Offseason Primers: Detroit Lions

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.

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Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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