was cut from the team. Journeyman Nate Burleson moves into the No. 2 position by default, but he's probably just keeping that spot warm until someone emerges to take it from him. Burleson entering his 11th season, and he's much more suited for a slot receiver position than a true outside threat. His solid hands make him a good pick-up in PPR leagues though, even if his yard per reception average has dipped below 10 now.

Backup WRs: Lions fans may recognize a lot of names when they look down the wide receiver depth chart. Guys like Mike Thomas, Kassim Osgood and Brian Robiskie have all played as a starting receiver within the last few seasons. Yet each of them has moved on from their previous teams because they just couldn't show enough consistency to hold on to the job. Now Detroit looks more like a graveyard of declining wide receiver talent rather than a group from where Calvin Johnson's backup might emerge. Ryan Broyles is entering his second season, and he had a few nice outings before sustaining a season ending injury in Week 13. Broyles has to stay healthy if he hopes to make an impact this season. Corey Fuller was a sixth round pick out of Virginia Tech this year for Detroit. He brings some talent to the table but his skills need a lot of polish and he's playing behind guys with a lot more experience. Given time, he could emerge as a potential WR4 or WR5. Kris Durham came on late in the season after several Detroit receivers were lost to injury. Durham had a couple nice catches, but he still has a lot to prove before he will earn any serious playing time.

Tight Ends

Starters: Brandon Pettigrew
Backups: Tony Scheffler, Michael Williams, Joseph Fauria

When you think of teams that are effective using two receiving tight ends, Detroit probably isn't the first one that you think of. Yet Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler had over 100 receptions, over 1,000 yards and four touchdowns between the two of them. Pettigrew is younger and has better speed getting up the field. If Detroit can find a receiver to start opposite Calvin Johnson, Pettigrew can create some tough miss matches over the middle of the field. Tony Scheffler is on the backside of his career, but his ability to find the soft spots in the defense make him an effective target, especially with the lack of a solid No. 2 wideout. If the Lions can find an effective WR2 though, Scheffler's stats may take a big hit. Rookie Michael Williams is big and has good receiving and blocking skills, but his lack of speed will limit his upside.

Place Kicker

David Akers: Jason Hanson contemplated retirement, then decided to return for another year, but either didn't want to play for the veteran minimum and/or is dealing with an injury, and finally did retire. The Lions subsequently added two intriguing free agents - David Akers, who had a record setting 2011 but then a very disappointing 2012 with the 49ers, and Havard Rugland of Kickalicious viral YouTube fame. Akers won the job, although Rugland fared better than anticipated and built a huge media following. Holding and kickoffs will be handled by rookie punter Sam Martin. After two years near the bottom, the Lions climbed to 16th in attempted kicking points in 2010, 12th in 2011, and 10th in 2012.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jeremy Ross, Cassius Vaughn, Joique Bell

Though Michael Spurlock saw more return opportunities in 2013, he was clearly outperformed by Jeremy Ross and it appears the team is now letting Spurlock go in free agency. The 29.3 yards per return Ross had as a Lion would have been good enough for 5th best in the NFL, though his average during his days as a Packer bring his season average down to 24.5. The Lions may audition other players as a backup, including newly signed Cassius Vaughn who has had a good history as a kick returner but never seemed able to land the starting job. Another option is running back Joique Bell, who lacks the blazing speed of a returner like Devin Hester, but has just enough size to make it more difficult to arm tackle him on returns.

Punt Returners: Jeremy Ross, Cassius Vaughn, T.J. Jones [R]

Jeremy Ross stood out even more as a punt returner, where his 15.5 yard per return average was second best in the NFL. The team added a rookie option at punt returner in receiver T.J. Jones. Jones, who returned 14 punts as a senior for a respectable 7.6 yard average, possesses sure hands and could be an option if ball security becomes an issue for Ross.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Riley Reiff, RT Corey Hilliard, LG Rob Sims, RG Larry Warford, C Dominic Raiola
Key Backups: T Jason Fox, G Bill Nagy, G Rodney Austin, G Dylan Gandy

The Detroit Lions offensive line is a unit in recovery. They say the first step in recovery is knowing you have a problem. The Lions front office knows they have a problem, and have been making efforts to correct the sub-standard offensive line. The Lions lost their starting left tackle to retirement, as well as their starting right guard and right tackle to free agency. Only left guard Rob Sims and center Dominic Raiola are back in the same positions as last season. Both of these players are underrated nationally and do a good job on Sundays. Left tackle Riley Reiff is a talented pass blocker and should be fine in the role replacing Jeff Backus. Third round pick Larry Warford out of Kentucky is a two time All-SEC performer and should win the right guard position in camp. Warford is known as a mauler, but he can get off balance and will need to be careful with the defensive linemen he will be facing in the NFC North. Bill Nagy and Dylan Gandy could compete for Warford's natural right guard position, with the consolation prize of backup center. Right tackle is an open competition between Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox. Neither player is great but Hilliard appears to have the edge for now. As with most lines undergoing huge change, the short term forecast for the Lions' offensive line is not bright. However in the long term this line could come together to be a solid unit, allowing the Lions offense to produce.

Team Defense

There is no way to sugar coat this: The Detroit Lions fielded an poor defense in 2012. They gave up lots of touchdowns and lots of points (sixth worst in both categories). In most fantasy scoring systems, this unit ranked among the eight worst. Their biggest problem - a lack of discipline - is amplified by the actions of their biggest star: defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. There are just too many instances where things go bad, and the Lions do not respond well. It would be nice to expect them to settle down, but there are a good deal of youthful players who will play big roles in 2013. With all of that youth around, it's likely that they'll struggle again this season.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Nick Fairley, DE Ezekiel Ansah, DE Jason Jones
Backups: DT C.J. Mosley, DT Justin Bannan, DT Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, DT Andre Fluellen, DE Israel Idonije, DE Willie Young, DE Devin Taylor,

Starting DL: The Lions have overhauled their defense and will have several new starters, including three on the defensive line. The only returning starter on the defensive line is defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Suh is a destructive force inside and has racked up 22 sacks in his three seasons, including eight last year. Nick Fairley will man the other defensive tackle spot for the Lions. Fairley, who is replacing Corey Williams in the starting lineup, had 23 tackles, 4 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in his last five games. Veteran Jason Jones, who played for the Titans when Jim Schwartz was the defensive coordinator, will start at the defensive end spot vacated by Cliff Avril. Jones does not have Avril's pass rushing ability, but he is a much better run defender. Lining up at the defensive end spot opposite Jones is rookie Ezekiel Ansah, the Lions first-round draft pick out of Brigham Young. Ansah, who has only played football for three years, is extremely raw but has exceptional athleticism and elite closing speed.

Backup DL: The Lions lost several members of the defensive line during the offseason and with Fairley moving into the starting lineup, the depth of the line was a major question mark heading into training camp. To alleviate the problem, the Lions signed several veteran linemen, including former Jacksonville defensive tackle C.J. Mosley. Mosley is a solid run defender and should be a significant part of the defensive tackle rotation. They also signed Israel Idonije, who can play both end and tackle. Defensive tackle Justin Bannan also signed as a free agent. Bannan adds depth and is a solid run defender. Jimmy Saddler-McQueen and Andre Fluellen will compete for backup spots at defensive tackle. Willie Young is the only reserve defensive end who has played significant snaps in his career. Young, who had three sacks in limited playing time two years ago, was a major disappointment last year and failed to register a sack. Young is likely to be the top reserve at defensive end. Rookie Devin Taylor, a fourth-round pick from South Carolina, will compete for playing time at defensive end.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Stephen Tulloch, OLB DeAndre Levy, OLB Ashlee Palmer
Backups: OLB Tahir Whitehead, OLB Travis Lewis, OLB Rocky McIntosh, OLB Carmen Messina, OLB Brandon Hepburn

Starting LBs: The Lions are returning two of their starters at linebacker. Among the returnees is veteran middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who is entering his third year with the Lions. Tulloch, who has never missed a game in his seven-year career, is a solid all around linebacker who is equally adept in run defense and coverage. The Lions entered the offseason with both of last year's starting outside linebackers heading towards free agency. They decided to lock up DeAndre Levy prior to the beginning of free agency, signing him to a three-year contract. Levy hopes to rebound this year after having a disappointing 2012 campaign. There are several candidates competing to fill the other outside linebacker spot vacated by last year's starter, Justin Durant. Ashlee Palmer will likely enter the season as the starter, largely due to his experience. Palmer is an excellent special teams player and can play all three linebacker positions.

Backup LBs: There are a pair of young linebackers who will have an opportunity to compete with Palmer for the starting outside linebacker spot opposite Levy, chief among them second-year linebacker Tahir Whitehead. The Lions traded up in the 2011 draft to select Whitehead, perhaps with this starting job in mind. Whitehead was primarily a special teams player last year. Another young linebacker that will be vying for the job is Travis Lewis, a seventh-round pick in last year's draft. Lewis was a highly productive linebacker in college, but is probably better suited to play in the middle. The Lions signed veteran linebacker Rocky McIntosh and he brings much-needed veteran depth to the linebacking spot. Second-year linebacker Carmen Messina, who spend last year on the Lions practice squad, will compete for a roster spot along with rookie Brandon Hepburn, a seventh-round pick out of Florida A&M.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Chris Houston, CB Darius Slay, FS Louis Delmas, SS Glover Quin
Backups: CB Bill Bentley, CB Chris Greenwood, CB Jonte Green, CB Rashean Mathis, CB Ronald Bartell, SS Amari Spievey, FS John Wendling, FS Don Carey, FS Tyrell Johnson

Starting DBs: Starting cornerback Chris Houston returns to the Lions after signing a five-year contract during the free agency period. Houston is the Lions best and most experienced cornerback and with so many young cornerbacks on the roster, the Lions decided it was in their best interests to bring Houston back. The starting cornerback spot opposite Houston is up for grabs and rookie Darius Slay is the leading contender for the job. Slay, a second-round draft pick in this year's draft, underwent minor knee surgery but is expected to be ready for the start of training camp. Louis Delmas, who has battled injuries for most of the last two years, signed a two-year contract and will return as the starting free safety. The Lions secondary was noticeably worse when Delmas was hurt. The other safety spot will be filled by Glover Quin, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason. Quin is solid in coverage and has only missed one game in his four-year career. Quin's durability will bring much needed stability to a Lions secondary that was ravaged by injuries last year.

Backup DBs: There are several cornerbacks who will be competing with Slay for the starting cornerback job opposite Houston, with last year's third-round pick, Bill Bentley, leading the charge. Bentley played well at times last year but was hampered by injuries for most of the season and finished the year on injured reserve. Another competitor for the job is Chris Greenwood, who missed the entire season with an abdominal injury. Greenwood has good size and speed and could see significant playing time this season. Second-year player Jonte Green will also get a shot at the starting spot. Green gained valuable experience last year due to the numerous injuries the Lions suffered at cornerback. Veteran Ronald Bartell, who has battled injuries in recent years, will compete for a roster spot. The Lions signed free agent cornerback Rashean Mathis to a contract. Mathis will compete with Bentley for subpackage snaps and will also be a backup at safety. Veteran John Wendling is an exceptional special teams player and adds depth at safety. Amari Spievey, who was a part-time starter in each of the last two seasons, will battle for a backup safety spot along with Don Carey and Tyrell Johnson.

Last modified: 2014-05-15 16:42:37