The Lions enter their second season under head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi who brought some of the Saints-style offense. For the seventh time since 1993, they went to the wild card round where they lost. But only by 20-24 in Dallas and it was a year of installing all new offensive and defensive schemes. That’s a positive direction.
Matthew Stafford’s numbers were down sharply though, from 29 passing touchdowns to only 22 and his 4257 yards was his lowest since 2010. Part of that was due to Calvin Johnson who missed three games with an ankle injury that persisted for and in two games made him nothing more than a decoy with no more than 12 yards in either game. Fortunately, Golden Tate came over from the Seahawks and finally gave the Lions a legitimate #2 wideout. He would end with 1331 yards on 99 catches. No changes have been made to the passing equation since the two starting wideouts are already so productive. A healthy Megatron would really have a big impact now that Tate is there to help as well.
As good as that was, the rest of the offense had problems. Rookie Eric Ebron did little more than drop passes. Reggie Bush suffered ankle and back injuries and missed five games. Joique Bell turned in a career year but only rushed for 860 yards and seven scores. His role as a receiver was reduced to only 34 catches. He suffered a concussion and was hampered by an Achilles injury late in the year. He needed minor surgery on his Achilles and cleaned out his knee back in January. He’s a health risk at 29-years-old and has only generated a 3.9 yards per carry average for both of the last two seasons.
The Lions signed Ameer Abdullah with their second round pick and he’ll spawn plenty of fantasy attention since he comes in with far more pedigree than the undrafted Bell has. Expect Abdullah to rise in drafts this summer and likely pass Bell is the rookie has a big preseason game.
Matthew Stafford, Quarterback
Stafford’s first season with OC Joe Lombardi resulted in 363-4257-22 with a career low 12 interceptions. That was a disappointing drop in scores since Stafford posted 4650 yards and 29 scores the previous season. HC Jim Caldwell already said that the 602 passes thrown in 2014 were too many and that his intent is to lower that number and rush the ball more. But last year Stafford had to learn the new system while Calvin Johnson was struggling with an ankle injury much of the season. Golden Tate stepped up nicely and now Stafford has both WRs healthy and ready to play. Expect a bounce back year for Stafford and more efficiency and accuracy in a system all receivers now know.
Ameer Abdullah, Running Back
The Lions replaced Reggie Bush with this second round pick out of Nebraska who averaged over six yards per carry the last two seasons and over 1600 rushing yards in both. Abdullah scored 22 times in 2014. Abdullah did not have extensive work as a receiver in college because of the Cornhuskers scheme but has delighted the coaching staff with his ability and has drawn praises from OC Joe Lombardi. Joique Bell is the returning starter but he’s 29 and coming off knee and Achilles surgeries. Abdullah is the future and that could start as early as this year. He’ll be a complement to Bell at worst and could – and should – surpass him as the primary back sooner than later. The Lions wanted Abdullah for his big play ability unlike the slower Bell. The Lions have used a committee backfield even with Lombardi coming in last year so both RBs will see use. But Abdullah is the one to watch here and needs to be drafted after the first wave of starters are gone.
Joique Bell, Running Back
Bell required surgery to both his knee and Achilles in the offseason and that causes at least mild concern about the 29-year-old back who is coming off two straight seasons with a 3.9 YPC. Bell had 223 carries last year and turned in at least 15 touches each week with a high of 23 carries in one game. Bell is the starting tailback at least entering training camp. Bell has crowed about getting his first 1000 rushing yard season but the Lions used their second round pick to draft Ameer Abdullah who was the fourth overall running back taken. Training camp should yield a clearer picture of what to expect since Abdullah was thoroughly impressive in OTAs and the team already said they see the two backs are a “one-two punch”. Bell ran 223 times in 2014 while Reggie Bush only rushed 76 times. Abdullah is almost certain to cut into Bell’s workload. The Lions want to run more but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Bell gets any uptick.
Theo Riddick, Running Back
Riddick remains the back-up for Bell and won’t have enough value to merit drafting. He only had 20 carries last year and gained just a 2.6 YPC. He was used in a third down role at times and ended with 34 catches but that is not expected to increase with the addition of Ameer Abdullah. Almost all of Riddick’s stats last year came when Reggie Bush was out.
Calvin Johnson, Wide Receiver
Johnson has been an elite wide receiver for many years but he is only 30 now and still has plenty left in the tank. But he is falling in drafts – at least from his traditional #1 spot – after one of his worst seasons. The Lions struggled at first while installing OC Joe Lombardi’s scheme last year and Johnson suffered a high ankle sprain that robbed him of three games and hampered him in many more. He ended with only 71-1077-8. But Johnson is healthy now, he has a decent complement in Golden Tate and the offense is described as operating “100% better” than last year. Johnson averaged 1712 yards per season for the previous three years. He still ended with eight TDs and five 100 yard games despite his high ankle sprain. Where ever you draft Johnson, you likely got a nice value since most only remember the previous season.
Golden Tate, Wide Receiver
Tate proved to be a tremendous free agent acquisition and he blew away the stats from four years with the Seahawks when he turned in 99-1331-4 for the Lions that included six 100 yard efforts. All but one of those six games came when Calvin Johnson was either out or hobbled with a high ankle sprain. So long as Johnson remains healthy this season – and he at least is starting out that way – it will be very hard for Tate to match those stats. The Lions want to run more this year as well which could further depress receiving stats. He is a safe bet for a good year, but with fewer big games. He’ll likely be drafted a little early in many leagues just based on last season’s stats.
Corey Fuller, Wide Receiver
Fuller projects to be the #3 wideout in DET but that won’t produce fantasy relevant numbers. Fuller only had 14 catches as a rookie and is just too far back in the pecking order to matter yet.
Eric Ebron, Tight End
The Lions drafted Ebron with their 1.10 pick in 2014 but the 6-4, 250 lb. star from North Carolina struggled in his rookie year and ended with just 25-248-1. He also dropped passes and never gained more than 38 yards in any game. He’s expected to take a big step up this season as many second-year TE have. But Ebron still had drops in OTA’s this spring. OC Joe Lombardi spent seven years as the offensive assistant or quarterbacks coach in New Orleans but so far Ebron has not reminded anyone of Jimmy Graham. Ebron needs to be one of the earlier back-up TEs taken in your draft but he needs a major improvement to meet the expectations he drew as a former 1.10 pick.
Brandon Pettigrew, Tight End
Pettigrew turned 30 and he already had a dramatic drop in workload last year when he caught just ten passes. Eric Ebron is the primary receiving tight end and Pettigrew’s value is more as a blocker. No reason to draft or hold.