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2011 Fantasy outlooks: Detroit Lions

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The words "optimistic" and "Detroit Lions" haven't been used together since Barry Sanders was running around the Pontiac Silverdome (and even then ...). But heading into 2011, not only are Fantasy owners optimistic that the Lions will produce some solid roster choices, but Lions fans are optimistic that their team can contend for a playoff berth.

Offensively, the team is loaded. You already know about Calvin Johnson and how he can turn quarterbacks like Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton into legit Fantasy considerations. Nate Burleson is entrenched as their second option, and the addition of rookie Titus Young complements both receivers and forces defenses to either neglect one receiver to cover the others or play deep. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew and backup Tony Scheffler only make the weapons in the pass game more threatening.

The run game got an upgrade with the addition of second-round pick Mikel Leshoure. Last year the Lions were abysmal in short-yardage situations, so Leshoure should improve that aspect of the run game while giving the team a change-of-pace back behind starter Jahvid Best. The two should make for a good tandem and in turn should ensure that they aren't running on fumes with backups during the season.

But it's the guy the Lions want under center for 16 games that will make the most difference. Matthew Stafford enters 2011 with higher expectations than what he had in 2010 thanks to all of Detroit's personnel improvements. After playing just nine and a half quarters last season, showing one full game of his golden potential against the Redskins (four touchdowns), everyone wants to see what he can do over a full season. The onus will be on him to stay upright and avoid getting his shoulder slammed into the turf like he did twice last season.

The Lions also made big improvements defensively, stealing defensive tackle Nick Fairley with their first-round pick and signing veteran safety Erik Coleman before the labor stoppage. Coleman will improve a secondary that has some talent but got battered at points last year. The run defense, even with Ndamukong Suh on the inside line, was worse, so Fairley working next to Suh should slam rushers and potentially give the Lions the type of "front two teeth" that the Vikings had for years with Kevin and Pat Williams.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value
Quarterbacks
Matthew Stafford
Running Backs
Jahvid Best
Mikel Leshoure
Wide Receivers
Calvin Johnson
Nate Burleson
Titus Young
Tight Ends
Brandon Pettigrew
Tony Scheffler
Kickers/Defense
Jason Hanson
Lions DST

Bounce-back candidate ... Matthew Stafford, QB

Of course Stafford is a bounce-back candidate, if not one of the ultimate sleepers for 2011. You already know the bad news: Stafford might have shoulders made of glass. And you already know the good news: Stafford, when given the chance to run this offense as it stands now, should produce at least 200 yards and two touchdowns with his eyes shut. His receiving corps is talented, his run game should warrant attention from the defense while also providing an outlet for some cheap stats and his offensive line is just good enough. Throw in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who did a great job last year given the personnel challenges he had, and there's a lot of hope for a 4,000-yard, 25-touchdown season from Stafford. He's a high-risk, high-reward pick that Fantasy owners should be on the lookout for starting in Round 8.

Impact rookie ... Mikel Leshoure, RB

Everyone will flock to rookie rushers like Mark Ingram and Daniel Thomas in drafts, but if Leshoure catches some breaks in Motown he could be just as productive. For now, he's the backup behind Jahvid Best, but we saw Best last about two and a half games last season before succumbing to a turf toe injury. And that happened a year after a concussion KO'd his college career. Best is injury prone and might best serve the Lions as a passing downs back. Leshoure, meanwhile, is the prototype for a rushing downs back and could probably land that role (and the goal-line touchdowns that come with it). He's a superb choice to draft beginning in Round 8 -- expect his name to fly off the board as soon as fellow rookie Ryan Williams gets selected.

Keeper-league target ... Titus Young, WR

A few years back the Lions drafted speedy receiver Derrick Williams with the hope that he'd cause mayhem from the slot. But Williams never matched expectations. Young now inherits that opportunity, and the former Boise State star has the pedigree to not only earn that role but play in it often from the get-go. He's not a big guy but he does have solid hands and a lot of experience -- 150 receptions over his last two years in school for more than 2,200 yards. Imagine the dilemma defensive coordinators will have when they already have to account for Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew, then deal with this burner when he comes on the field. The only issue here is that it might take Young a few years to really become productive in his role. Furthermore, his ability to eventually take the No. 2 spot opposite Megatron is not a lock considering he'll see tougher coverage in that role and might not be as productive. Time will tell on Young, but as a keeper-league target, owners should be cool with that. He's not bad as a late-round pick in deeper seasonal drafts, either.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@TB KC @MIN @DAL CHI SF ATL @DEN bye @CHI CAR GB @NO MIN @OAK SD @GB

The schedule tempers the upside the Lions offer Fantasy fans -- it starts off alright but there's a four-game stretch where they take on four of the league's better pass rushers, and we all know what happens when Matthew Stafford takes on an aggressive defensive front. There are also a number of stout run defenses that await the Lions after their soft start against the Bucs and Chiefs. Most Fantasy owners catch a break in that the Lions play at Green Bay in Week 17, which helps those of us who don't play into the final week of the season. But they host the Packers in Week 12, kicking off a tricky end to the year. It's not the worst schedule in the world, and playing 11 games indoors will go a long way.

Training camp topics

2010 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Jahvid Best 229
Maurice Morris 115
Calvin Johnson 81
Brandon Pettigrew 71
Nate Burleson 62

We talked earlier about Mikel Leshoure being an impact rookie and how it might simply be a waiting game until Jahvid Best misses playing time before he explodes. Well, Best needs to show in training camp that he's worthy of starting and holding Leshoure to under a dozen touches per game. Likewise, Leshoure needs to take advantage of his time to prove that he can be the bell cow the Lions drafted him to be. The competition at running back should be more fun to watch than what we had from Detroit at the position last summer.

Normally when a quarterback comes off of shoulder surgery, people will gawk at and dissect the velocity and accuracy of his passes. But Stafford's thrown a good amount this offseason and all accounts say he hasn't lost any zip on his ball. Accuracy has been an issue for Stafford (54.5 pct. over 13 games), and that's something that needs improvement.

Otherwise, it's all about the Lions meeting their potential on both sides of the ball. If they can reach it, the results should be exciting.

Injury update

Matthew Stafford (shoulder; probable for the start of training camp) ... Nate Burleson (elbow; probable for the start of training camp) ... Jason Hanson (knee; probable for the start of training camp).

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard . Do you have a question or a comment for our Fantasy staff? Drop us a line at dmfantasyfootball@cbs.com .

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Player News
Titans' Massaquoi rehabbing shoulder, to miss OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
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Massaquoi recorded 22 tackles in 15 games with Atlanta last season.


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by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(4:04 pm ET) This might finally be the year Lawrence Okoye can crack a spot on the 49ers' roster, per the Bay Area News Group.

Okoye, a former British Olympics discus thrower and rugby player, is feeling confident about his improvements and feels like his potential is worth a roster spot.

“It’s very different from the first time I came here. I’m feeling very good about things,” Okoye said Thursday while sitting at his locker. “I’m just happy I was given the opportunity to stay here so long, so I could catch up. I have a good opportunity to show what I can do.”

Okoye has worked under new head coach Jim Tomsula for two years and with Justin Smith's retirement, his emergence might be rewarded.

“You’re going to get lots of people telling you things. But the main thing is to just keep yourself motivated, despite what people say about you," Okoye said. "People will write you off. People will say this or that. Just keep yourself motivated, keep going every day and you’ll be good.”

 


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Pryor -- in his fourth year in the league -- dreams about winning the Super Bowl with quite some frequency, he just isn't sure what team he's doing it with.

“I don’t know the team. It’s always in black uniforms,” Pryor said. “I didn’t see any orange. No, it’s not the Raiders. But I believe it can happen because I can visualize it like that. I’m into visualization.”

Pryor hasn't played a down since the 2013 regular season, when he passed for 1,798 yards, seven touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 11 games.


Flowers' college position coach thinks he can fill in for injured Beatty
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
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Art Kehoe, Flowers' offensive line coach at the University of Miami, thinks Flowers will be up to the task of protecting quarterback Eli Manning.

"I'm sure he raised his level up a notch or two, but I think he plays every week, I think he plays hard in practice," Kehoe said. "He's an unproven commodity at the next level, and he's a high draft pick, [the Giants] drafted him to be a fixer, so I'm sure he's going in there to do what he did in Miami — scrap his ass off every day in practice, and if you're supposed to be a badass the next weekend [against] your opponent, he's gonna be there and he's gonna bring everything he's got. That's what he does. He wants to know that there's a dude, and he has to take care of him, and he'll be up to the challenge.

Giants' 2013 first-round pick, Justin Pugh is also a top candidate to fill in for the injured Beatty.


Union: Goodell must back off hearing of Patriots QB Tom Brady
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(3:00 pm ET) NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith is growing impatient awaiting word from Roger Goodell on the request of the NFL commissioner to recuse himself as arbitrator of the appeal hearings ofPatriots quarterback Tom Brady.

The league suspended Brady for the first four games next season for his alleged role in the Deflategate scandal, claiming that he likely knew that game balls were being deflated for his benefit before the 2014 AFC title game.

Smith is claiming that neither Goodell nor the Wells Report, which investigated the incident, could legitimately claim impartiality. He added that the NFLPA will "advance the volume" of the request if they don't hear from Goodell by next week. Part of the union's press release reads as follows:

Given a process that has contained procedural violations of our collective bargaining agreement, the Commissioner's role as a central witness in the appeal hearing and his evident partiality with respect to the Wells report, the Commissioner must designate a neutral party to serve as arbitrator in this matter. The players also believe that the Commissioner's history of inconsistently issuing discipline against our players makes him ill-suited to hear this appeal in a fair-minded manner.

As for the Wells Report, Smith stated that "you can't really have credibility just because you slap the word independent on a piece of paper." He offered into evidence the findings in regard to NFL official Walt Anderson, who was a key figure in the investigation, citing one part of the report questions his memory and another credits it.


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(1:32 pm ET) Mike Zimmer has expressed optimism that underachieving Vikings wideout Cordarrelle Patterson is gaining a better understanding of route-running and the nuances of playing the position in the NFL, which would allow his talent to result in greater productivity.

Patterson took a step back in 2014 after a mediocre rookie year. He played in every game, but managed just 33 receptions for 384 yards and one touchdown. He has since stated that 2015 is his make-or-break year and is apparently acting like it in the offseason.

"He's done real well," Zimmer told Fox Sports North. "He's running routes good. He's working hard. So we just need him to continue to do those things and continue to keep getting consistent and keep improving. I've been impressed."


GM: Dolphins LT Branden Albert should be fine for Week 1
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:22 pm ET) Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey has expressed optimism that left tackle Branden Albert will be ready to roll by the regular season opener.

Albert has been rehabbing from a torn ACL and MCL sustained last November against Detroit. He had signed a five-year, $46 million contract the previous March and had been performing particularly well before going down.

"It's been a long rehab and he's really attacked it every day," Hickey told SiriusXM NFL Radio, adding that there was a "reasonable explanation" that he would be ready for Week 1. "We really like his progress. He's out there with his team working out. We're really encouraged by what we're seeing with him."

Ja'Wuan Williams was forced to move to left tackle following the Albert injury in 2014. But he struggled at that position and is expected to move to his more familiar right tackle spot this year.


Report: Bills still want to extend Marcell Dareus
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(1:15 pm ET) The Bills still want to extend the contract of defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, according to a report by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport

Despite the one-game suspension levied by the league against Dareus on Thursday, the team still hopes to have an extension wrapped up before the start of training camp. 

2015 is scheduled to be the last season of Dareus' current contract. He'll make $8.06 million.


Shanahan: Struggles of Robert Griffin III unrelated to injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(1:13 pm ET) Former Redskins coach Mike Shanahan does not believe injuries have prevented quarterback Robert Griffin III from maximizing his potential in the NFL. Rather, he feels it was the team not creating an offensive system that best fits his talents and his own belief that he could play a traditional role at that position.

Griffin sustained a serious knee injury in the 2012 playoffs. He then struggled in 2013 in an offense designed to transform him into a drop-back quarterback rather than one that took advantage of his mobility. He suffered another knee injury last year and did not perform well in the offense of new coach Jay Gruden.

"I don't think getting hurt has anything to do with it," Shanahan told 106.7 The Fan. "In college he didn't have a route tree, didn't have a playbook. That does take some time. ... If you take a quarterback like that you must run the kind of system that allows him to be successful. ... I really believe Robert thought he was more of a drop-back quarterback. He hasn't done things the NFL asks you to do. It does take some growing pains. You better really work on it inside and out."

Some have wondered why the Redskins went so hard after Griffin if they weren't willing to create an offense that maximizes his skill set.


Sheldon Richardson not at Jets' OTAs because 'I have a life'
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(1:05 pm ET) Jets defensive end Sheldon Richardson is skipping the team's OTAs this week, a decision that earned him criticism from fans and media. 

Richardson's explanation isn't likely to win anyone over. 

Richardson went on Twitter and told fans he missed the workouts because, "I have a life outside of football."

"I chose to enjoy my family a little longer," he continued. "So to (you) fans that know everything, please worry 'bout yourself."

Richardson pointed out in another tweet that he "jus' wasn't at practice," but that he was still "putting in work tho'"


 
 
 
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