Fantasy News & Analysis

2022 Fantasy Football Team Preview: Detroit Lions

Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions running back D'Andre Swift (32) runs the ball during the first quarter against the Washington Football Team at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft have come and gone: It’s time to fully embrace the 2022 offseason by breaking down the fantasy football aspirations of each and every team before drafts season truly gets underway in August.

What follows is a fantasy-focused breakdown of the Detroit Lions, focusing on key questions like:

  1. From a raw numbers perspective, could Jared Goff party like it’s 2017-2018 again?
  2. Is there enough scoring upside to go around for both D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams to supply value at ADP? 
  3. Was Amon-Ra St. Brown’s end-of-season explosion a flash in the pan, or a sign of things to come?

Every fantasy-relevant player from the Lions will be covered in the following paragraphs. Make sure to check out the PFF Team Preview Landing Page through early July for more all-encompassing fantasy football coverage.

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Notable offseason moves

Knee-biting extraordinaire Dan Campbell is back for his second season as Lions head coach; however, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn moved on to San Francisco, paving the way for incumbent tight ends coach Ben Johnson to take over the job.

Expect another run-balanced offensive attack without much sense of urgency. Last season, the Lions ranked 23rd in pass-play rate (59.5%) in non-garbage time situations while their average of 32.64 seconds per play in neutral game settings ranked 29th (Football Outsiders). Perhaps a bump in play-action rate (24.1%, No. 26) could help this reigning 25th-ranked offense in yards per attempt (6.6) improve their overall success through the air.

Additionally, the Lions have made plenty of changes to their roster. The following quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends have either joined or left Detroit in some way, shape, or form this offseason:

  • WR KhaDarel Hodge: Signed a one-year, $1,070,000 contract with the Atlanta Falcons, including just $35,000 in fully guaranteed money. Hodge wasn’t anything more than a backup complementary piece, as he was targeted just 27 times in 16 games last season.
  • WR D.J. Chark: Signed a one-year, $10,000,000 contract with the Lions that is fully guaranteed. His 2021 season was cut short by a fractured ankle in Week 4. Chark struggled to replicate his 2019 magic (73-1008-8) in 2020 (53-706-5) but now enters a fairly wide-open receiver room.
  • TE Garrett Griffin: Signed a one-year, $965,000 contract with the Lions. The block-first tight end was targeted just five times in 20 games with the New Orleans Saints from 2017 to 2021.

The Lions made an early splash on draft night by trading up to acquire Alabama WR Jameson Williams with the 12th overall pick. While his recovery from a torn ACL is ongoing, the blazing-fast 21-year-old talent will add a new dimension to this offense in a hurry upon being healthy enough to suit up.

The Lions also landed Virginia Tech TE James Mitchell in the fifth round. Also recovering from season-ending knee surgery, Mitchell likely would have been picked a lot higher with a fully healthy 2021 season. Still, there isn’t much of a path to the top of the depth chart at tight end, and the fantasy track record of players not selected inside of the draft's top-three rounds isn't pretty.

Quarterback: Jared Goff (Ian’s fantasy football QB27), Tim Boyle (unranked), David Blough (unranked)

The Lions didn’t exactly surround Goff with the world’s best supporting cast in 2021, but he also didn’t make too big of a habit of helping his own cause. This was anyone’s idea of a bad quarterback:

  • PFF passing grade: 62.2 (No. 29 among 44 quarterbacks with 100-plus dropbacks in 2021)
  • QB rating: 91.5 (No. 20)
  • Big-time throw rate: 2.3% (No. 36)
  • Turnover-worthy play rate: 3.1% (No. 19)
  • Yards per attempt: 6.6 (No. 33)
  • Adjusted completion rate: 77% (No. 13)

Goff did suffer an oblique injury in Week 10 and also dealt with COVID during the later part of the season. Still, his 6.8-yard average target depth ranks 42nd, and only Ben Roethlisberger threw short of the sticks more often. This was a neutered passing game for the majority of 2021.

And yet, the Lions have committed to Goff as their undisputed starting quarterback for at least another year. General manager Brad Holmes even went as far as to say, “We have a starter that can be productive for us. Jared is our quarterback and we're going to make sure he's put in the best position to succeed.”

Obviously, the Lions did make a big splash by trading up to acquire Jameson Williams in the draft, but the pass-catchers as a whole still rank just 21st in PFF’s receiving corps rankings. PFF’s third-ranked offensive line is certainly a positive for everyone involved, but just realize their 13th-place finish in 2021 demonstrates that this unit has never been the primary problem.

Credit to Goff for turning in four top-12 finishes throughout 2022, but he was still anyone’s idea of a mediocre fantasy quarterback. This has been the case for quite some time now:

  • 2021: 13.9 fantasy points per game (QB23)
  • 2020: 16 (QB24)
  • 2019: 15.5 (QB21)
  • 2018: 19.8 (QB9)
  • 2017: 17 (QB11)
  • 2016: 7.6 (QB37)

The best days of Goff’s (fantasy) career are almost certainly in the past. He’s nothing more than a waiver wire streaming option in a good matchup in traditional one-QB formats. I’d rather throw darts at Carson Wentz or Daniel Jones, who at least have the sort of rushing upside to be a better fantasy signal-caller than a real-life asset.

Running back: D’Andre Swift (RB10), Jamaal Williams (RB45), Craig Reynolds (unranked), Godwin Igwebuike (unranked), Jermar Jefferson (unranked)

Swift’s path to fantasy greatness is simple: He catches a lot of passes. Specifically, only Christian McCaffrey (5.3) and Leonard Fournette (4.9) caught more passes per game than Swift (4.8) last season. This helped Swift tie Joe Mixon for the 10th-most expected PPR points per game among all running backs.

Of course, it’s a good thing that fantasy points count the same regardless of whether or not they occur in a meaningful moment because nobody caught a higher percentage of their passes in the fourth quarter while trailing by seven-plus points than Swift (32%) in 2021.

Either way, it’s clear that it benefits the Lions to throw the ball in Swift’s direction, as the man is electric in the open field.

The only problem with crowning Swift as the next fantasy superstar is the reality that Williams isn’t going anywhere. Nor should he. The ex-Packers talent was objectively a better rusher of the football than Swift by just about any metric last season:

  • PFF rushing grade: Williams (68.4); Swift (61.3)
  • Yards per carry: Williams (3.9); Swift (4.1)
  • Yards after contact per carry: Williams (2.8); Swift (2.4)
  • Missed tackles forced per carry: Williams (0.16); Swift (0.11)

Luckily for Swift, Williams' presence didn’t do anything to hinder Swift’s fantasy-friendly opportunity. In 10 games with both backs fully healthy, Swift led the way in snap rate (66% vs. 35%), rush attempts (103 vs. 102) and targets (62 vs. 22) alike. Furthermore, Swift averaged a hefty 18 PPR points per game and 17 expected PPR points per game — both marks would have ranked inside the position’s top-10 back when extrapolated over the course of an entire season.

Swift is one of just six running backs that PFF projects for more than 70 targets in 2022. His projected RB9 rank demonstrates the fantasy-friendly nature of this role. Overall, I’m riding with Swift as a top-10 running back in full-PPR scoring, as he only sits behind guys with true three-down roles (Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley, Leonard Fournette) as well as Aaron Jones, who has a chance to see a similar target share in a likely much better offense. I’d draft Swift ahead of Joe Mixon and Javonte Williams in full-PPR scoring to take advantage of these targets but would bump those two bell-cow backs ahead of Swift in 0.5-point PPR or standard formats.

And then there’s Williams, who managed to post four top-25 finishes throughout the 2021 season. While the ex-Packers veteran shouldn’t be confused as meaningful competition to Swift, he did carry a slight lead in goal-line carries (five vs. four) when both were healthy last season. Williams didn’t exactly take over the backfield when Swift suffered a sprained A/C joint in Week 12, but this seemed in large part due to him dealing with a combination of hip and thigh injuries before also dealing with covid later in the season.

Still, Williams’ per-game usage without Swift was clearly pretty solid from a raw touch perspective:

  • Week 12: 15-65-0 rushing, 5-18-0 receiving, 63% snap rate
  • Week 13: 17-71-0 rushing, 1-9-0 receiving, 47% snap rate
  • Week 16: 19-77-0 rushing, 0-0-0 receiving, 42% snap rate1

It’s unlikely that Williams would handle every snap with Swift sidelined, but he’s clearly the next-man-up and would be a viable borderline RB2 as the clear-cut starter. For this reason, I’m well ahead of consensus on Williams (my RB45), who is presently the RB56 off the board over at Underdog Fantasy. I’d take him ahead of unproven rookies like Isaiah Spiller, Rachaad White and Tyrion Davis-Price thanks to him already having the role that we hope for them.

Wide receiver: Amon-Ra St. Brown (WR25), Jameson Williams (WR58), D.J. Chark (WR73), Josh Reynolds (unranked), Kalif Raymond (unranked), Quintez Cephus (unranked)

St. Brown’s PPR WR21 finish made him one of just two rookie wide receivers drafted outside of the top-three rounds to post top-24 production over the past 10 years. The other was Tyreek Hill.

That's pretty good company, and things only get better when looking at fellow rookie wide receivers that managed to post a PFF receiving grade north of 75.0. Of course, much of St. Brown’s goodness was restricted to the final two months of the season, as the 2021 fourth-round pick didn’t score a touchdown or gain more than 70 yards in a game in Weeks 1-12 before going the hell off down the stretch:

  • Week 13: 10 receptions-86 yards-1 TD (12 targets, PPR WR6)
  • Week 14: 8-73-0 (12, WR26)
  • Week 15: 8-90-1 (11, WR6)
  • Week 16: 9-91-1 (11, WR6)
  • Week 17: 8-111-1 (11, WR2)
  • Week 18: 8-109-1 (10, WR9)

Overall, St. Brown was the WR2 during this stretch of action. This did coincide with Swift missing Weeks 13-16 while T.J. Hockenson was sidelined from Weeks 14-18. Their absences clearly opened up additional opportunities for St. Brown, as the Lions even got him more snaps at running back during the final six weeks of the season.

However, more changed for St. Brown during the final six weeks of the season than just his targets. The “Sun God” didn’t reach 80% of the offense’s snaps even once before Week 11, but he cleared that mark in all but two of his final eight games. This was thanks to St. Brown playing double-digit snaps as an outside receiver in each of Weeks 12-18 — he surpassed that threshold just once in Weeks 1-11. 

Sixty-six wide receivers have produced five games with at least 20 PPR points in a single season since 2010, and the list is almost exclusively littered with ballers. The only real one-year wonders were Brandon Lloyd, Jordan Matthews and Laurent Robinson, but even that’s a bit of a reach on the former two talents.

It’s not impossible for bad offenses to enable a good fantasy wide receiver, although history tells us not to necessarily chase these situations. On average, the top-scoring wide receiver from a bottom-10 scoring offense has finished as the WR32 in full-PPR scoring over the last five years. There have been 20 instances of these low-scoring offenses producing a top-24 wide receiver, but also 20 of them not enabling anybody ranked higher than 35th.

St. Brown comes in as my WR25, which is ahead of guys with similar target potential such as Jerry Jeudy, Darnell Mooney and Rashod Bateman, but they simply haven’t ever been as good on a professional football field. I’d still lean towards No. 2 options in high-octane offenses such as Gabriel Davis and Allen Robinson ahead of St. Brown but either way, I’m fully in on buying the rising second-year talent at his current price as the WR30 over at Underdog Fantasy.

There’s at least one red flag for each of the Lions' remaining wide receivers:

  • Williams: Not expected to be ready for training camp. Starting the season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list seems possible if not likely. Dr. Edwin Porras believes October 13 is the earliest that Williams will be back.
  • Chark: Coming off a fractured ankle and might not be doing more than running wind sprints on one side of the field unless Goff drastically changes his dump-down style. 
  • Reynolds: Figures to lose his starting spot in three-WR sets if/when both Williams and Chark are healthy. 
  • Raymond: Likely pigeon-holed as a pure field-stretching specialist, as he had just five games with more than five targets last season despite starting 14 games.
  • Cephus: Returning from a broken collarbone and joins Reynolds as a likely backup once Williams and Chark are both good to go.

I haven’t made a habit of throwing darts at anybody involved. It’s possible these primary outside receivers rotate and eat into each other's routes and targets alike while there’s no real upside to the Lions rushing Williams back onto the field. If healthy, Williams profiles as more of a boom-or-bust WR3 in Year 1 while having to deal with Goff’s low-average-depth-of-target style; that’s not the sort of upside I’m all that pumped about chasing before the later rounds of drafts.

Tight end: T.J. Hockenson (TE8), Brock Wright (unranked), James Mitchell (unranked)

Hockenson has posted 32-367-2, 67-723-6 and 61-583-4 receiving lines since the Lions drafted him with the eighth overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. Note that he only played 12 games in the former and latter campaigns.

Through it all, Hockenson has objectively been one of the league’s more efficient receiving tight ends:

  • PFF receiving grade: 74.9 (No. 14 among 68 tight ends with at least 50 targets since 2019)
  • Yards per route run: 1.46 (No. 20)
  • Yards per reception: 10.5 (tied for No. 33)
  • Targets per route run: 20.4% (No. 14)

This has led to plenty of fantasy production on a per-game basis over the years. Overall, Hockenson has worked as the TE26, TE7 and most recently the TE7 on a per-game basis.

Ultimately, I’m riding with Hockenson as my TE8. He’s arguably even better in real life than in fantasy, but I simply prefer Dalton Schultz and Zach Ertz thanks to their superior quarterback under center and similar opportunity to work as one of the top-two options in their passing game. I’d give Hockenson the nod over Dallas Goedert thanks to his lesser target competition and more pass-heavy offense. This is one big tier in fantasy land so don’t be afraid to let the pieces fall and take whichever option winds up falling an extra round.

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