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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
Justin Tuck: Raider Nation would appluad signing Ndamukong Suh
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:42 pm ET) If defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh doesn't sign a long-term deal with the Lions, then he will become a free agent March 10 and there will be plenty of teams interested in the Pro Bowl lineman. 

Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck indicated if Suh wanted to sign with Oakland, then he would be welcomed in Raider Nation.

"(He's) Raider-ish," Tuck said, per the Detroit Free Press. "And that's one of the reasons why I know Raider Nation would applaud that move, beyond the fact that he's an awesome football player. He kind of fits the mold of ... the toughness and the ferocious player that built the Oakland Raiders."

It is speculated Suh will receive a contract worth at least $100 million. Tuck believes the three-time All-Pro deserves such a lucrative deal.

"The thing about him, you know what you're getting every day. Some of the tactics, you could probably do without, but he's a hell of a football player," Tuck said. "I would love to have the opportunity to line up beside of him and let him take all the double teams that I normally take."


Nick Foles: 'I plan on being in Philly' in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:48 pm ET) There has been a lot of talk about quarterback Nick Foles' future with the Eagles, especially since Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly's former pupil at Oregon -- Marcus Mariota -- will be part of this year's draft class.

On Thursday, Foles addressed the rumors and stated he is expecting to be back on the Eagles' roster in 2015.

"Yeah you hear about it," Foles said in between doing paid appearances at Super Bowl XLIX, per NJ.com. "You are going to hear about it every single year. That's just part of it. The main word is 'rumor.' You can't put too much into it....I plan on being in Philly.

"I only listen to (head coach) Chip Kelly. That's what is most important. He is the one that will make the decision. Right now all I am going to do is work because I plan on being back in Philadelphia and playing with my team. That's all I ever thought. So that is what I plan on doing and I'm not looking at it any other way."

Foles added he hasn't talked with Kelly since the end of the season.

"We haven't talked a lot. He has a lot going on," Foles said. "This time of year you really just get away from everything. He is busy looking at the draft, doing all that. I saw he is more of the decision maker. Haven't really talked to him too much, but I'm sure I'll hear from him soon."


Dwyer pleads guilty, receives probation in domestic violence case
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:38 pm ET) Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer pleaded guilty Thursday in Maricopa County (Ariz.) Superior Court to a single count of disorderly conduct pertaining to his domestic violence case, according to The Arizona Republic.

Dwyer was sentenced to 18 months of probation and community service following the plea, according to a court spokesman.

The 25-year-old Dwyer was arrested Sept. 17 for a July 21 incident in which he allegedly headbutted his wife in the face and broke her nose after she refused his sexual advances and bit his lip, according to reports taken at the time.

Dwyer's wife told police she reported the incident in September because she feared for their child's safety after seeing reports of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's arrest on child-abuse charges.

The Cardinals placed Dwyer on the reserve/non-football injury list after his September arrest. He did not play again during the 2014 season.


Tom Brady on Peyton Manning: 'I certainly hope he comes back'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:21 pm ET) While the football world anxiously awaits official word from Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning about his playing status for the 2015 season, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- and longtime Manning rival -- said Thursday he hopes the five-time NFL MVP will continue his career.

"What a great player he's been for this league," Brady said Thursday, per NFL.com. "He's a great competitor, and I've been fortunate to play against him a bunch of times. I certainly hope he comes back, 'cause the league will miss him if he doesn't. But those decisions are up to him. I'm sure it's up to whether he's mentally and physically -- that's what he wants to do. But I certainly hope he's back."

Archie Manning, Peyton's father, told NFL Network on Thursday that his son hasn't made a decision yet.

"Well, Peyton evaluates things; he's pretty good at that," he said. "I can't tell him what to do, and he hasn't told me what he's going to do. But I do know that he's really giving a lot of things a lot of thought. He's thinking about where he is physically, he wants to see how he can do this some more, trying to get over an injury."

Archie added starting over with new Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will not be an issue for Peyton, if he decides to return next season.

"Yeah, but he loves Gary. He likes Gary," Archie Manning said. "He liked John Fox. He liked Adam Gase. All those things, I think, are considered with. But my deal is he's always made good decisions; he's pretty thorough. He's going to evaluate a lot of things, and I think he'll make a good decision."


RG3: 'I could've sat out the rest of last year' after hurting ankle
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:04 pm ET) During a radio interview Wednesday night, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III indicated the dislocated ankle he suffered in Week 2 against the Jaguars hindered him the rest of the season. He missed six games due to the injury.

“I had never suffered an ankle injury of that severity before, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” Griffin said, per The Washington Times. “It just became more and more tough the more games that we lost, because you know how hard your guys work, and you want to get out there and help them win games.

“I could’ve sat out the rest of last year, with how bad the ankle was, but I felt like I could play, and I wanted to get out there and play with my guys and help them win games. And that didn’t happen when I got back out there. Then coach made a decision [to bench me]. That was an unfortunate decision, and something we all had to go with because that was coach’s choice.”

Griffin will be entering the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2015. The Redskins have until May 3 to decide if they want to exercise the fifth-year option on his contract for 2016. 

Griffin added his focus this offseason will simply be on getting healthy.

“Last year, I wasn’t healthy, and it sucked,” Griffin told ESPN 980. “There’s no other way to say it other than that. When you dislocate your ankle in the second week of the season, when you and your team had big things in mind. So I guess it’s just getting healthy, getting a mental break, getting a chance to spend time with family, and then formulate my plan going forward from this year so we can go out there and win games.”


DeMarco on free agency: 'At end of day it's about winning a Super Bowl'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:21 am ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was on The Dan Patrick Show on Thursday talking about his thought process heading into free agency. Murray obviously said all the right things about wanting to return to Dallas, and hoping the team can sign him and Dez Bryant, who will also be a free agent, to long-term contracts.

However, Murray was also very forthcoming about the notion of playing for another NFL team.

“Yeah. I understand the business aspect of it,” he said, per The Dallas Morning News. “There’s no hard feelings if we can’t reach a deal together. But hopefully we can and we’ll see what happens.”

Murray, who rushed for a career-best 1,845 yards in 2014, will likely sign the most-lucrative contract of his career this offseason. But he added money won't be the only factor in who he signs with.

“I don’t think about [the one big contract], I’m thinking about winning a Super Bowl,” Murray said. “What’s best for me to win a Super Bowl and win one now. At the end of the day, the money is irrelevant to some degree. But you definitely want to get what you’re worth and things like that.

“At the end of the day it’s about winning a Super Bowl.”


Patriots QB Tom Brady expects to be 100 percent by Super Bowl
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:32 am ET) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has been dealing with a cold for about a week, said Thursday he is feeling "pretty good." Brady is still expecting to be OK for the Super Bowl.

"I've been through it plenty of times," Brady said of having a cold, per NFL Network. "But I'm glad it happened early in the week. I expect to be 100 percent by Sunday."

Brady is 3-2 in five Super Bowl appearances. He has completed 127 of 197 passes for 1,277 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has a 93.8 quarterback rating and hasn't had lower than a 86.2 quarterback rating in five Super Bowl starts.

As of Thursday, the Patriots remain 1-point favorites for Sunday's game against the Seahawks.


Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell on injury: 'The knee is close to 100 percent'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:21 am ET) Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell missed Pittsburgh's playoff game against the Ravens and the Pro Bowl because he suffered a hyperextended knee in the regular-season finale against the Bengals in late December.

It's been about a month since Bell suffered the injury, but he said he has been able to work out on the injured knee.

"The knee is close to 100 percent," Bell told NFL Network on Wednesday night. "I'm probably about 85-90 percent, been able to run on it a little bit. So I'm getting back to work out a little."

Bell had a monster year in 2014, rushing for a career-best 1,361 yards. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry. He also had 83 catches for 854 yards and finished with 11 total touchdowns (eight rushing).


RG3 on Deflategate: 'I didn't know the ball had to be a certain weight'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:55 am ET)
As Deflategate pushes into Day 11 on Thursday, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is the latest in the long list of current or former professional football players to weigh in on underinflated footballs being used in the AFC Champhionship Game. Although, his take on the issue might be a first.

“I didn't even know that the ball had to be a certain weight,” Griffin told Chris Russell in an interview on ESPN 980 on Wednesday night, per CSNWashington.com. “I know they pump up the balls and they get inspected before every game. But I wasn't aware that the ball had to be at a certain limit, or higher, which is interesting. I think it’s very interesting.”

While Griffin said he was unaware of the rules, he added he does pay attention to how he can grip the football before each game. If the football doesn't meet Griffin's standards, he said he tosses it aside.

“I think it could be something that we look at going into the future about how much we pump up the ball,” Griffin said. “But at the same time, for me, going this far in my career, all we worry about is, can we grip the ball? Not how much air is in it.

“I just think it's really funny,” Griffin added with a chuckle, “especially when you don't specify that you're talking about footballs. …I think I said balls seven times already.”


Pats QB Tom Brady fighting a cold
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/28/2015) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who's been battling a cold for nearly a week, said he expects to be fine for Super Bowl 49 on Sunday. Brady sniffled often during his news conference Wednesday.

The Patriots are 1-point favorites over Seattle after opening as 2.5-point underdogs.


 
 
 
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