The Detroit Lions have to be one of the most intriguing fantasy football offenses in the game today, and it all starts with their quarterback, Matthew Stafford. As witnessed last year when the wheels fell off after his back injury, this offense lives and dies by No. 9. Now healthy, he returns for his 12th season in Motown to command an offense sporting plenty of talent.
Personnel-wise, Detroit has a legit No. 1 receiver in Kenny Golladay, and a rock-solid second wideout in Marvin Jones. Veteran Danny Amendola is a cagey slot receiver, and second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson offers as much promise as any young target in the game. The offensive line is respectable, having improved in the offseason. On the other side of the ball, it remains a work-in-progress, and that bodes well for increased aerial volume.
Update: Hockenson and Golladay were placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, July 29. At most, they will miss three weeks of practice, or three days of training camp in pads, due to the inclusion. However, in the event they actually have contracted the virus, it’s unclear how long they could miss. Monitor the situation as padded practices approach the week of Aug. 17.
8/4 update: Stafford was removed from the COVID-19 list after a false-positive test result.
Through eight games last year, Stafford unexpectedly sat as one of the most prolific fantasy football quarterbacks. He averaged 25.9 fantasy points per outing, on pace for 4,998 yards, 38 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. The extrapolated stat line would have placed Stafford as the No. 3 quarterback finisher on the year, just three points behind No. 2.
Stafford, 32, is in the prime of his career and could be forced into throwing more than Detroit prefers. Believe it or not, the Lions actually want to be a ground-based offense that relies on play-action passing after establishing the run. It may seem like shenanigans given how mostly feeble the backfield has been in the last, oh, 20 years. Kerryon Johnson returns from missing action in consecutive seasons due to injuries, and this year he’ll be paired with D’Andre Swift, a 2020 second-round choice, whose game is built on explosive plays.
It may be only a matter of time before Swift overtakes the third-year Johnson, yet gamers will want to exert some degree of patience for a rookie in this pandemic-stricken offseason. Luckily, running back is the easiest position to learn on offense.
A balance attack may mean fewer passing attempts for Stafford, which requires him to be more efficient, but we saw him stand out last year with only three games of more than 34 passing attempts in his eight starts. His final three games before the back fractures put him on the shelf: 34.2, 28.8 and 32.9 fantasy points, respectively. Not too shabby.
Fantasy football takeaway
Risky? Yep. Not only did Stafford miss eight games last year, he was hampered by a different back injury much of 2018, which resulted in his worst fantasy football output as a pro. He’s tough as nails, which sometimes gets the former Georgia star in trouble. Given the 2020 pandemic limiting offseason practices and eliminating the preseason, continuity is more important than ever.
In upcoming drafts, fantasy footballers can land him, on average, in Round 10, which slots him as the 13th quarterback chosen. As a fringe starter, the placement reflects the balance of his risk-reward makeup, and Stafford is one of those quarterbacks fantasy owners should eye after passing on the position early on. He’s a starter, but draft a quality No. 2 a few rounds later.