Team Profiles – Detroit Lions by Utter-Fantasy Writer & Illustrator Doug Bowles
HC Jim Caldwell was hired as the new head coach of the Detroit Lions for the 2014 season, following the firing of Jim Schwartz. The Lions have a knack for bringing in coaches who don’t necessarily have a winning track record, and hope they start one in Detroit. Caldwell’s 3 years of head coaching in Indianapolis went as follows- 2009…14-2, in 2010…10-6, in 2011…2-14…then FIRED. Did he have to play without QB Peyton Manning in 2011? Yes, but QB Bruce Arians had a start 3 different quarterbacks in 2014, and still took his team to the playoffs. Some coaches don’t make excuses. Prior to Caldwell, Lions HC Jim Schwartz ended his coaching in Detroit with a 29-51 record. Prior to Schwartz, Lions HC Rod Marinelli ended his coaching in Detroit with a 10-38 record. Prior to Marinelli…well…you get it. No Lion’s head coach has left with an overall winning record since Joe Schmidt 1967-1972 (43 wins – 34 losses). Jim Schwartz didn’t have the respect of the players, but Caldwell might. The Lions record in 2014 was 11-5 and they went the playoffs, but as I wrote, Caldwell had a successful 1st year in Indy as well…then it went south. Detroit is loaded with talent, and they usually give their new head coaches 3 years to prove themselves. I truly hope the Lions are not looking for a new head coach for the 2017 season.
2015 Team Outlook – NFC North Division consists of Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago. With QB Aaron Rodgers as their starting quarterback, the Green Bay Packers have dominated the NFC North Division since 2011. The Lions reached the playoffs in 2014, and in 2011, and have the talent in place to go to playoffs again in 2015. Minnesota has a good team, but are re-building with a new young quarterback, and have to figure out if RB Peterson will be part of the team. Chicago has a new head coach in HC John Fox, but should be very competitive. Green Bay will win the division for the 5th time in a row, with Detroit and Chicago chasing.
2015 Fantasy Outlook –
QB– Matthew Stafford has been one of the few quarterbacks, selected with the first overall NFL draft pick, to pan out as a strong QB in the NFL. Selected as a rookie QB with the first overall pick has about a 50-50 shot of working out. Since 1998, 6 quarterbacks selected #1 are still successfully playing football. ( 7 if you count Alex Smith) QBs Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Matt Stafford, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck. Since 1998, 6 quarterbacks that haven’t lived up to the first overall NFL draft selection are QBs Tim Couch, Mike Vick, David Carr, Alex Smith, JaMarcus Russell and Sam Bradford. Since entering the league Matt Stafford, drafted in 2009, has always ranked in the top 10 of NFL quarterbacks, but only ranked as the #15 QB in 2014. He passed for 4247 yards, and threw 22 TDs to his 12 INTs. The 22 TDs was very low for QB Stafford, and he should be expected to throw close to 30 in 2015.
RBs– The 3 running backs that saw significant action in 2014 were RBs Joique Bell, Theo Riddick and Reggie Bush. Joique bell was an undrafted free agent in 2010, and signed then with Buffalo. He has played for the Eagles, the Colts (under then IND HC Jim Caldwell) and the Saints. Bell has proven himself to be a strong, durable running back and on March 11, 2014, he signed a two-year, $7 million contract extension with $4.3 million in guaranteed money. Recently, Lions GM Martin Mayhew raved about RB Theo Riddick, who made the most of his limited playing time in 2014, turning 54 touches into 367 yards and four TDs. Reggie Bush in 2014, on the other hand, gave Detroit little or nothing to rave about. Throughout this past season, Bush would get in a full week of practice, only to stand in street clothes on the sidelines, during most of the games. The Lions would only create roughly $1.7M in cap room by cutting him, but saving money isn’t the only reason he should be cut. UPDATE: Lions release RB Bush. FB Jed Collins signs w/ Dallas. UPDATE: The Lions selected RB Ameer Abdullah with the #54 overall pick in Round Two. Abdullah was Utter-Fantasy’s #6 ranked RB in this year’s draft. Before the selection, Bell was the guaranteed starter and workhorse for Detroit, likely getting 15-23 carries a game in 2015. Expect a RBBC approach in 2015, hurting everyone’s fantasy stock.
WRs– You can’t think of the Detroit Lions without thinking of WR Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, who is perhaps the best wide receiver in the NFL. WR Johnson usually ranks in the top 5 of NFL wide receivers, but just like QB Matt Stafford did among QBs, Johnson dropped to #15 WR in 2014. Despite his drop, and despite playing at less than 100% for most of 2014, Johnson still piled up over a 1000 receiving yards and caught 8 TDs. Detroit had a golden opportunity to select one of the amazing young wide receivers that entered the 2014 NFL Draft, but true to their horrific draft history, used their 1st selection on TE Eric Ebron. Fortunately, former Seahawk WR Golden Tate has been everything Detroit has needed him to be, and ended the 2014 besting even WR Calvin Johnson as the #13 ranked WR in the NFL. Tate totaled 1331 yards receiving with 4 TDs. Detroit is notorious for getting the ball to only a few big play makers, so no other wide receiver in Detroit even broke into the top 100.
TEs– Detroit has used 2 first round NFL Draft selections on tight ends over the past 6 years, and for 6 years, has failed to make them a significant part of their offense. In 2009, the Lions used their 20th overall pick on TE Brandon Pettigrew. In 2014, the Lions used their 10th overall pick on TE Eric Ebron, who closed out the 2014 season with 248 yards and 1 TD. He ranked #45 among NFL TEs. If offensive NFL Draft failures cost GMs their jobs, then Detroit GM Martin Mayhew would have been unemployed a LONG TIME AGO!
K– Speaking of Detroit offensive draft busts, in 2014 the Lions used their 7th round pick to select rookie place kicker Nate Freeze out of Boston College. K Freese went 3 for 7 in field goal attempts before being released on Sept. 22nd. The Lions then grabbed free agent K Alex Henery who knocked in only 1 FG out of 5 in his short stay w/ Detroit, and was released after Week 5. Former Bronco Matt Prater was signed and finished the 2014 season 23 of 28 FGs. K Prater will likely be Detroit’s place kicker for at least the start of the 2015 season. UPDATE: K Prater re-signed.
DEF– Detroit’s defense has been evolving for a few years now, and is currently considered one the best in the NFL. The “defensive” draft selections have been the few bright spots for Detroit, but unfortunately, the Lions must now contend with many of their star defensive players being free agents. There is no way they will be able to sign all of them back and no way this doesn’t impact the strength on their defense in 2015. UPDATE: Lions lose Suh to Miami. Acquired DT Halota Ngata and a 2015 seventh-round pick from the Ravens in exchange for a 2015 fourth-round pick and 2015 fifth-round pick. Re-signed LB Josh Bynes to a two-year, $1.81 million contract. CB Josh Wilson signed to a 1 year deal.
2014 Detroit Fantasy Surprises– The Lions have brought in many wide receivers over the years, to play opposite Calvin Johnson, and all have disappointed…all except WR Golden Tate. If #2 DET WR history had dictated, WR Golden Tate would have ended the 2014 season with barely enough yards to rank in the NFL’s top 50 WR for the season, but WR Tate is a surprisingly special talent. At only 5’10″and 200 pounds, he plays a lot bigger than he is, with the fierce competitiveness of a Steve Smith. He wants the ball, he wants to win, and Detroit was lucky to get him.
2015 Free Agents that Detroit Needs to Address– (Most of Detroit’s important free agents are on the defensive side.) FB Jed Collins (signed w/ Dallas)- OT Garrett Reynolds (signed w/ St L)- G Rod Sims- DE Dominic Raiola- DE Darryl Tapp (re-signed)- DT Andre Fluellen- DT C J Mosley- DT Ndamukong Suh (signed w/ Miami)- DT Nick Fairley (signed w/ St L)- LB Ashlee Palmer- S Rashean Mathis (re-signed)- DE George Johnson (signed w/ TB)
2015 NFL Draft– The immediate needs of Detroit are defensive tackles, help on their O-line and depth at defensive end. With free agency looming, Detroit could loose 1 or 2 of their star defensive tackles….Suh and Fairley (DT), right tackle was a weakness on last year’s line (OL), and the Lions need a starter at left end (DE). A lot will depend on who all the Lions can re-sign. UPDATE: Detroit’s entire 2015 NFL Draft can be seen at this link- DETROIT’S DRAFT
Did You Know- The Lions were originally based in Portsmouth, Ohio and called the Portsmouth Spartans? The team joined the NFL on July 12, 1930. They financially could not survive in Portsmouth, then the NFL’s smallest city. The team was purchased and moved to Detroit for the 1934 season. The Lions last championship was in 1957, before championships were called “Super Bowls”, and currently they have the second-longest NFL championship drought behind the Arizona Cardinals.
All team reports can be seen at this link- TEAM REPORTS
Team home page: www.detroitlions.com