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2015 Team Report: Detroit Lions

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backup(s): Kellen Moore, Dan Orlovsky, Anthony Boone

Starting QB: Stafford is firmly entrenched as the franchise quarterback and undisputed leader of the franchise in Detroit. Despite injury concerns early in his career, Stafford completed his fourth consecutive 16-game season and has proven that the injury prone label should not apply. Stafford was sacked a career-worst 45 times last season and often faced pressure right up the middle. The additions of 1st round draft pick LG Laken Tomlinson, OG Manny Ramirez and return to health of RG Larry Warford could give Stafford the best line he has ever played behind. In addition, the expected maturation of 2nd-year TE Eric Ebron and the drafting of RB Ameer Abdullah should give Stafford his deepest corp of pass catchers that he has played with. Stafford's passing attempts and touchdowns were well down from career highs in 2012 and 2011 respectively, but with the Lions' defense suffering from personnel losses (including Ndamukong Suh), it is likely that the Lions again will ask Stafford to take more of the burden of carrying the team upon his shoulders which should allow Stafford to regain his fantasy status as a lower end QB1.

Backup QB: Matthew Stafford has started every game for the Lions the past four seasons, so their back-up QB is probably not going to see a lot of snaps. Dan Orlovsky has served as the backup quarterback each of the last two seasons with Kellen Moore as the 3rd quarterback and inactive on the 46-man gameday roster for every game. The names should remain the same, but the order may change this year as Moore has progressed to the point where he should challenge for the #2 spot ahead of Orlovsky. Orlovsky is bigger, has a stronger arm and real NFL playing experience which perhaps gives him the leg up in the competition. But Moore has been coming on strong and has his supporters within the organization in terms of the battle for the backup spot.

Running Backs

Starter: Joique Bell, Ameer Abdullah [R]
Backup(s): Theo Riddick, George Winn, Zach Zenner, Desmond Martin
Fullback(s): Mike Burton [R]

Starting RB: Joique Bell enters the season as Detroit's starting running back but he will have to battle talented rookie Ameer Abdullah for touches. Bell has missed time in training camp which has cracked the door open a bit for Abdullah as he has shown well in his time as the top running back. Bell entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2010 and bounced around the league for a couple seasons before landing in Detroit near the end of the 2011 season. Bell assumed the lead back role in 2014 and performed admirably despite a pedestrian 3.9 YPC due in part to poor run blocking. Bell possesses a solid combination of size, speed and elusiveness and is clearly the best back on the roster for short yardage and for pounding it between the tackles. Abdullah was drafted in the second round to add depth to the backfield and to bring some big-play ability to the offense. While Abdullah does not possess elite open field speed, he does have top not burst, elusiveness and balance. Abdullah excels in the open field and catching the ball out of the backfield. While he is not a big back, he does run with surprising power and has the potential to shoulder the lead RB role. The competition between Bell and Abdullah will be one to watch closely as their roles are still yet to be fully determined.

Backup RBs: Bell and Abdullah should get the majority of the offensive snaps at the position but Theo Riddick should be able to maintain some role as a pass catcher on obvious passing downs. Riddick is an exceptional route-runner from the RB position and a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. But he has proven wholly ineffective as a rusher with a 2.6 YPC average and the Lions have tried to give him just enough carries to keep the defense honest. Defenses have begun to really key in on the passing game when Riddick is on the field though, which limits his effectiveness and ability to get snaps. He likely needs an injury to make any real impact in 2015. The 24-year-old George Winn should compete with undrafted rookies Zach Zenner and Desmond Martin for the 4th RB spot. Zenner is a player worth watching in deeper dynasty leagues as the small school standout tested exceptionally well and was highly productive even when playing top competition. He could follow a similar career path to Joique Bell if he can stick on the roster as a 4th RB early in his career.

Fullback: Mike Burton comes in as a rookie 5th round pick out of Rutgers with a great chance of sticking on the roster. Burton's value comes not only from his blocking ability and reliable hands out of the backfield, but also from his ability on special teams. With the FB getting less offensive snaps, it becomes imperative that he also makes an impact on special teams and Burton fits that new paradigm. Burton is not going to be a true battering ram at FB, but his size and athleticism are adequate as a blocker. He is a crafty receiver out of the backfield and can be used as an H-back in addition to lining up as a traditional FB.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate
Backups: Lance Moore, Ryan Broyles, Corey Fuller, T.J. Jones, Jeremy Ross, Andrew Peacock, Greg Salas, Jarred Haggins, Vernon Johnson

Starting WRs: Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate form a formidable 1-2 punch at WR for the Lions. Johnson remains the top target in the offense and one of the NFL's most talented players. Johnson's numbers were down a bit in 2014 due to missing three games and the fact that he was not at full health in a few other contests. When Johnson returned from injury for the final eight games, he looked like the same Calvin Johnson that has been the game's best WR for the past few seasons. His combination of speed, size and athleticism is unmatched. If he can remain healthy, Johnson is a lock for WR1 fantasy production. Golden Tate had a huge 2014 season after coming over from Seattle as a free agent in the offseason. Tate actually led the Lions with 99 receptions, 1,331 yards. But Tate's production was vastly different when Calvin Johnson was inactive (and during the two games where Johnson was hobbled and essentially a decoy) vs. the eleven games in which Johnson played fully. Nearly half of Tate's production came in the five games without Johnson when Tate performed as a high-level fantasy WR1. In the other eleven games, Tate performed as a low-level fantasy WR2 as Stafford still looks for Johnson first, especially in the red zone. Golden Tate enters 2015 as a safe, low-end WR2 for fantasy but should Johnson succumb to injury again, Tate could be one of the league's top fantasy performers during his absence.

Backup WRs: Behind Johnson and Tate, the Lions have major question marks at WR with the backups all putting up mediocre performances in 2014. Corey Fuller showed some flashes as a second year player and may possess the best tools of any of the backup options and is the favorite to win the #3 WR job. He has good size and solid deep speed but he managed only 14 receptions in 2014. Lance Moore has by far the most impressive resume of the players competing for the backup WR spots, but he turns 32-years old during training camp and his best days are behind him. He managed only 14 receptions in a reserve role for the Steelers in 2014. Jeremy Ross produced 24 receptions on only 36 targets last season and has proven to be a reliable backup option, though his upside is limited. Ryan Broyles was highly touted entering the NFL but has suffered multiple serious knee injuries and may never regain the burst that made him an impact player in college. With the top two wideouts the focus of the offense and the RBs and TEs also involved heavily in the passing game, 2015 should again see the Lions' backup WRs have a minimal impact.

Tight Ends

Starters: Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew
Backups: Joseph Fauria, Emil Igwenagu, Jordan Thompson, Casey Pierce, David Ausberry

Eric Ebron should take on a bigger role in the offense after an up-and-down rookie season in which he struggled with inconsistency and drops. The 22-year old possesses elite physical skills and his speed down the seam creates mismatch problems for opposing defenses. While his rookie performance was disappointing for a top ten pick, it is common for tight ends to develop more slowly than other positions so there is still reason to believe in Ebron's ability to become an impact player. Brandon Pettigrew is an elite blocker at the position and should continue to see the field often, but he has become an afterthought in the offense with only 10 receptions in 2014. Joseph Fauria is one of the league's tallest tight ends and has proven to be a mismatch in the red zone. Of his 23 career receptions, 8 have been for touchdowns. He should make the roster as the third TE.

Place Kicker

Matt Prater, Kyle Brindza [R]: The Lions kicker performance was laughable early in the season, but Prater came on after serving a four-game suspension and being released by the Broncos to save Detroit's bacon. Prater made a respectable 21 of 26 attempts in 11 games, including 3 of 5 from long distance. The Lions signed Notre Dame product Kyle Brindza after the draft to give Prater competition, but Brindza is coming off of a poor senior year, and Prater should be able to hold him off.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: T.J. Jones, Josh Wilson, Ameer Abdullah [R],

Jeremy Ross was one of the few returners to handle most all of the kickoff and punt returns for his team, but was cut at the end of training camp. Detroit added another potential returner in rookie running back Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah returned 61 kickoffs with a 26.1 average and 31 punts with a 10.2 yard average while at Nebraska, and tallied one touchdown in each type of return. His role on offense may impact how often Detroit uses Abdullah on returns. T.J. Jones is the primary returner but the team may use Josh Wilson or Abdullah at times.

Punt Returners: T.J. Jones, Golden Tate, Ameer Abdullah [R],

Last year's returner Jeremy Ross was released, opening the door for Ameer Abdullah and T.J. Jones to take over punt returns. Receiver Golden Tate is a proven option and moved his way into the backup job at the end of training camp. The coaching staff has said they may use different returners based on game situation.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Riley Reiff, LG Laken Tomlinson [R], C Manny Ramirez, RG Larry Warford, RT LaAdrian Waddle
Key Backups: T Cornelius Lucas, T Michael Williams, G Rodney Austin, G Taylor Boggs, C Travis Swanson, T Corey Robinson [R]

The Lions' best player is right guard Larry Warford. Warford is one of the best interior linemen in the conference and he is effective in both phases of the game. The team hopes to have drafted a similar player in first round pick Laken Tomlinson. Tomlinson is reportedly a very safe prospect and he should be able to lock down the left guard spot. If either Tomlinson is not up to the task, the team traded for Manny Ramirez from the Broncos and this player has starting experience at both guard and center positions. At this point I am projecting Ramirez to start at center, although that is far from certain. The team will also give Travis Swanson a real chance to win that center job. The tackles are good but not great players; there were rumors that Riley Reiff would shuffle inside if a highly rated tackle fell to the Lions during the first round. That didn't occur, the Lions went guard and Reiff remains at left tackle. Right tackle LaAdrian Waddle is a massive but raw player. Waddle could also be pushed by Cornelius Lucas, who looked decent in several spot starts last season. Overall this line dwells near the bottom of the rankings because of change at several interior positions and a lack of elite talent at the tackles. This line can improve if the young players get better and the line as a whole avoids injury.

Team Defense

The Lions emerged in 2014 under the guidance of defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. While they were in the top 10 in sacks and top five in interceptions, their true dominance game in yards and points allowed, where they only finished behind the Seattle Seahawks. Ndamukong Suh has flown south to sunny Miami, but the Lions did their best to replace him by trading two third-day picks for Haloti Ngata. They'll also get Stephen Tulloch and 2014 second-round pick Kyle Van Noy back from season-ending injuries. Look for them to remain an elite unit in leagues that award points for points and yards allowed, and still worth a pick in leagues that don't.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Haloti Ngata, DT Tyrunn Walker, DE Jason Jones, DE Ezekial Ansah
Backups: DE/DT Corey Wootton, DT Gabe Wright [R], DT Jermelle Cudjo, DT Caraun Reid, DE Darryl Tapp, DE Devin Taylor DE Devin Taylor, DE Darryl Tapp, DT C.J. Mosley

Starting DL: The big story with this unit in the offseason was the exit of both Ndamakong Suh to Miami and Nick Fairly to St. Louis. However, the Lions did manage to trade the Ravens for Haloti Ngata. Admittedly, Ngata is getting older, but promises to be a good locker room leader and preserve the nasty style of play to which the interior line has become accustomed. Next to Ngata on the line will be Tyrunn Walker, a player who also drew interest this offseason from the New England Patriots. Walker was signed as a UDFA in 2012 by the Saints. His play time picked up last year and he played very well as a rotational pass-rusher. Former Titan and Seahawk Jason Jones continues to be a good run-stuffer and to get the occasional sack. Ezekial Ansah continued his ascension to one of the best DEs in the game today, logging 37 solo tackles and 7.5 sacks.

Backup DL: Corey Wootton signed with the team in mid-May. Wooten spent last year with the Vikings on a one-year deal. Though he has played DT before with the Bears, Wootten will most likely be asked to play DE when he sees the field. The team took Gabe Wright in the fourth round this year. They'll hope that he can develop into the eventual replacement for Ngata as an interior penetrator. Jermelle Cudjo is a journeyman who has bounced around the league. Ivy-Leaguer Caraun Reid showed impressively in the 2014 preseason, but saw almost no playing time during the regular season. By contrast, the DE position on the Lions team has solid depth. Darryl Tapp was re-signed to a one-year deal this offseason. He remains a utility player who can contribute on special teams, as well as come off the bench to play several different positions. 2013 fourth-round pick Devin Taylor has been mildly impressive when he has seen the field, but those opportunities have been sparse.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB DeAndre Levy, OLB/MLB Tahir Whitehead, MLB Stephen Tulloch
Backups: OLB Josh Bynes, OLB Kyle Van Noy, OLB Julian Stanford

Starting LBs: Tackling machine DeAndre Levy just signed a long-term deal with the team that will extend him through the 2019 season. When Tulloch tore his ACL, Tahir Whitehead greatly exceeded expectations filling in for him, exploding for 63 solo tackles in regular season action. He is currently the favorite to win the job opposite Levy. Stephen Tulloch, who tore his ACL last season, reports he is fully recovered and will be ready to go for the 2015 season. He avoided the PUP list and looks to make good on those words.

Backup LBs: Competition among this group could be stiff. After being signed off the Ravens practice squad in 2014, Josh Bynes seems to be the dark horse candidate in the competition to earn the starting spot opposite Levy. Even if he doesn't earn the starting role, he can still contribute rotationally at either OLB or MLB, as he did last season. 2013 second-round pick Kyle Van Noy has battled injuries and has been slow to learn the Lions' defensive system. The staff continues to hope he'll catch fire and earn a bigger role this year. Previously a UDFA signed by the Jaguars, Julian Stanford joined the team in 2013 and made special teams contributions the past two seasons. The Lions believe he's a natural pass rusher that they can continue to develop.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Darius Slay, CB Rashean Mathis, FS Glover Quin, SS James Ihedigbo
Backups: CB Alex Carter [R], CB Quandre Diggs [R], CB Nevin Lawson, CB Bill Bentley, CB Josh Wilson FS Don Carey, SS Isa Abdul-Quddus

Starting DBs: Slay looked much better in his sophomore campaign, logging 48 solo tackles and two interceptions. If he continues his solid play this year, look for the Lions to attempt to retain him going forward. Rashean Mathis flirted briefly with free agency before deciding to remain in Detroit. He has made comments recently to the media that he knows he is nearing the end of his career and will be happy to be a mentor to the younger CBs on the roster. The outspoken Glover Quin played well last season, recording 57 solo tackles and seven interceptions. He recently took heat for predicting the Lions would go 7-1 in their first 8 games of 2015. After his stellar play in 2014, James Ihedigbo has decided to hold out for more money. Expect that to be resolved before the regular season begins.

Backup DBs: The Lions took a pair of corners in Alex Carter and Quandre Diggs. Carter is a corner that excels in press coverage, but will need to work on developing in man-to-man coverage. Diggs is the brother of Quentin Jammer and has a similar aggressive playing style. Having struggled with health during the past two seasons, Bill Bentley has not really had a chance to prove himself on the field. He tore his ACL in the first game of the 2014 season. Nevin Lawson was the next man up. He promptly suffered a very bad foot injury in game two. Both are hoping for better health in 2015 and during a recent interview, Glover Quin expressed confidence in the development of the duo. Josh Wilson was signed in early April after spending last year with the Falcons. He presumably will compete with the other backups for the slot corner role. The oft-injured Don Carey enters his sixth year in the league. He hasn't shown much in his time with the team. Isa Abdul-Quddus was re-signed by the Lions this offseason. He will be asked to continue his special teams contributions and occasionally see the field in a nickel role.

Last modified: 2015-09-08 17:50:51