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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Detroit Lions

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Finally, after two years, we got to see what the Lions offense would look like with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson healthy. It was an offensive bonanza, and we only hope for a repeat performance this year.

To recap, Stafford passed for 5,038 yards, 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions as he played 16 games for the first time in his three-year career. He had at least 20 Fantasy points in 11 games, including at least 32 points in his final three outings, which helped many owners in the playoffs. Stafford connected for multiple touchdowns 12 times and had at least three touchdowns in seven starts. He also threw for at least 250 yards in 12 starts and topped 300 yards in eight contests, including a 520-yard outing at the Packers in Week 17.

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With Stafford healthy, Johnson went nuts. He had career highs in catches (96), yards (1,681) and touchdowns (16). He had double digits in Fantasy points in 12 games, and he topped 15 points in nine games, including three in a row to close the year. During those three games against Oakland, San Diego and Green Bay, Johnson combined for 24 catches, 560 yards and four touchdowns.

The duo enters this year as potential first-round picks in the majority of standard leagues. Johnson will definitely be taken in Round 1, and he should be drafted as a Top 10 overall selection. In PPR drafts, Johnson is likely a Top 5 overall pick (save your argument on the Madden Curse for someone else because I'm not worried).

Stafford will likely be drafted by Round 2, and he's a Top 5 quarterback. If Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady are all drafted early in Round 1 then Stafford might be taken that high as well, along with Cam Newton.

It should be another fun year for the Lions, who have a tremendous amount of weapons. We're looking forward to the backfield battle between Mikel Leshoure, Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith, and Titus Young will try to unseat Nate Burleson as the starting receiver opposite Johnson. Brandon Pettigrew also continues to mature as a quality Fantasy tight end.

But Stafford and Johnson lead this offense, and if both remain healthy we could be looking at another season of huge points in the passing game and plenty of quality production for Fantasy owners.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Matthew Stafford 2
Running Backs
Mikel Leshoure 7
Jahvid Best 8
Kevin Smith ND
Keiland Williams ND
Wide Receivers
Calvin Johnson 1
Titus Young 6
Nate Burleson ND
Ryan Broyles ND
Tight Ends
Brandon Pettigrew 10
Tony Scheffler ND
Kickers/Defense
Jason Hanson 14
Lions DST 13
ND - not expected to get drafted

Sleeper ... Mikel Leshoure, running back
The Lions will have a three-headed backfield this season with Leshoure, Best and Smith, but Leshoure should be the best of the bunch. He could be in line for a big season if he's 100 percent healthy following last year's Achilles injury. Best is a star when healthy, but concussion problems could ruin his career. And Smith is more of a safety option in case the other two struggle. But Leshoure has the chance to shine. He will miss the first two games of the year with a suspension after he was arrested twice for allegedly using marijuana, and that will lower his value on Draft Day. But that also should keep him fresh, and he will avoid a tough matchup in Week 2 at the 49ers. Leshoure is a good combination of size (6-foot, 233 pounds) and speed, and he could reach 1,000 total yards and 10 touchdowns. We like him as a No. 3 Fantasy running back with upside, and he should be drafted in Round 7 or 8 in most formats. Best might get drafted first, especially in PPR formats, and he remains a No. 3 Fantasy option also. And Smith is worth a late-round flier in case the other two struggle.

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Breakout ... Titus Young, wide receiver
There is plenty to like about Young this year, especially the way he closed his rookie season in 2011. Young did the majority of his damage from Week 8 on with 33 catches, 398 yards and all six of his touchdowns in his final nine games. The yardage definitely needs to improve, but Young should see more playing time, especially if he starts ahead of Burleson. Young had at least seven targets in three of his final four games, and Stafford should start to rely on him more this year following a full offseason of work. We consider Young a No. 3 Fantasy receiver in the majority of leagues, but he could turn into a starting option in deeper leagues. Young should be drafted with a mid-round pick.

Keeper-league target ... Ryan Broyles, wide receiver
The Lions took Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles with a second-round pick in the NFL Draft. The pick appears to be based on talent more than need considering the depth of their receiving corps, but they got a pretty good player in Broyles. He went down with a torn left ACL in November, but not before he became the NCAA leader with 349 career receptions. Broyles completed his senior season for the Sooners with 83 catches, 1,157 yards and 10 touchdowns in nine games. He hopes to be ready for training camp, but the Lions can basically redshirt him as a rookie with Johnson, Burleson and Young healthy. We could see Broyles eventually replacing Burleson, and it's never a bad idea to get a receiver of Broyles' talent in an offense with a quarterback like Stafford. He is probably not worth drafting in most standard leagues, but he should be a mid- to late-round pick in dynasty/keeper leagues and an early- to middle-round selection in rookie-only drafts.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
STL @SF @TEN MIN bye @PHI @CHI SEA @JAC @MIN GB HOU IND @GB @ARI ATL CHI
The schedule is phenomenal for the Lions' passing game. There might be three matchups against tough secondaries with only a handful more against stiff pass rushes. And it's definitely not that much harder for their run game -- if they can develop one. Where it gets sticky is in Week 6 when they play four road games in five weeks. That could grind them down a little, but it's made up for with three straight home games against the Packers, the Texans on Thanksgiving and the Colts as a post-Turkey week feast. They'll play outdoors a lot early on but finish with seven indoor games in their final eight.

Training camp topics

The Lions only real question will be who starts at running back between Leshoure, Best and Smith. Best will start the first two games with Leshoure out, and if he plays well he could hold onto the position, especially if he stays healthy.

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Jahvid Best 84 carries, 27 catches
Maurice Morris 80 carries, 26 catches
Calvin Johnson 96 catches, 1 carry
Kevin Smith 72 carries, 22 catches
Nate Burleson 73 catches, 11 carries

But we are counting on Leshoure to be the workhorse rusher for the Lions and work at the goal line. Best will be used as a change of pace option, and he should play on receiving downs. Smith will get some touches, but his Fantasy value will be limited.

At receiver, the Lions will give Young a chance to start ahead of Burleson, but they will use three-receiver sets a lot this year. If Broyles is healthy, we could see four-receiver sets as well. Even though Burleson has limited Fantasy value, he's still worth taking with a late-round pick in deeper leagues.

The good thing for the Lions this year is Stafford is healthy, and concerns over his shoulder woes are behind us. We can now sit back and marvel at his talent, and hopefully he has another year for Top 5 overall Fantasy production.

Injury update

Leshoure (Achilles; probable for the start of training camp) ... Best (concussion; probable for the start of training camp) ... Broyles (knee; probable for start of training camp) ... Stephen Tulloch (knee; probable for start of training camp)

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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