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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Detroit Lions

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Back in the day when the Lions would change coaching staffs it would mean a beleaguered fan base would have to exercise patience. That's because the team usually stunk and needed a total roster rehaul, keeping them from being competitive for the division crown, much less a Super Bowl run. But that's not the case this time around for the Lions -- the team punted on head coach Jim Schwartz and brought in the more even-keeled -- and successful -- Jim Caldwell.

And now the Lions are roaring. Or at least the fan base is optimistic the team can win something soon.

Caldwell is best known as Peyton Manning's former quarterbacks coach, a gig he parlayed into the Colts' head coach when Tony Dungy retired. He spent seven years in Indy before finding himself coordinating the Ravens offense en route to their Super Bowl XLVII title. And though Caldwell doesn't have a ton of experience calling plays, he does have plenty of football experience with championship runs to boot.

Joining Caldwell are offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi (a member of that Lombardi family, by the way) and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. Both hires have the potential to be great -- Lombardi is the former quarterbacks coach of the Saints and is installing a version of the Saints' explosive offense. Austin joins the Lions from Baltimore, where he coached up the secondary there and Arizona and Seattle before that. If there's a weak spot in the Lions defense it's in the secondary, so Austin should be up to the task.

Coaches were just the beginning of new faces in Motown as the Lions made splashes in free agency and the draft. Safety James Ihedigbo followed Austin to Detroit to roam at safety and Kyle Van Noy was added to the linebacker corps via a second-round pick. Offensively Detroit snared Golden Tate away from Seattle and spent their first-round pick -- 10th overall -- on tight end Eric Ebron. Both additions should stretch defenses and force them to make tough decisions on who to cover, and subsequently, the days of double- and triple-teaming Calvin Johnson should be few and far between.

Most importantly, the new coaching staff has worked with Matthew Stafford on his footwork and mechanics, issues that contributed to the Lions' 1-6 meltdown to end last season. By giving him new weapons in a new offense that he'll be comfortable in, and by improving a defense to help slow down opponents, the Lions actually have enough to make a run at a playoff berth ... or at the very least help Fantasy owners make a run at a playoff berth in their leagues.

Breakout ... Golden Tate

There's debate that Tate has already broken out -- he set career-highs in receptions (64) and yards (898) last season. But the bet is that Tate improves on those numbers in 2014 while also pumping up his touchdown totals beyond the five he had last season. Tate's not a bad receiver at all -- over the last two years he's caught 65.5 percent of his targets and has made a play for 20-plus yards on 22 percent of his receptions. Putting a guy like that in an offense where coverage will either be pushed way back to not allow the big play or tilted toward Calvin Johnson should yield some really good numbers, particularly since the Lions will throw a lot. Tate only could wish the Seahawks would have been like that in his first four seasons. He'll be set free this season and is worth a pick between Round 5 and 6.

Late-round pick & long-term keeper ... Eric Ebron

Ebron is slated to play the role of Jimmy Graham in the Lions offense. What's not to like about that? Ebron is three inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than Graham but can basically cause the same kind of mismatches that Graham has been creating for years. Ebron caught 112 passes for 1,805 yards with eight scores over 35 games at North Carolina -- numbers that don't make your jaw drop but certainly better than what Graham did in college (Graham was better known for his basketball skills). Where Ebron wins for Fantasy owners is his draft price tag in relation to his potential. Anytime we lump in someone with Graham we're obviously setting the bar high, but the risk involved in taking Ebron is low -- like Round 10 low. So you could consider a decent tight end like Martellus Bennett or Heath Miller or you could roll the dice on Ebron and start the season with him as your tight end. Worst-case scenario? You punt on him if he gets off to a cold start and pick up one of those decent tight ends off waivers. Obviously in a keeper league Ebron will go much higher and is a Top 5 kind of pick in rookie-only drafts.

Best QB value in the draft ... Matthew Stafford

2013 Touches Leaders
816 total touches
Reggie Bush 277 (223 car., 54 rec.) 33.9%
Joique Bell 219 (166 car., 53 rec.) 26.8%
Calvin Johnson 84 rec. 10.3%
Brandon Pettigrew 41 rec. 5.0%
Nate Burleson 41 (39 rec., 2 car.) 5.0%
Kris Durham 38 rec. 4.7%
All others 116 14.2%

And it's because of the two aforementioned players joining forces with Calvin Johnson and a running back corps that catches a bunch of passes that puts Stafford in incredibly good company. A lot of Fantasy owners remember Stafford's lousy play over the last four weeks of the season and refuse to trust him. But before those final four games he had posted 20-plus Fantasy points in 10 of 12 matchups, one of only three quarterbacks last season to have double digits in 20-point games. He averaged 24.2 Fantasy points per game in that span. And now the Lions are giving him more weapons and are seemingly fine with him throwing a bunch. Jim Caldwell has started tinkering with the details in his game and should be trusted given his work with Super Bowl winning quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco.

Stafford has potential to get 25-plus-points per week, if not into the 30s, making him a potential difference maker. Counting on him to shine in this offense with these receivers (not to mention an improving O-line) won't be tough. The best part? You can get him way after the likes of Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in Fantasy drafts. While those three guys will go between Rounds 1 and 3, Stafford will start being considered in Round 4, an attractive price given his potential in comparison to "The Big Three." He's safer than Colin Kaepernick and Nick Foles and has a higher ceiling than Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and Andrew Luck. Unless Manning, Brees or Rodgers falls into your lap in Round 3, Stafford should be the quarterback you shoot for.

Schedule analysis

The Lions can't blame a tough schedule for poor play this year -- not unless mother nature dumps more snow on them in Weeks 16 and 17. Home games in their first eight weeks against the Giants, Packers, Bills and Saints should result in some shootouts. Road games at Carolina and at the Jets early on will be tricky but the next two -- at Minnesota and at Atlanta -- should yield numbers. Expect a solid start for the Lions heading into their Week 9 bye. A Dolphins home game is a nice post-bye perk before back-to-back road games at Arizona and New England. That could be rough, but they follow it up with a three-game homestand starting with a Turkey Day showdown with the Bears, then a long rest before the Bucs and Vikings come for a visit. Playing at Chicago in Week 16 and at Green Bay in Week 17 could be ugly, but Fantasy owners should consider the Lions schedule a very, very big positive.

Training camp battles

How much playing time will Eric Ebron have? The Lions are deep at tight end after re-signing Brandon Pettigrew, hanging on to Joseph Fauria and drafting Ebron. It's practically a given than Ebron will get fast-tracked to the starting lineup but he'll have to earn some of it. Let's just hope Fauria doesn't push him hard or that Pettigrew suddenly learns to hold on to the football.

Who's the third receiver? With all the talk of the Lions' studs, their third receiver role kind of gets lost in the shuffle. Jeremy Ross figures to land that role ahead of Ryan Broyles and rookie T.J. Jones, but Jones could surprise with a really good training camp. He's another name to keep in mind if you're in a dynasty league.

Who's kicking for the Lions? Once upon a time the Lions had a long-standing kicker named Jason Hanson. He retired. They put a band-aid on the position with David Akers last season and he wound up being inconsistent. So now the position will be handed to one of Nate Freese or Giorgio Tavecchio. Freese was the team's seventh-round pick out of Boston College who hit 70 of 81 field goals while handling kickoffs. Tavecchio played at Cal and made 48 of 64 field goals from 2008 to 2011 but hasn't earned an NFL job despite several tryouts. Our money is on Freese, who could be a real nice final-round pick given the opportunities he'll have with this offense.

Bold prediction

This is the spot where we would have told you that Joique Bell was the better Fantasy bargain than Reggie Bush. But then in early May, Bell posted a picture on Instagram of his left knee wrapped and crutches nearby in the back seat of a car. Later we learned Bell had surgery (the extent of which is still unknown) and would miss offseason workouts but was on pace for the start of training camp. So now his recovery is something to watch.

Let's be optimistic and move ahead as if Bell is healthy and participating in camp. Under those circumstances, we like Bell a lot since it's been suggested that he and Bush would split reps more evenly moving forward. The Lions got a ton of production out of their run game in 2013, squeezing out over 1,500 total yards and seven total touchdowns from Bush and nearly 1,200 total yards and eight rushing touchdowns from Bell. But Bell already played 48.5 percent of the snaps according to ProFootballFocus.com (some with Bush), so maybe there aren't a ton of more snaps for him to get. The one area where he should stick is at the goal line, considering he's better suited for that spot than Bush. Of Bell's eight rushing touchdowns last season, seven came from the 2-yard line or closer, so that's a lock for him. Considering this offense and the expected increase in opportunities he'll get, Bell is well worth the fifth- or sixth-round investment you'll have to make compared to the third- or fourth-round pick someone else will spend for Bush.

But if Bell is hobbled, then that plan should be scrapped. Bush might even elevate to a solid Top 30 choice and third-string rusher Theo Riddick would start getting attention late. Riddick bears watching since he's practiced in place of Bell this spring and reportedly looked great.

But here's the bold prediction: It's a great move to land both Bush and Bell as part of your Fantasy team, especially if Bush is the second running back you take. Both finished in the Top 16 last season and should be in the 12-to-18 range this season if both stay upright. Moreover, an owner could take both and start one as a running back and one as a flex and account for every yard and score the Lions' backs pick up in a given week. This is an offense that should almost never see more than seven defenders in the box thanks to guys like Johnson, Tate and Ebron demanding attention. Theoretically, it should lead to solid numbers on a fairly regular basis for both backs presuming they remain healthy (and if you have both you're set in case of an injury). Drafting both Bush and Bell is a good plan for Fantasy owners to contemplate on Draft Day.

Injury report

Joique Bell (knee), questionable for start of training camp. ... Golden Tate (shoulder), probable for start of training camp. ... Ryan Broyles (Achilles), probable for start of training camp. ... Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), probable for start of training camp. ... Rob Sims (shoulder), questionable for start of training camp.

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Player News
Report: Patriots hoping to sign Darrelle Revis to long-term extension
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) The Patriots are reportedly looking to sign cornerback Darrelle Revis to a long-term extension, according Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

However, New England has not ruled out paying Revis the $20 million team option in 2015, Rapoport reports. The decision needs to be made by April 1, when a $12 million roster bonus kicks in for Revis.

Revis totaled 47 tackles in 16 games for the Patriots, grabbing two interceptions and forcing one fumble.


C.J. Spiller expecting 'March Madness' style free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Bills running back C.J. Spiller is getting healthy again. Spiller, who has fully recovered from a shoulder injury, just ended the final season of his contract and is looking at his options for next season.

"Physically, I’m back to 100 percent, back to doing normal activities," Spiller told The Post and Courier on Friday. "As far as football, free agency will start in March, and I’ll get with my people next week and get a game plan together."

Spiller has played five seasons for the Bills, only playing two full years. He ran for 1,244 yards in 2012 with six touchdowns.

"I guess you could say it’ll be March Madness," Spiller said with a smile. "It’ll be a fun March."


Report: Rams among teams interested in trade for Eagles' Foles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Teams are beginning to show interest in Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, as reports are surfacing Philadelphia is unsure of what to do with the third-year quarterback, per NJ.com. A source said the Rams have interest in Foles should the Eagles choose to trade him this offseason. 

The Titans and Texans have also been mentioned as teams that would have interest in Foles, if he hits the trade market.

It's still unclear if the Eagles would be willing to move Foles. NJ.com reported last week the Eagles, who have the 20th pick in the NFL Draft, are considering making a run at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the draft. 

"From No. 20, it's certainly not going to be easy,'' a source said. "It's probably going to take moving up twice to do it. There's going to be some wheeling and dealing involved.

"Can it happen? I don't know. But they're going to try."

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly recruited Mariota to Oregon and coached him for two years.

"Obviously, [with] my relationship with coach Kelly, it'd be a lot of fun to be a part of that offense and be a part of that team," Mariota said when asked about a potential reunion with Kelly.

Foles is 15-9 as a starter in the NFL, but he has yet to play a full season. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 6,753 yards, 46 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.


Colts' Luck on new contract: 'There's nothing there right now'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) An ESPN report surfaced last week stating the Colts were working on making quarterback Andrew Luck the highest-paid player in the NFL. When asked about the subject at the Pro Bowl, Luck seemed surprise when he heard the news.

"There's nothing there right now," Luck said, per The Indianapolis Star. "I didn't think about it all during the season and it's only been a few days since it ended. I haven't thought about it. I will have conversations with my agent just because you have to prepare, but I'm not sure where that report came from."

Luck has two years remaining on the $22 million deal he signed as a rookie in 2012. It includes a team option for 2016, which must be exercised later this year.

Luck just completed his third season in the NFL. He has been to the Pro Bowl every year he's been in the NFL. He's gone 11-5 in every season as an NFL starter. He threw for a career-best 40 touchdowns in 2014 and led Indianapolis to the AFC title game this season.


Seahawks' Sherman disappointed he won't receive gifts from Pro Bowl
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) In case you missed Sunday's Pro Bowl, Team Irvin knocked off Team Carter, 32-28, thanks to a second-half rally, which included touchdown catches by Emmanuel Sanders and Jimmy Graham.

While many Pro Bowl players that made the original roster were absent from the game due to injuries, Pro Bowl players from the Patriots and Seahawks also did not play due to preparations for next Sunday's Super Bowl.

One player who seemed upset about missing the Pro Bowl was Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. However, it was for a reason you probably wouldn't suspect.

“Only thing I’m disappointed in is they won’t give us our gifts from the Pro Bowl, which is kind of dumb,” Sherman said, per The Boston Globe. “The NFL is the only league that punishes the players who actually make the All-Star game by not giving them their gifts. It’s supposed to be watches and some other stuff, but we don’t get them so I couldn’t tell you.”


Patriots' Tom Brady on Deflategate: 'My feelings got hurt'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) If you have been out of the loop for the last week, then you might be unaware the Patriots have been under a lot of scrutiny since the AFC title game due to improperly inflated footballs used against the Colts. The media hoopla has transformed the controversy into what we know as Deflategate.

If you haven't been out of the loop, then you are well aware of the nonstop coverage it has received the last week and despite the Patriots pleas for it to go away, it just won't.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has had to deal with the backlash from Deflategate, and he found himself talking about the subject again Monday morning during an interview with WEEI.

“It’s all speculation,” Brady said. “I’ve tried to wrap my head around it, too. I’ve done that and I’m trying to move past that, because I continue to try to rehash things. I personalized a lot of things and thought this was all about me, and my feelings got hurt. Then I moved past it, because it’s not serving me. What’s serving me is try to prepare for the game ahead. I’ll deal with whatever happens later. I’ll have my opportunity to try to figure out what happened and figure out a theory like everyone else is trying to do. But this isn’t the time for that. Honestly, I’m not interested in trying to find out right now, because we have the biggest game of our season ahead.”

One topic Brady didn't have a problem addressing was the speculation coach Bill Belichick threw him under the bus during a press conference on Thursday. But Brady came to the defense of Belichick, who has won three Super Bowls as the Patriots coach.

“I’ve never once felt that we’re not on the same page,” Brady said. “He’s a great coach. He’s the only coach I’ve ever played for; he’s the only coach I’d ever want to play for. There’s a lot of people over the years that have criticized him, but I’d say there’s not one player who’s ever played for him who’s not had an unbelievable amount of respect for him and how he prepares and his diligence and his preparation."


Giants' Odell Beckham says he played with hamstring tears
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(1/26/2015) Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham said he played all season with two tears in his hamstrings, according to the New York Daily News.

Beckham took part in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, but admitted he's still not fully healed. Beckham said the injuries prevented him from getting to that "last gear that I wanted to have." He added that the injuries really bothered him against the Eagles and Colts. Beckham said he was "stumbling" and falling over during those games. He added that he's not sure whether he'll ever be 100 percent again.

The rookie had a tremendous season, hauling in 91 balls for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. 


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(1/25/2015) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady doesn't expect to meet with the NFL until after Super Bowl XLIX, according to NFL.com.

The Patriots have been in the headlines all week due to Deflategate, and it appears the situation won't be resolved until after the season. "I believe they're going to do [a meeting] after the season," Brady said. "So we'll deal with it after this game. I think everybody is locked in, ready to go for the Super Bowl." Both Brady and coach Bill Belichick have held separate press conferences during the week to deny the team's involvement in deflating their footballs. 

The Patriots are subject to punishment from the NFL if the league finds any wrongdoing during the investigation. 


Earl Thomas on bad shoulder: 'I'll still play fearless'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who dislocated his shoulder in the NFC Championship Game, could remain limited in practice this week ahead of the Super Bowl, reports the Seattle Times. But he said he won't be thinking about the injury against the Patriots.

"When I come alive nothing is limited,’’ he said. “I’ll still play fearless, throw my body around, and let whatever happens, happens.’’

Thomas did allow that he might have to rely more on his teammates.

“My mindset is I have an opportunity to really trust my teammates,’’ he said. “This is the first game I’m going to have to trust them because of my injury. So I really, really, really trust my teammates, and that’s what I’m banking on, my teammates doing what they need to do and I need to come through myself.’’

It's unclear if Thomas will need offseason surgery.

The Seahawks are 1-point underdogs after opening as 2.5-point favorites.


Colts QB Matt Hasselbeck pondering retirement
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(1/25/2015) Colts backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck told ESPN.com he's not sure if he'll retire or return for a 17th season. Hasselbeck, 39, appeared in four games this season and played well, posting a 102.6 passer rating.

He's set to hit unrestricted free agency.


 
 
 
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