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Offseason Primers: Detroit Lions

Senior Fantasy Writer
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When you pair a phenom like Calvin Johnson with a big-armed passer like Matthew Stafford, of course you're going to have a powerful offense. But that didn't quite happen for the Lions in 2012.

Yes, Johnson set an NFL record for most receiving yards in a single season. Fantasy owners loved that part of his game, but they hated the five touchdowns he scored all season. Five. He had 16 in 2011 when the Lions averaged nearly 30 points per game. But that number dwindled down to 23.2 points per game -- and that's with a semblance of a running game.

2012 Touches Leaders
836 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
Mikel Leshoure 249 (215 car., 34 rec.) 29.8%
Joique Bell 134 (82 car., 52 rec.) 16.0%
Calvin Johnson 122 rec. 14.6%
Brandon Pettigrew 59 rec. 7.1%
Tony Scheffler 42 rec. 5.0%
Nate Burleson 35 (27 rec., 8 car.) 4.2%
Titus Young 35 (33 rec., 2 car.) 4.2%
Ryan Broyles 22 rec. 2.6%
All Others 138 16.5%

Johnson isn't entirely to blame for the scoring drought in Motown. An early-season injury left Nate Burleson sidelined for the season and put into motion a brutal domino effect among other Lions receiving threats. Titus Young went bonkers, lining up in the wrong places and running the wrong routes on purpose. The coaches couldn't trust him, opening the door for rookie Ryan Broyles. Broyles tore his ACL, opening the door for Tony Scheffler to contribute more, but he couldn't ever really grasp the gig. That prompted the team to utilize Kris Durham, who played with Stafford at Georgia. He wasn't great. Brandon Pettigrew played 14 games but posted some of his worst career numbers. Suffice to say, a lack of help in the passing attack didn't help Stafford and Johnson avoid tough coverage downfield or particularly in the red zone, thus hurting the Lions on the scoreboard.

In 2011, the Lions ranked 29th on the ground, averaging 95.2 rush yards per game. There was minimal improvement in 2012, as they put up 100.8 yards per game and ranked 23rd overall. Mikel Leshoure led the way, starting 14 games, but didn't run with much explosiveness very often as his 3.7 rushing average would indicate. The back working alongside Leshoure changed throughout the year and not one really stuck, so it only made sense that the Lions added Reggie Bush this offseason to boost their production from the position. Bush was versatile, productive and on the field a bunch for the Dolphins over two years, things the Lions had to like about him when they signed him. His addition means a noticeable subtraction in playing time for Leshoure and the other running backs still on the roster for the Lions.

Expectations aren't as good for the Lions' defense. The unit is thin on pass rushers and if they can't get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks then it's going to be bombs away on the secondary, which is also thin. Making matters worse is the offense, which figures to remain its usual explosive self (despite the point decline). Their ability to put points on the board will force rivals to do the same from week to week.

It should result in a lot of high-scoring games for the Lions, especially with 10 games indoors and a pretty good schedule for the passing offense.

Nate Burleson, Ryan Broyles -- Bounce-back candidates

2012 Target Leaders
740 pass attempts
Calvin Johnson 205 27.7%
Brandon Pettigrew 100 13.6%
Tony Scheffler 84 11.4%
Joique Bell 68 9.2%
Titus Young 56 7.6%
Mikel Leshoure 48 6.3%
Nate Burleson 43 5.8%
Ryan Broyles 33 4.5%
All Others 103 13.9%

In shallow leagues (10 owners or fewer), neither of these guys will get picked unless owners have a roster space specifically for injured players. In that case, Broyles would be worth nabbing and stashing. In deeper leagues, perhaps specifically PPR leagues, it might not be a bad idea to go after Burleson with a late-round flier. The appeal to both of these guys is fulfilling what was missing in the Lions offense a year prior: A good set of hands opposite Calvin Johnson. Burleson served as the No. 2 receiver averaging 4.5 receptions per game before breaking his leg. Broyles got his opportunity soon thereafter only to suffer his second torn ACL in as many years. His return might take a while, opening the door for Burleson to not only open the year as the No. 2 receiver again but keep that role for the rest of the season. Neither player has crazy upside but both have appeal as Fantasy reserves to begin the year.

Brandon Pettigrew -- Bust

There isn't a lot to be jazzed about with Pettigrew, but because there aren't many tight ends to be jazzed about in the first place, he's going to get drafted. Last year was a nightmare for him as drops highlighted four-year lows in catches, yardage and touchdowns. The only thing nice about his 2012 was that he finished among the Top 10 in tight ends in targets with 101. Wait ... that's actually not very nice in comparison to his 2011 when he finished second among tight ends in targets and was tied for third-most in 2010. In a year when the Lions were weak at receiving options outside of Megatron, Pettigrew should have had more. For years he's had this potential to be outstanding and he just hasn't broken through to the levels we all had hoped. If you draft Pettigrew to be your backup or a platoon starter with one of your last three picks, it's not bad. Anything higher than that and you're playing with fire.

Matthew Stafford -- Draft Day Value

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Matthew Stafford 35-45 overall
Reggie Bush 40-50 overall
Mikel Leshoure 80-90 overall
Joique Bell Undrafted
Calvin Johnson 8-15 overall
Nate Burleson Late-round pick
Ryan Broyles Late-round pick
Brandon Pettigrew Late-round pick
Jason Hanson Late-round pick
Lions DST Undrafted

A year ago Fantasy owners were nabbing Stafford on average with the 12th pick in drafts with grand expectations. While he didn't meet said expectations -- he scored 17 fewer total touchdowns and had one more interception than in 2011 -- he still was in a position to post huge numbers. Injuries and a focus by the opposition to shut down Calvin Johnson made things hard on Stafford, particularly in the end zone. Yardage-wise he was fine, ending up 71 yards shy of where he finished up a year prior, though throwing an NFL-record 727 pass attempts helped that cause. Point is, Stafford's receiving corps will get shored up this offseason, his offensive line could get even better, Megatron isn't going anywhere and the offensive scheme won't suddenly become run-heavy even though Reggie Bush joined the roster (Bush can catch, you know). Stafford should be in excellent shape to get close to 5,000 yards again with at least 32 total touchdowns. And best of all, you can land him no sooner than the third or fourth round of your draft, making him a bargain compared to where he went last year.

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

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Player News
Can Blake Bortles find success in Week 4?
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:11 pm ET) The Chargers made a point of improving their pass defense this offseason, after allowing the fourth-most passing yards in the league a year ago. Through three games, they have allowed the ninth-most Fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks, so… mission accomplished?

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has the pleasure of making his first NFL start against the Chargers defense, which should work out well for him. The Chargers are allowing an average of 20.3 Fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, including 17 last week to lowly Bills passer E.J. Manuel.

The Chargers have yet to intercept a pass, which is good news for Bortles, because accuracy and decision-making might be issues for him at this point. Bortles was intercepted twice during his relief action against the Colts last week, both on plain-old poor throws. Against an opportunistic defense, Bortles might be in line for trouble, but the Chargers have had trouble take advantage of quarterbacks' mistakes so far.

Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard have Bortles just inside the top-20 in their initial rankings for Week 4, a good spot if you have him as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback. Mistakes will be made, but Bortles has a chance to be productive in his first start. 


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by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:04 pm ET) The Jaguars signed rookie linebacker Jeremiah George off the Jets' practice squad, reports The Star-Ledger. He was a fifth-round pick out of Iowa State.

Jordan Reed won't play Thursday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:00 pm ET) Redskins tight end Jordan Reed (hamstring) said he won't play Thursday against the Giants and even "sounded sketchy" about returning Week 5 against the Seahawks, reports the Washington Post.

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by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:56 pm ET) Allen Robinson has stepped into a larger role in the Jaguars' offense over the last two weeks, and showed that he has developed a quick rapport with new starting quarterback Blake Bortles in Week 3. Should Fantasy owners be expecting that to continue?

Robinson did not see a single snap in the preseason, as he watched undrafted rookie Allen Hurns surpass him on the depth chart while getting extensive playing time with Bortles. That did not seem to hinder Robinson's development much, as he was Bortles' favorite target Sunday. Bortles threw eight of his 24 passes to Robinson, completing six of them for 73 yards. Though he didn't haul in either of Bortles' touchdowns, the duo was on the same page immediately, which should bode well for Robinson moving forward.

Robinson is going to struggle with inconsistency, as all rookies do, but he has already established himself as a solid option in Jacksonville. Robinson still played just 70 percent of the team's snaps Sunday, but his strong relationship with Bortles could help him in that regard. At the very least, at just nine-percent ownership, Robinson makes for a nice long-term flier moving forward.   


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"That confidence is going to come, just with more playing time."

Mathieu hopes to return stronger after the team's Week 4 bye.


Joe McKnight not worth your waiver-wire love
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:36 pm ET) Alright, Chiefs backup running back Joe McKnight scored twice in Week 3, and that was a nice scene for him. Unfortunately, nobody owned him in Fantasy then, as he really came out of nowhere following Jamaal Charles' injury. Is McKnight someone Fantasy owners should be targeting moving forward following his breakout?

McKnight was a non-factor in the running game, but Alex Smith leaned on him heavily as a receiver out of the backfield. He led the team with six receptions on seven targets for 64 yards against the Dolphins, and made his biggest impact with a pair of receiving touchdowns in the red zone.

McKnight did his work while seeing the field in just 21 percent of the Chief's offensive plays; he touched the ball on 46.7 percent of his snaps. That is a pretty unsustainable number for anyone, let alone a little-used return specialist. With Charles' return looming and Knile Davis entrenched as the change-of-pace back, there is little reason to add McKnight, despite last week's success. 


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(12:33 pm ET) The Cardinals released punter Drew Butler to make room for newly-signed running back Marion Grice.

Update: Odell Beckham practices
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(12:32 pm ET) Contrary to previous reports indicating he wouldn't practice this week, Giants rookie Odell Beckham participated in some receiver drills at the start of practice Tuesday, reports ESPN.com. Beckham ran routes and caught passes, a positive sign as he tries to come back from a lingering hamstring injury.

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(12:28 pm ET) Raiders middle linebacker Miles Burris wore a protective boot at a community event in London on Tuesday. Burris has played every snap this season and has 20 tackles for the Raiders, who face Miami at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

The Raiders have not updated Burris' status.


Jeremy Kerley worth more than a look
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(12:21 pm ET) With Eric Decker's hamstring continuing to cause him problems, Jeremy Kerley stepped up in a big way in Week 3 against the Bears. And, though his overall numbers this season are not particularly impressive, there are reasons to think Kerley might be a worthwhile Fantasy option moving forward.

Kerley had just 60 yards on eight receptions and no touchdowns through the first two games, before recording seven catches for 81 yards and a score in Week 3. However, his overall numbers would look a lot more impressive of the 36-yard touchdown he hauled in late in Week 2 had counted -- as well all know, that play was blown dead by a late timeout from the Jets' sideline.

Kerley leads the Jets in targets, with 23.1 percent of the team's passes going his way through three games. That might not be a sustainable number, but he has clearly developed a rapport with Geno Smith. As long as Decker's hamstring remains an issue -- and it seems like it is going to be so -- Kerley certainly deserves to be owned in more than seven percent of leagues.  


 
 
 
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