(Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt / Getty Images)
Heading into the 2021 season, very few positive things can be said about the Lions’ immediate future. The Lions finished the 2020 season with a 5-11 record and now have a combined record of 14-33-1 over the last three seasons.
Before discussing a small handful of positive offensive performances which occurred in 2020, it is important to discuss the fact that the defense ranked dead last in many statistical categories. Per ProFootballReference.Com, the Lions gave up the most points (519), the most yards (6716), the most first downs (415), as well as creating the second-fewest turnovers (12).
QB Matthew Stafford finished as the 15th overall quarterback in fantasy, by completing 339 passes in 529 attempts (64.2 completion percentage) for 4084 yards and 26 touchdowns (4.3 percent touchdown rate). Stafford also added 29 rushing attempts for 112 yards and zero touchdowns.
Rookie D’Andre Swift (35th overall pick from Georgia) provided a nice spark in the second half of the season. Over the first seven games of the year, Swift only had 41 carries for 196 yards and three touchdowns but would garner 73 carries for 325 yards and an additional five TDs over his last five games. In addition to his rushing totals, Swift hauled in 20 receptions for 150 yards and one additional touchdown during that five-game stretch. Over this span to end the season, Swift accumulated 103.5 fantasy points(an average of 20.7 fantasy points (per game).
For the season, Swift would record 114 carries for 521 yards (4.57 yards per carry) and would add 46 catches (on 57 targets) for 357 yards and two TDs. On a per-game basis, he would finish as the 23rd ranked PPR running back (11.1 fantasy points per game). Swift missed three games in the middle of the season with a concussion.
Adrian Peterson led the Lions in rushing yards on the year with 604 yards on 156 carries and added seven touchdowns. Peterson only had 12 catches (on 18 targets) for 101 yards and zero touchdowns.
In terms of the receiving department, WR Marvin Jones Jr (76 catches for 978 yards and nine TDs) and TE T.J Hockenson (67 catches for 723 yards and six TD’s) led the way. In week nine of the season, WR Kenny Golladay suffered a hip flexor injury and was placed on season-ending IR. In total, Golladay played in only five games and caught 20 passes (on 32 targets) for 338 yards and two TDs.
Only one other receiver, Danny Amendola, had more than 20 catches or 35 targets. Amendola finished the year with 46 catches(on 69 targets) for 602 yards and zero touchdowns. Quintez Cephus (20 catches), Kerryon Johnson (19 catches), Marvin Hall( 17 receptions) and Mohamed Sanu (16 catches) all played minimal roles within the offense.
Despite a somewhat struggling offense and a sieve defense, the offensive line finished 13th amongst all NFL units per PFF.com. C Frank Ragnow and LT Taylor Decker paced the way, with both scoring above 80 PFF grades.
After a difficult 2020 season, the Lions underwent a massive overhaul within their team. The first move of the off-season occurred on January 31, when Stafford was traded to the Rams for Jared Goff and three draft picks (a third-round pick in 2021, as well as first-round picks in both 2022 and 2023). In 15 games starting for the Rams, Goff completed 370 passes in 552 attempts (67 percent completion rate) for 20 TD’s and 3952 yards. Over the last two seasons, Stafford has been more consistent in both yards per attempt (8.05 to 7.29) and touchdown ratio (5.5 percent to 3.81) than Goff. In terms of fantasy production, Goff will be a downgrade to the WRs.
Shortly after Matt Stafford was traded, Jones Jr (Jags), Golladay (Giants), Amendola (unsigned), Peterson (unsigned), Kerryon Johnson (Eagles), Sanu (49ers), and K Matt Prater (Cardinals) all left the team via free agency. In their stead, RB Jamaal Williams (Packers), WR Tyrell Willians (Raiders). WR Breshad Perriman (Jets), WR Chad Hansen (Texans), TE Darren Fells (Texans), and K Randy Bullock (Bengals) were signed in an attempt to replace them.
In 2020, Williams had 119 rushes for 505 yards (4.24 yards per carry) and two TDs, while adding 31 catches for 236 yards and an additional TD. In recent news, it has been reported that Swift has been unable to participate in 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills, while Williams has been lauded for an ability to be a three-down back. Fells had only 21 catches (on 28 targets) for 312 yards and four TDs.
In terms of the WRs brought in, Tyrell Williams opted out for the entire 2020 season due to the Covid protocol. In 2019, Williams had 42 catches (on 64 targets) for 651 yards and 6 TDs. For his career, Williams has averaged 16.1 yards per reception. Perriman had 30 catches (on 60 targets) for 505 yards and three TDs in 2020. Much like Williams, Perriman is a big play receiver whose career yards per reception is 16.5. After Will Fuller’s PED suspension, Hansen got an opportunity with the Texans to play and performed rather well. Hansen hauled in 17 catches (on 24 targets) for 236 yards and one TD.
The Lions also attempted to shore up the generous defense by signing the following starters heading into the season: 1) Michael Brockers (DE-Rams); and 2) Alex Anzalone (LB-Saints).
The Lions did a good job of building through the draft, by putting together a top ten draft class. This ranking was generated by draft pundits such as Thor Nystrom. The Lions did add three offensive pieces during the draft. These three additions are: 1) highly regarded OT Penei Sewell (Oregon-1st round); 2) WR Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC-fourth round ); and 3) RB Jermar Jefferson (Oregon State-7th round).
Sewell was the most highly regarded lineman prospect in the 2021 draft and gets added to one of the few strengths on the team. Most fantasy experts expect the Lions to be a predominant running team, and Sewell will aid in this pursuit. St. Brown is a step slower than many WR prospects, running only a 4.51 forty at his pro day. Although his foot speed is not optimal, St. Brown possesses excellent ball skills. He will add to the depth of the receiving corps but is not likely to be an alpha receiver. Jefferson is a power back who will add physicality to the backfield.
In building a base 3-4 defense, the Lions used the balance of the draft to load up on the defensive side of the ball. The two most highly regarded defensive players in this draft class are: 1) RDE Levi Onwuzutike (Washington- 2nd round); and 2) Nose Tackle Adam McNeil (N.C. State-3rd round). Along with Brockers, the Lions are hoping that they have built their future defensive front.
In terms of fantasy production this year, the only three players that are projected to do well are Swift (ADP RB 18) Williams(RB 44), and Hockenson (TE5) It will be very interesting to see how the touches split works out between Swift and Williams. Per FantasyPros.Com, Goff’s ADP is 28th (out of 32 teams), and Perriman has the highest ADP amongst WRs at number 68.
Although it is unlikely that Goff has a big year, it is worth taking a flyer on one of the receivers becoming the number one team option. My gut take is that St. Brown becomes a possession receiver and leads the team in catches and targets. The big play is likely to come from either Williams or Perriman.
Per VegasInsider.Com, the Lions’ over/under win total has been set at five. Having only won five games last year with a better roster, I would take the under for this betting proposition. For Lions fans, there should be a glimmer of optimism for future success. With the good 2021 draft class and multiple first-round picks in both 2022 and 2023, the Lions will have an opportunity to address positions of need.
(Cover Photo Credit: Frederick Breedon / Getty Images)