2021 Detroit Lions Fantasy Team Outlook: Welcome to the Soon-Forgettable, Surely-Regrettable Jared Goff Era

A fantasy football breakdown of the Detroit Lions by high-stakes legend Shawn Childs
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Coaching

After three poor seasons (6-10, 3-12-1, and 5-11) with Matt Patricia running the show, the Lions brought on Dan Campbell to take over as their head coach. He worked in the Dolphins' system for six seasons before landing in New Orleans in 2016. He split his time over five seasons as their assistant head coach and tight ends coach. Miami gave him a temporary heading coaching job in 2015 (5-7).

Detroit Lions Dan Campbell

Anthony Lynn moved from the Chargers’ head coach (2017 to 2020) to Detroit’s offensive coordinator over the winter. He went 33-32 in Los Angeles with one postseason appearance. Lynn started his NFL coaching career in 2000, with most of his experience coming as a running back coach.

The Lions ranked 20th in points scored (377), which was their second year of improvement. They also finished 20th in offensive yards.

The defense is now in the hands of Aaron Glenn. His path through the coaching ranks also came through New Orleans as their defensive back coach over five seasons. He was a player in the league for 15 years before starting his coaching career in 2014 with the Browns.

Detroit fell to last in the league in both yards and points (519) allowed. Over the previous two seasons, their defense regressed by 159 points allowed.

Free Agency

The most significant move by Detroit in the offseason was the trade of Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff. The Lions gain youth, along with a winning resume (42-27 – 0-7 in his rookie year).

Their wide receiving core will have a new look after parting ways with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola.

After two productive seasons (70/1,063/5 and 65/1,190/11), Golladay battled a hamstring issue early in the year, and a hip injury led to him missing the final nine games. When on the field over four starts, he posted two 100-yard contests (4/105 and 6/114) with two other productive showings (6/57/1 and 4/62/1).

Over the last four seasons, Jones scored 32 touchdowns over 54 games while gaining over 20 yards 56 times. His game has developed where he can be trusted to work closer to the line of scrimmage plus test a defense deep.

Amendola was at the end of his career (age 35) while bringing a possession skill set.

The Lions added Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman to their receiver core.

Williams suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder ending his season before Week 1. He flashed in 2016 with the Chargers (69/1,059/7) while struggling to get targets over the next three seasons (69, 65, and 64).

Perriman failed to capture his late 2019 success (25/606/5 over five games) with Tampa after signing with the Jets. He brings a big-play skill set while battling his catch rate (49.0) in his pro career.

Detroit added Jamaal Williams for running back depth. The Packers used him as a rotational option over the past four seasons.

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On defense, they brought in CB Quinton Dunbar, CB Corn Elder, LB Alex Anzalone, and DE Charles Harris. All four players signed minimal contracts, pointing to bench roles.

Their top loss on the defensive side of the ball was S Duron Harmon, who signed with the Falcons. Last year he allowed too many big plays in the passing while finishing as a league-average player in run support.

G Oday Aboushi signed with the Chargers after receiving part-time snaps over the past three seasons. His highest potential comes in the run game.

Draft

T Penei Sewell

His ceiling is extremely high once he puts in the work to get stronger. All of his tools project well while owning the talent to dominate in run blocking. Sewell has youth on his side, giving a natural progression to improve.

DT Levi Onwuzurike

Onwuzurike plays with a bully feel while owning the first and quickness to create early wins and disruptions. He’ll clog up the middle of the line, leading to an edge in run support. Onwuzurike will have moments of success in the pass rush while developing his secondary moves to be more productive.

DT Alim McNeill

McNeil is a second power player added by Detroit in this year’s draft. His vision leaves him a step behind on some plays, and breaking free from some blocks can put him out of range to reach ball carriers. McNeil will push his way to sacks while needing to add secondary moves to see more action on passing downs.

CB Ifeatu Melifonwu

Melifonwu has a tweener feel. His game projects well in press coverage, with speed to match receivers in chase mode. He drives well against the run while shining as a tackler. Melifonwu gets in trouble off the ball when moving backward in his tracking of pass routes. His change of quickness won’t create an edge. Detroit should give him snaps at cornerback and safety.

WR Amon-Ra St. Brown

St. Brown brings early rhythm to his route running that projects better out of the slot. His release is better than expected, but he does lose value when locked up early by bigger physical defenders. St. Brown doesn’t win with his quickness while also having subpar long speed. With better technique and more strength, he would offer much more upside.

LB Derrick Barnes

Barnes doesn’t have the fire or vision to create an edge when asked to defend on the outside. His strength and power play well while owning a high foundation in tackling. He offers sneaky attack value in the pass rush, but his game regresses when asked to change direction.

RB Jermar Jefferson

Jefferson has a power running style that works better when seeing daylight at the line of scrimmage. His flow and vision create wins, but dead ends leave him with no escape routes. He needs a volume of chances to get his engine warmed up. Jefferson should bring closing value with the ability to make defenders miss in the open field. His pass protection looks ahead of his pass-catching.


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Offensive Line

Detroit dropped to 30th in rushing yards (1,499) while averaging 22.9 rushing attempts per game. They gained 4.1 yards per carry for the third straight season with 17 touchdowns and five runs over 20 yards.

The Lions finished eighth in passing yards (4,397) with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Detroit gained only 7.6 yards per pass attempt with 58 catches over 20 yards. Their offensive line allowed 41 sacks.

LT Taylor Decker

Decker developed into a top pass-blocking player last season with only a pair of sacks allowed. His play in the run game showed growth as well. He should now be considered a top-tier left tackle.

LG Johan Jackson

Jackson has experience at center and guard while expecting to be a better player early in his career in pass projection. He gains his edge by understanding his assignments and showing quick feet. He does have the strength to hold his own in run blocking, but his technique is trailing. For now, Jackson has limited range while needing to improve his hands.

After getting drafted in the third round in 2020, Jackson made two starts at right guard and 14 at left guard. He struggled in multiple games in pass protection while ranking below the league average in run blocking. His experience should lead to growth this year.

C Frank Ragnow

Ragnow played well at center over the past two seasons after starting his pro career at right tackle. He pushed his way to elite status in the run game last year while keeping the quarterback clean on almost all of his snaps. Ragnow came to the Lions via a first-round selection in 2018.

RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Detroit signed Vaitai to a five-year $50 million contract in the offseason in 2020. Only once in his five-year career has he played an entire season. In his 10 starts last season, Vaitai failed in all areas while never being a trusted asset on the offensive line.

RT Penei Sewell

The Lions expect Sewell to start in his rookie season. He has a beast feel while having the talent to impact all areas in his rookie season. Detroit should run the ball well to his side.

OL Snapshot

This offensive line has three players that project to rank highly at their positions. Both their guards have a chance to deliver league average stats. Detroit should pass protect well in 2021, with growth expected in the run game.

Offense

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Last year, the Lions ran the ball 39.1 percent of the time, with above-average stats passing the ball. The change in coaching staff and starting quarterback points to a different game plan in 2021. They have the offensive line to run the ball well, especially in the red zone.

Quarterbacks

Jared Goff

Over the previous four seasons, Goff led the Rams to a 42-20 record while making the postseason three times (2-3). He set a career-high in his completion rate (67.0) in 2020, but his yards per pass attempt (7.2) faded for the second straight year. Goff finished with only 20 passing touchdowns with similar struggles in 2019 (22).

His best success and wins came when Todd Gurley ranked near the top of the league.

Goff struggled over his final seven games (208 passing yards per game with six passing touchdowns) in 2020, including the postseason. He only had two matchups with three passing touchdowns while gaining over 300 yards in six contests.

Fantasy Outlook: The Lions’ new coaching staff has ties to two franchises that leaned on their running backs with a ton of completions. Goff has a viable option at tight end, but his wide receiver corps ranks well below the league average. Fantasy owners rank him as the 30th quarterback in the early draft season. Detroit will trail in many games, pointing to league average passing yards. Goff has a low ceiling in scoring. At best, a matchup player with minimal as a low-level fantasy backup quarterback.

Other Options: Tim Boyle, David Blough

Running Backs

The running back opportunity for the Lions on early downs declined in back-to-back seasons. Their back gained only 4.0 yards per rush while shining in close (17 touchdowns). Detroit flashed explosiveness in pass-catching (8.0 yards per catch). This season, I expect a push to 120 catches out of the backfield.

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D’Andre Swift

Detroit gave Swift 160 touches in his rookie season over 13 games, leading to 878 combined yards with 10 touchdowns and 46 catches. He ranked 18th in running back scoring (191.80 fantasy points) in PPR leagues. His best value came in Week 6 (123 combined yards with two touchdowns and two catches), Week 10 (149 combined yards, one touchdown, and five catches), and Week 15 (82 combined yards with two scores and four catches).

He averaged 14.5 touches while gaining 4.6 yards per rush. Swift only hit on two plays that reached the 20-yard mark.

Swift runs with vision and a feel for daylight. His lack of top-end speed hurts him while needing to improve his value in short-yardage situations. He earns his edge, accelerating out of short chopping steps in tight quarters thanks to his ability to quickly get to a full stride. Swift projects well as a receiver, but he’ll have to prove his worth in pass projections.

Fantasy Outlook: With the Lions expected to feature the running back position in the passing game, Swift should be on a path for 225-plus, leading to 1,150 combined yards with a run at double-digit scores and 80 catches. His mid-June ADP (23) paints him as the 15th running back drafted.

Jamaal Williams

Williams came off the bench over four seasons with the Packers to gain 2,946 combined yards with 18 touchdowns and 122 catches. He averaged 10.4 touches per game while delivering RB4 production in PPR leagues.

In 2020, Green Bay gave him starting snaps in Week 7 (114 combined yards with one touchdown and four catches) and Week 8 (102 combined yards with six catches).

Fantasy Outlook: His opportunity should be similar to his early career. Williams should gain 700 yards with 30-plus catches and a handful of scores.

Jermar Jefferson

Over three seasons at Oregon State, Jefferson gained 3,222 combined yards with 29 touches and 43 catches. His best season came in 2018 (239/1,380/12 with 25 catches for 147 yards). In 2020, Covid limited his year to six games (133/858/7), which gave him a chance at 1,800 combined yards with 14 touchdowns and 18 catches.

Fantasy Outlook: Jefferson provides early-down insurance for D’Andre Swift. Fantasy owners will find him in the free-agent pool in most leagues.

Other Options: Dedrick Mills, Michael Warren

Wide Receivers

The wide receiver opportunity has been in a tight range over the past three seasons. They finished with 202 catches for 2,786 yards and 16 touchdowns, which accounted for 63 percent of Detroit’s passing yards.

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Tyrell Williams

Trust has been a problem for fantasy owners investing in Williams over the past four seasons. He opted out of 2020 while averaging only 42 catches for 677 yards and five touchdowns on 66 targets from 2017 to 2019. Over this span, Williams gained over 20 yards on 27.8 percent of his plays. Eleven of those played reach 40 yards or more.

When at his best in 2016, Williams finished with 69 catches for 1,059 yards, and seven scored on 119 targets.

Fantasy Outlook: His ADP (257) placed him as the 124th wide receiver drafted in the early season. At a minimum, with an entire year of playing time, Williams should have a floor of 65 catches for 800 yards and five to seven scores. He should be a value in drafts.

Breshad Perriman

Over his first three seasons with the Ravens, after getting drafted in the first round in 2015, Perriman caught only 59 of his 126 targets for 916 yards and five touchdowns.

His playing time was minimal in 2019 over the first 11 games (11/139/1 on 32 targets). After a couple of injuries to Tampa’s wide receivers, Perriman played the best ball of his career. He caught 25 passes for 506 yards and five touchdowns on 37 targets in five games, which delivered WR1 production in PPR leagues.

His excellent finish to the year (5/113/3, 7/102, and 5/134/1) earned him a one-year deal for $8 million for the Jets. In New York, Perriman only had one game of value (5/101/2), leading to 30 catches for 505 yards and three touchdowns while missing four games.

Fantasy Outlook: His most significant risk comes in his low catch rate (49.0) in his career. Perriman brings a big-play skill set, but he tends to get hurt (17 missed games over the past four years). Fantasy owners priced him as the Lions’ WR1 in the early draft season with an ADP (209). I have no interest in Perriman in 2021.

Amon-Ra St. Brown

St. Brown played well over 30 games at USC. He caught 178 of his 249 targets for 2,270 yards and 17 touchdowns. His best success came in 2019 (77/1,042/6).

Fantasy Outlook: The Lions should award St. Brown with the slot wide receiver role in his rookie season. A reasonable starting point should be 50 catches for 600 yards with minimal damage in scoring.

Quintez Cephus

Cephus has a tight end feel in speed (4.7 forty) and plenty of strength (23 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine in 2020) while fitting more into a running back’s body. His hands grade well, but Cephus needs to clean up his release in press coverage and develop his route running to earn more playing time at the next level. With the ball in his hands, he’ll gain extra yards.

The Lions looked his way 35 times in his rookie season, leading to 20 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns. His best two games came in Week 13 (2/63/1) and Week 17 (2/51/1).

Fantasy Outlook: A new coaching staff may push Cephus down a notch on the depth chart. His size, strength, and big-play potential give him a chance to beat out Breshad Perriman for a starting job as the season progresses.

Other Options: Victor Bolden, Geronimo Allison, Kalif Raymond, Tom Kennedy

Tight Ends

Detroit featured their tight ends more in 2020, leading to three-year highs in catches (83), receiving yards (899), touchdowns (8), and targets (129). They finished with 22.2 percent of the team’s completion and one-fifth of their passing yards.

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T.J. Hockenson

In his sophomore season, Hockenson more than doubled his rookie output (32/367/2). He finished with 67 catches for 723 yards and six touchdowns on 101 targets while ranking fifth in tight end scoring (176.30 fantasy) in PPR leagues.

Despite his success, Hockenson failed to deliver any impact games. He scored between 10.00 and 17.00 fantasy points in 10 starts. The Lions struggled to get him the ball over his final three starts (2/18, 4/23, and 3/25) while having three other matchups with two catches (2/9/1, 2/17/1, and 2/13).

Last year Jared Goff completed 90 passes to the Rams’ tight ends for 1,008 yards and six scores on 123 targets, which came below their success in 2019 (110/1,168/4 on 157 targets).

Fantasy Outlook: This year, Hockenson has an ADP of 72 as the fifth tight end drafted. Detroit has a weakness at wide receiver, giving their tight ends a chance at more production. His path points to him being the number two option in the Lions’ passing game behind the running position. With 17 games played, Hockenson should catch 80-plus passes for 900 yards with five to seven touchdowns.

Other Options: Darren Fells, Hunter Thedford, Alize Mack, Brock Wright

Kicker

Randy Bullock

Over the past four seasons with the Bengals, Bullock made 85 percent of his 100 field goal tries while missing six of 124 extra points. In his career, his leg has been erratic from 50 yards or more (12-for-25).

The Lions have a below-par offense, but they should run the ball well in close. Bullock won’t draw attention on draft day on the fantasy market, making him a waiver-wire option at best.

Detroit Lions Romeo Okwara

Defense

The Lions fell to 28th in rushing yards allowed (2,158) with 27 touchdowns and seven runs over 20 yards. Runners gained 4.4 yards per rush while averaging 30.4 rushers per game.

Detroit inched up to 30th in passing yards allowed (4,558) with 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Their defense finished with only 24 sacks while allowing 66 catches over 20 yards.

DE Romeo Okwara

Okwara set career highs in tackles (44) and sacks (10.0) in his third season with the Lions. His tackling has been a problem over the past two years, leading to weakness in his run defense.

DE Michael Brockers

Detroit added Brockers in the offseason to help improve their run defense. He’ll chip in with some sacks (five in 2020) with plenty of tackles (223 over the past four seasons). His run defense faded last year after shining in three of his previous four seasons.

DT John Penisini

Penisini projects as an early-down run-stopper with first-step quickness and great hands. His game is all about power and gaining an edge early off the snap. He’ll be challenged by more talented players in the NFL, which will require him to up his play to earn more snaps. Penisini finished as a liability in all areas in his rookie season.

DE Levi Onwuzurike

The Lions expect Onwuzurike to earn his keep in his rookie season against the run. His game is all about power while working as a rotational player each in this career.

LB Jamie Collins

Collins recorded over 100 tackles for the third time in his career in 2020, but he picked only one sack with an interception and six defended passes. His run defense pushed closer to the league average, but Collins hasn’t been a top player since 2015.

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LB Trey Flowers

In his second year in Detroit, Flowers missed nine games with wrist and forearm injuries. From 2016 to 2019, he made 215 tackles with 28 sacks and six defended passes. The Lions shifted him to linebacker in the offseason. Flowers remains a top run defense with a high floor in the pass rush.

LB Jahlani Tavai

Over his first two seasons with the Lions, Tavai made 59 tackles each year with only two sacks. His run defense was a significant problem in 2020 while heading to the sidelines on passing downs. Detroit asked him to lose weight in the offseason to regain some speed.

CB Ifeatu Melifonwu

Detroit hopes Melifonwu can seize the CB2 job this season. His game projects well in run support while also offering strength in press coverage. He has a safety feel, but Melifonwu needs work to handle receivers over the long field.

CB Jeff Okudah

Okudah takes over the top cornerback position on this defense. His game works well in press coverage, and it should improve when he gets stronger. His quickness gets him in position early vs. wide receivers, while his speed (4.48 40-yard dash) looks faster in game-action. Okudah needs to improve in his reads on routes and identify his man earlier in zone coverage.

He missed seven games in his rookie season with a groin injury that required surgery. Okudah finished with 47 tackles, one interception, and two defended passes while making too many mistakes in coverage over the long field.

S Will Harris

Harris played his way to a bench role in his second year with the Lions. He has yet to find his rhythm in run support while facing minimal chances in the passing game. Harris made 78 tackles over the previous two years with one sack, and four defended passes.

S Tracy Walker

Over the past two seasons, Walker posted 190 tackles, one sack, one interception, and 12 defended passes over 28 games. Even with success, he did allow too many touchdowns with only league-average value defending the run. Receivers beat him for many long plays in 2019 and 2020.

Fantasy Defense Snapshot

The Lions tried to solidify their run defense up the middle at the defensive line level in the offseason. Their pass rush has been a problem in back-to-back years, but they have players who can get after the quarterback. I see weakness at safety, and the cornerback position is in rebuild mode. This defense ranks at the bottom of the league in the fantasy market.

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