Few teams had a more productive off-season than the Detroit Lions. They filled every visible need with savvy free agent and NFL draft moves. It doesn’t guarantee a complete turnaround from their 4-12 disaster last year but it does give the solid core they have in place a chance to function a lot better. Which names will stand out in fantasy leagues?
Offense – Matthew Stafford
The quarterback usually gets the attention when it comes to starting a fantasy offense and there is no question Matthew Stafford takes precedence for the Detroit Lions. He ranked 11th overall last season with 263 fantasy points while throwing for 4,967 yards. Those numbers could see a slight dip because of a renewed commitment to Reggie Bush and the running game but it won’t change the bread and butter of the offense. Everything runs through Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson. Their success drives the team. As long as both stay healthy in 2013 the fantasy points should flow with the regularity of the Mississippi River.
Defense – Nick Fairley
Most fantasy leagues prefer using entire defensive units instead of individual players but singling out certain names still helps people understand why that defense deserves some attention. For the Lions it all starts up front. Their philosophy is built around the defensive line and whether it can put pressure on the quarterback regularly. While Ndamukong Suh still draws most of the headlines, his fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley seems to have the bigger upswing. After a forgettable rookie season, he sent signs of his improvement with 5.5 sacks in 2012. Word out of camp is he’s shed weight and is stronger. With Suh next to him and first round pick Ezekiel Ansah joining them at defensive end, Fairley has an excellent chance for a breakout year in 2013.
Rookie – Theo Riddick
Detroit largely stayed focused on the defense and the offensive line through the early rounds of the draft. They did eventually go after some extra weapons in the sixth round. The most intriguing is Theo Riddick out of Notre Dame. He isn’t the star type of player, but he brings certain qualities that is a perfect fit for the Lions offense. With the Irish he spent time at running back and slot receiver. This proves he can become an excellent compliment to Bush as a receiver out of the backfield who can create big plays once past the line of scrimmage. His added benefits in the return game, provided he gets an opportunity, should also add to his worth.
Sleeper – Mike Thomas
The Detroit Lions have frantically searched for help at wide receiver to take pressure off of Calvin Johnson. Their efforts took them through the Titus Young experience and a period of injury woes with Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles. Hopes are high one of them can return healthy and step up, but one must not forget the team also added veteran Mike Thomas from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Not too long ago he was a reliable receiver who was good for at least 40 catches and 400 yards but also showed signs of big play potential. In 2010 when the Jaguars quarterback issues wasn’t such a problem he broke out for 820 yard and four touchdowns. With Stafford under center and the receiver depth chart wide open, Thomas could become one of the surprises of the 2013 NFL season.