Fantasy Football Focus: Detroit Lions

Russell IvanacSenior Analyst IAugust 3, 2008

Mike Martz is gone and new offensive coordinator Jim Colletto has ensured anyone that will listen that Detroit's offense will have far more balanced play calling and they will actually run the ball this year. The change is for the best, but it will take some time for it to become effective.

Their defense looks like it may finally be getting better as well. Head Coach Rod Marinelli finally has the personnel to more effectively run his preferential scheme-The Tampa 2. Along with their off season additions, it should make for a better defense and a better overall team. Well that's the plan anyway. Let's see how it will affect their player's fantasy values.



Jon Kitna

The more balanced offensive attack means that Kitna won't be throwing the ball as much as a baseball pitcher anymore. Which means he won't throw for as many yards or touchdowns, effectively killing a good amount of his fantasy value.

On the other hand, the change should also mean less interceptions and less pressure. That should make him more efficient with his passes and save him from looking through his ear hole as much as he did last year.

If he struggles back-up Drew Stanton or Dan Orlovsky may take some snaps, but neither will earn enough snaps to be fantasy relevant unless Kitna gets seriously injured. Kitna looks to be a solid No.2 fantasy quarterback. By the way if you snag McNabb as your No.1, Kitna gets to go against the Texans secondary during the Eagles' bye week.



Kevin Smith/Tatum Bell

Detroit is switching to a zone blocking scheme this season and if the offensive line adjusts well, it could pay off big for their running backs. It also helps that both Smith and Bell are used to running with the zone-blocking scheme. Smith ran with it in college at UCF and Bell used it to put up solid stats in Denver (2005 and 2006).

The rookie Smith looks to be the feature back in this time share. He carried the ball a record setting 450 times in his junior year (also his final year) for 2,567 yards, second only to Barry Sanders' single season college record of 2,628 yards. There have been concerns about his over use, but splitting time with Bell should help that. He should be a solid No.3 fantasy running back and has a decent amount of upside.

Bell will likely not be used in the shorter yardage situation as he hasn't shown himself to be a very physical runner. That won't cut it on the goal line, which drops his fantasy value even more. However, he is the veteran in this Detroit duo and should get a fair amount carries as a result. Unless he can start to imitate his Denver days, he has very little fantasy value. I'd call him a No.4 fantasy at best.



Roy Williams/Calvin Johnson/Dan Campbell

Williams and Johnson should be considered one of the top five receiver tandems in the league. Both are great athletes and should take some pressure off of each other. The offensive game plan changes should also mean more two receiver sets and more of a focus on Williams and Johnson opposed to last year's philosophy of throwing pretty much equally to all of their receivers.

Williams is in a contract year and may be in his last year in Detroit. This could prompt him to treat this season as a try-out for other teams and a way to prove he is one of the league's elite receivers. He is coming off of a PCL injury that ended his season early last year. He is the more talented of the two and will get more looks as a result making him a No.2 fantasy receiver on just about any team.

Johnson is a freakish athlete. He has the size (6'4" 239 lbs) and speed (4.35 40 yard dash time) to be a dominant receiver. He is also a workout warrior and will only get better with time. His back injury last year will scare some owners off, but there is no indication that it should carry over into this season. He is a solid No.3 fantasy receiver and has even more value in a keeper league as he may be the No.1 guy in Detroit as early as next year.

Campbell will be splitting playing time with newcomer Michael Gaines because of Gaines value as a blocker. Campbell also has a surgically repaired elbow containing a tendon from a cadaver. It could be a concern, and will be something to watch for in camp. Even if he is completely healthy there is the question of there being enough passes for him to be a viable fantasy option. The answer? He won't be.



Jason Hanson

Hanson has been with the Lions for a long time now and is finally starting to see a decline in his abilities. He has missed 15 field goals over the past three years and is 33 of 67 from beyond 50 yards in his career. Coupled with the fact that the offense should be slower paced this year, he is little more than a bye week option.



This will be the first year in Detroit that Marinelli will have the right type of players on defense to effectively run the Tampa-2. The addition of players like DT Chuck Darby, CB Brian Kelly, and SS Dwight Smith has made sure of that.

Their defensive line won't be intimidating anyone, but Darby and rookie DT Andre Fluellen will be looking to improve the interior after Shaun Roger's departure. Their defensive ends are nothing special either, and won't do much to change their below average run defense.

Their linebackers have the ability to help shut down runs to the outside, but can't do too much against the power running game up the middle. Ernie Sims and rookie Jordon Dizon are both fast linbackers who love to fly around making plays, but can only do so much by themselves. Outside of Smis and Dizon, the Lions have little depth at linebacker.

The defensive backfield was the weak point of the defense last year, but with the arrival of cornerbacks Leigh Bodden and Kelly along with the safeties Smith, Kalvin Pearson should do a lot to change that. All of them except for Bodden played with Marinelli in Tampa Bay where they became very familiar with the Tampa-2 system.

Pearson may never get the chance to make an impact however because of his recent conviction of a violent crime, which could cause the Lions to remove him from their plans.

The Lion's return men are nothing special, but they get the job done. Wide receivers Mike Furrey and rookie Kenneth Moore are looking to take the punt returns and leave the kickoffs to running back Aveion Cason. They won't affect the unit's fantasy value, but they won't hurt it either. They could develop into a solid No.2 defensive unit worthy of starting on your team a few times a year.


Top Five Detroit Lions Fantasy Players

1. Roy Williams

2. Calvin Johnson

3. Kevin Smith

4. Jon Kitna

5. Tatum Bell

Bye Week: 4


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