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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
Good luck with Michael Floyd
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:07 am ET) Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd caught two passes in Week 11, which at face value would give no one the impression he was back to form. But because both happened to go for touchdowns, including one of more than 40 yards, some of his owners couldn't be talked out of starting him Week 12 at Seattle. And those owners are filled with remorse right now.

That's because, with backup Drew Stanton again under center for the Cardinals, Floyd went without a single catch. He was targeted twice but failed to connect -- and with fellow wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald sidelined by a a sprained knee, no less.

That's the lowest of lows for him in what has been by and large a disappointing season. With this performance, he's averaging 2.1 catches for 28.9 yards over his last seven games. He's had a few touchdowns during that stretch to soften the blow, but ultimately, all they've done is given his owners false hope.

Unlike Fitzgerald, Floyd's production didn't improve for those five games when starting quarterback Carson Palmer was back from injury, and now Palmer is out for the year. Between Stanton's shortcomings and John Brown's emergence, you shouldn't be hoping for any sort of rebound from Floyd.


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by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:58 am ET) Giants kicker Josh Brown didn't attempt a field goal in his team's 31-28 loss to the Cowboys in Week 12 but managed to successfully convert all four of his extra-point tries.

It's the fifth time this season Brown hasn't received a field-goal attempt, and he's managed multiple attempts just twice in his 11 games this year. Brown will square off with the Jaguars in Week 13.


Keenan Allen turning over a new leaf?
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:56 am ET) For the second time this season, Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen topped 100 yards in a game Week 12 against St. Louis, and for the second time this season, he found the end zone, scoring on a 29-yard catch in the fourth quarter. It was the first time he did both in the same game, which was the kind of production Fantasy owners expected from him coming into the season.

So is he finally delivering on his potential? Oh, who knows?

Here are the positives for Allen: With another nine targets in Week 12, he has averaged 10.8 over his last five games, a clear improvement from his first six, and his primary competition for red-zone looks, tight end Antonio Gates, has been conspicuously absent the last three weeks.

Here are the negatives for Allen: Even with all those extra targets, he has still averaged just 69.0 yards over his last five games, and quarterback Philip Rivers has stopped throwing touchdown passes not just to Gates but in general.

I have enough confidence in Rivers and the Chargers offense as a whole to keep Allen on my roster, but I'm not activating him based on this performance.


Giants' Rueben Randle paces secondary targets in Week 12
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:55 am ET) Giants wide receiver Rueben Randle caught all three of his targets for 36 yards in his team's 31-28 loss to the Cowboys in Week 12.

Eli Manning was locked in on rookie Odell Beckham (10 catches, 146 yards, two TDs) and running back Rashad Jennings (eight catches, 68 yards), and Randle was one of the quarterback's six other targeted receivers to split 11 catches. Tight end Daniel Fells also secured three receptions for 35 yards, while tight end Larry Donnell managed just two receptions for 24 yards. Wide receiver Preston Parker caught one of his three targets for 16 yards, while tight end Adrien Robinson caught his only target for a one-yard touchdown.

Randle, Parker and the team's TE corps should continue to play a complementary role behind Beckham moving forward. The Giants will take on the Jaguars in Week 13.


Giants RB Andre Williams scores touchdown in Week 12 loss
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(12:50 am ET) Giants running back Andre Williams rushed for 35 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown and added a 12-yard catch in his team's 31-28 loss to the Cowboys in Week 12.

Williams was out-touched 27-11 by starter Rashad Jennings but managed to bounce a carry to the right side late in the first half for a three-yard score. The touchdown was his third in his last four games, but he's still hovering around 3.0 yards per carry for the season. Williams will square off with the Jaguars in Week 13.


Giants RB Rashad Jennings totals 120 yards in Week 12 loss
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:47 am ET) Giants running back Rashad Jennings rushed for just 52 yards on 19 carries but caught eight of his 10 targets for 68 yards in his team's 31-28 loss to the Cowboys in Week 12.

Jennings drew the start and out-touched rookie Andre Williams 27-11 but watched his teammate score from three yards out in the second quarter. Despite averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, Williams was able to stay involved by being the second-most targeted receiver on the team. Though Jennings hasn't scored a touchdown since Week 3, his total yardage represented his best performance since rushing for 176 yards in his third game of the year. Jennings is set to face the Jaguars in Week 13.


Ryan Mathews pulls away from Branden Oliver
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(12:45 am ET) Even though Chargers running back Ryan Mathews was more effective than Branden Oliver in his return from a shoulder injury, he split carries almost evenly with his replacement Week 11 against Oakland. That wasn't so much the case Week 12 against St. Louis, though, when Mathews took his first carry 11 yards and never looked back en route to 105. He also scored a touchdown on a 32-yard run in the third quarter.

He injured his shoulder on that play, which was a big reason why Oliver got the six carries he did, but Mathews returned and still finished with twice as many. Imagine how many yards he would have had if he had gotten 15-to-18 carries.

If Mathews had struggled to keep up with Oliver after the long layoff, the Chargers might continue to ease him in, but since he's been far and away the more effective of the two in two games back, he looks like he'll take the job and run with it, reducing Oliver to just a handcuff option in Fantasy.

Mathews falls a little short of must-start status with an especially tough matchup Week 13 at Baltimore, but for most owners, he's probably still worth running out there.


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by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:42 am ET) Giants quarterback Eli Manning completed 29 of his 40 pass attempts for 338 yards with three touchdowns and one interception in his team's 31-28 loss to the Cowboys in Week 12.

Manning hooked up with rookie Odell Beckham on a pair of touchdowns in the first half, including an outstanding one-handed, 43-yard catch that will certainly find its way on every Play of the Year list. The Giants took a 21-10 lead into halftime before the Cowboys scored two touchdowns in the third quarter. Manning was able to bring his team back by connecting with Adrien Robinson from one-yard out with just three minutes remaining, but the Giants defense was unable to stop the Cowboys from responding one more time.

Manning's one interception came on an overthrow to a wide-open receiver who looked like he had a clear lane to the end zone with an on-target throw. Even with that mistake, it was an excellent rebound performance after throwing five interceptions in his previous game. He's set to face off with the Jaguars in Week 13.


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(12:37 am ET) Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey kicked four extra points and made his only field-goal attempt in his team's 31-28 win over the Giants in Week 12.

Bailey put his team on the board with a 38-yard field goal in the first quarter, but the Cowboys were able to reach the end zone four times thereafter and needed all four touchdowns in a high-scoring game against their division rivals. Bailey had missed field goals in each of his last two games coming into the Sunday night matchup. He's set to face the Eagles at home Thursday.


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(12:34 am ET) Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams managed just one reception on two targets for 18 yards in his team's 31-28 win over the Giants in Week 12.

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