Resurgence in Detroit: the Lions are Hungry
For the first time in recent history, the Detroit Lions are legitimately in the hunt for a division title. Coming off their first winning season since 2000, the Lions have the pieces in place to keep up with the dangerous offenses of the Packers and the reloaded Bears. A voracious defensive line and an outstanding passing attack will lift the Detroit Lions to contention, unless they hold themselves back.
If you ask any fan of the team, the team holding itself back is hardly out of the question. In fact, the team appears to be off to a good start to that end, as seven players have been arrested this offseason. The most recent culprit, safety Aaron Berry, was recently released in the wake of his second arrest of the offseason for waving a loaded handgun in public. Former first round pick Nick Fairley, who figures to be a huge part of the defense this year, was pulled over last month for DUI.
Watching last year’s shootout between the Saints and Lions highlighted the immaturity of the team. Titus Young, Brandon Pettigrew and Stefan Logan repeatedly lost their composure and cost their team in the form of penalty yards. Ndamukong Suh stomped a Packer in the face in a moment of unsportsmanlike rage in a November loss to Green Bay and nearly faced a suspension as a result. Coach Jim Schwartz likely has preached composure all offseason long but at the moment, it hardly looks like his boys are listening.
It’s a damn shame, really, because the Lions could be lethal if their heads were screwed on straight. 5,000-yard-passer Matt Stafford played extraordinarily well last year connecting with Megatron and a slew of other receiving talent. Titus Young is a deceptive deep threat, Pettigrew proved to be an effective tight end, and Nate Burleson was also a nice option. The Lions introduced former Oklahoma standout Ryan Broyles to the mix this season, and training camp reports say that Broyles has healed well following a season-ending knee injury last year. If he makes a full recovery, he could easily overtake Burleson and possibly Young and become Stafford’s second read.
Matt Stafford threw the ball an unbelievable 663 times last year, leading the NFL. Brees was close behind with 657 but also had some semblance of a running attack thanks to Sproles and Ingram. Stafford is not so lucky. The Lions’ leading rusher last year was Jahvid Best, who played in just six games and ran for 390 yards and two touchdowns. Maurice Morris and Kevin Smith combined to fill in the gap, albeit ineffectively, and the ground game was largely neglected throughout the season. The consequence was a one-dimensional offense that hinged exclusively on the arm of Stafford and the hands of Calvin Johnson.
Things look to be shaping up very similarly this year. Best was supposed to be back in the mix but another injury has him out of the lineup for at least a few weeks. Backup Mikel Leshoure, a former standout at Illinois, is also sidelined with injury. The inconsistent former first-rounder Kevin Smith will likely pick up the slack until, Leshoure and Best make it back to the field, if they return at all. If you thought back-to-back 600+ attempt seasons was out of the question, think again. This team needs Stafford to throw at an extremely high volume to keep the ball moving, so his fantasy prospects this year are extremely high.
Calvin Johnson caught for nearly 1,700 yards last year and Burleson, Young and Pettigrew all surpassed 700 yards. Broyles could easily crack that mark if he proves that he’s healed fully. If Best makes if back, his 4.6 yards per carry last year was a glimpse at his potential. This is a team rich with fantasy options that you’ll be able to find very late in the draft. If the Lions don’t beat themselves, they will be a division contender and a fantasy gold mine for bargain hunters.
by JIMBO SLICE