Every year we give our premium content members a team-by-team, player-by-player look at the NFL season that was. The coverage will be in-depth, but because the Dynasty Capsule series begins immediately after the regular season, we won’t use it to discuss free agency or the draft. Come see us in early May once Mr. Irrelevant is off the board for another 32-article series giving you the same detailed discussion you’ll see below.
Buckle up dynasty fans, because you’re about to be reminded why our motto is, “There is no off-season.”
Last year, I opened this piece by saying that the Detroit Lions had been making the possible look impossible since 1957 and, following a wildcard round exit from this year’s playoffs, there’s little reason for me to change my tone. Truthfully, they had no business making it to the post-season, and I think their good fortune will serve some long-term detriment. First problem: Jim Caldwell would have surely been let go had the Lions suffered another losing season. However, he will be returning now after somehow squeezing into the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Second problem: they scored the 21st overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, when they really could have used a much earlier selection. Now, I’m no Bill Simmons when it comes to tanking, and I realize the NFL is much different than the NBA, but if ever there was a team that would have been better off with an earlier draft pick than in the bottom end of the playoffs, it was the 2016 Detroit Lions. However, as with the end of every NFL season, there’s only one thing we can do—look forward, so without further ado, here’s how things are shaping up as Detroit heads into the off-season.
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Last year, I went into great detail in my coverage of Matthew Stafford and compared him to Philip Rivers (fantasy-wise). But I think it’s worth updating the chart from last year to help further that argument:
Stafford notched more than ten fantasy points in all but one game this past season, and while he didn’t stud out, he was a reliable, consistent option throughout the year, finishing among the top ten fantasy quarterbacks. He finished the season with 4,327 passing yards, and 24 passing TDs to ten interceptions, while boasting a 65.3% completion percentage. All this coming off the heels of an off-season that included the departure of future Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Though Marvin Jones did join the team’s receiving corps, Stafford’s options were in the bottom half of the league. He did a great job spreading the rock around, and though there was some drop off from 2015, it wasn’t as drastic as many expected—even after losing lead back Ameer Abdullah for the season in only the second game of the year.
Dynasty Analysis: Last year I was concerned about Stafford’s pocket protection (or lack thereof). Well, things didn’t improve much this year as only five quarterbacks were sacked more times than he was. The Lions need to go out and get a top-end pass-blocking offensive lineman on the open market or through the 2017 NFL Draft—arguably via both means. I could not tell you the last time Detroit had a top-ranking offensive line, and it’s time that changed in the D.
No disrespect to Rivers, but Stafford’s career trajectory will likely be the better of the two, yet due to some of his inept performances when it matters most Stafford never seems to get the respect he deserves. And, that trickles down to the fantasy world, too. So, what does that mean? It means you can get Stafford at a discount—something I’ve found to be true for the past few seasons. From 2011-2013, he was considered a top option and would have cost you a pretty penny. I’d say last off-season and this off-season will be his low water mark with respect to dynasty value. After the Lions improve their protection up front, and add another offensive weapon, you should see Stafford’s fantasy value rise, so now is a good time to buy.
What might have been… After taking 12 carries for 63 yards (5.3 YPC) and catching five passes for 57 yards and a score in the Lions’ week one 39-35 victory on the road against the Colts, Abdullah started hot against the Titans, carrying the ball six times for 38 yards (6.3 YPC). On what turned out to be Abdullah’s final carry of the 2016 season, he showed his electric agility on his way to a 24-yard gainer. I was there at Ford Field for the Lions’ week two bout with the Titans, and it was obvious Abdullah had the makings of a top-flight back every time he touched the ball. Unfortunately, he hobbled off the field with what appeared to be your garden variety sprained ankle. It turned out he tore a ligament in his foot, and we never saw him again. The good news is that Abdullah should be ready for the start of the 2017 NFL season, and he’ll still be just 24 years old. In other words, the sun has not set on Abdullah’s NFL career. He has elite play-making ability, which he’s been able to show in spite of playing for Jim Caldwell.
Dynasty Analysis: Sadly, I won’t be getting my wish for a new head coach for the Lions in 2017. Caldwell has underused Abdullah since he entered the league, so his return is arguably my biggest concern for Abdullah. That, and of course now you have to wonder if there are legitimate durability concerns. I’m not worried that Abdullah is injury prone or anything, but entering his third season in the NFL, given the volatility of the running back position, it will be now or never.
Like Stafford, Abdullah would benefit greatly from an improved offensive line and another offensive weapon. However, I’m a little concerned Detroit stupidly goes running back early in the 2017 NFL Draft. So long as they do not, and instead bolster their O-line, I think Abdullah is a remarkably good buy-low option. You should be able to get him for an incredible discount after owners endured a disappointing 2015 season (because of Caldwell), and then lost him almost immediately in 2016. I’d imagine you could score Abdullah for a mid-to-late-second round 2017 rookie pick from many owners (possibly even later from the uninformed), and I think it’s worth the gamble.
If you think Theo Riddick is going to be a pillar of your future dynasty success, get a life. I went into great detail on my thoughts about Riddick last year, and nothing against the guy, but he’s just not a top-end running back. I believe his high-water mark was 2015, and I do not think you’re going to see him repeat those numbers. He is a poor man’s Tyreek Hill. Sure, the “new wave” thinking is that these quasi-receiver backs are where fantasy success lies. I’m not not buying in, but I’m glad I stayed away when everyone was falling all over themselves for C.J. Prosise. They’re slot receivers, and it seems like they just don’t hold up as running backs (See Danny Woodhead, Dion Lewis, Shane Vereen, Reggie Bush, and on and on and on). After catching 80 passes on 99 targets last season, he failed to survive an increased workload in 2016, missing six games due to injury. He did manage to catch 53 balls on 67 targets, along with five receiving touchdowns, and averaged 3.9 YPC as a runner, but he’s just not built for the long haul. He’s played a full season just once in four years, and he’s never had more than 100 carries.
Dynasty Analysis: Last year I told you to sell high on Riddick. Hope you did. He’ll be 26 in May, and I’m all out on Riddick.
Zenner saw moderate usage this season with injuries to Abdullah and Riddick, and fared decently well in limited time. He toted the rock 88 times for 334 yards (3.8 YPC) and four scores. Last year’s preseason dynasty darling is something of a cult hero—especially here in Detroit—but I just don’t see the good getting better for Zenner.
Dynasty Analysis: He’s a very capable runner, but he’ll be 26 years old in September, and I don’t think he’s ever going to turn into any sort of dynasty asset. In many leagues, he’s probably among the tumble weed on the waiver wire, and I think Zenner’s value is equal to a late fourth round rookie pick (4.10-4.12). Look elsewhere for your fliers.
We wanted it to happen, but on 90 carries, he managed just 265 yards and one touchdown (2.9 YPC).
Dynasty Analysis: Move on.
Through the first five weeks of the 2016 NFL season, it looked like Golden Tate was Golden Done. Then came week six where he saw ten targets for eight receptions, 165 yards, and a score. While that was surely the best game of his season, he turned things around the rest of the way making big play after big play for the Lions, often when they needed him most. He was the receiver Stafford looked to in crunch time, and wound up tallying 91 catches on 135 targets for 1,077 yards and four TDs. Those numbers aren’t terrible, but I got this one wrong. To be fair, I made my Tate predictions before the Lions went out and got the overrated Marvin Jones to “replace’ Megatron.
Last year, my research told me that, in games Calvin Johnson was either out or targeted less than five times (relegated to “decoy” duty due to injury management), Tate averaged 7.4 catches, 9.3 targets, 96.06 yards, and .83 TDs per game. I extrapolated that out over a 16-game NFL season, and the data showed that if Tate performed that way for an entire season, he’d accumulate somewhere around 118 receptions on 148 targets for over 1,530 yards and 13 TDs. Well, I like to think I’m not a fool, so I never expected that type of statistical season from Tate. However, I would have predicted that Tate would have had somewhere around 100 catches for 1,200-1,300 yards and six-eight TDs. I suppose his five-week slump to start the year is partly to blame, but it’s tough to gauge just where Tate goes from here.
Dynasty Analysis: He’s still an excellent possession receiver, and has a lot of Steve Smith, Sr. type toughness to his game. Though he’ll be 29 in August, I still like Tate moving forward, and believe he rebounds statistically in 2017. Since missing five games his rookie year, he’s missed just one game over the past six seasons, and you have to love that. I don’t own Tate anywhere across my leagues, but I’d have to imagine owners are likely disappointed with him after having lofty expectations deflated two seasons in a row following his big 2014 campaign. Rather than tell you where I value Tate in relation to rookie picks/players, let’s see what the DLF faithful think. Post a comment on what you’d pay or sell Tate for below this article, and I’ll hit you back with a comment providing my take on your valuation.
Yuck. I was never a Marvin Jones, Jr. guy, and I remain that way. He’s never caught more than 65 passes, and he’s never gone for more than 930 yards. The pickings were slim last off-season as far as free agent wide receivers went, and the Lions should have stayed away. Instead, they signed him to a five-year, $40 million contract with $20 million guaranteed (through 2020). Just yuck. He started the year hot in 2016, and went absolutely bonkers in week three against Green Bay (six catches for 205 yards and two scores), but failed to top 100 yards throughout the final 14 games of the season (including playoffs). He’s just not #1 WR material, and the Lions are kidding themselves if they think otherwise.
I remember listening to Matthew Berry’s Fantasy Focus podcast during the 2013 NFL season on which Giovani Bernard was a guest. Berry asked Bernard who he thought the most explosive receiver outside of A.J. Green was, and Bernard didn’t hesitate when he said that player was Mohamed Sanu. Though Jones went on to catch ten TD passes that season, I didn’t disagree with Bernard at the time. Now, Jones appears to be a cut above Sanu, but not a big cut… In 2016, Jones had 55 catches on 103 targets, going for 930 yards and four scores. Meh.
Dynasty Analysis: I expect a slight uptick in catches next season after an abysmal catch ratio in 2016. However, I don’t expect much more from him as far as yards/touchdowns go. My prediction for the 2017 season is that—if healthy—Jones goes for 72 catches, 980 yards, and six TDs. I suppose that puts him in WR3/Flex territory, but he’s not a guy I’m eyeing. You’ll never know when you’re going to get the good Marvin Jones or when you’re going to get the torpedo-your-weekend Marvin Jones. And, for that reason, I’m not looking to own him in dynasty.
Boldin just wants to play, and in Detroit this season he played, and played pretty well. At the ripe young age of 36, Boldin caught 67 passes on 95 targets for 584 yards and eight TDs. He was a chain-mover, and the physical veteran did work in the red zone when called upon. I’d love to see the Lions bring him back, but he’s an unrestricted free agent and, about to be 37 years old in October, he may wish to instead seek out a team with a better shot at the Lombardi trophy. The Lions would have really benefitted from not signing Jones, and instead addressing needs elsewhere, making do with Tate and Boldin, then drafting a young talented receiver this year. Oh well.
Dynasty Analysis: I think Boldin still has something to offer with his route running, physicality, and reliable hands, but as far as fantasy/dynasty purposes go, it’s just not there anymore.
T.J. Jones caught five passes on 14 targets for 93 yards in 2016. If you’re reading this piece for a hard-hitting T.J. Jones analysis, you’ve come to the wrong place. There’s really no reason for him to be on any of your rosters.
Roberts caught 14 passes on 25 targets for 188 yards and a score in 2016. I like Andre Roberts, I do, but again the only reason he’s included here is for the sake of completeness. I’d go as far as to say that I wouldn’t even recommend your using Roberts in a daily fantasy format at any point next season. He’s just not fantasy relevant.
After disappointing Lions fans over the first few years of his career, he tallied 61 catches on 86 targets for 711 yards and a score. While those numbers leave more to be desired, he was much more reliable this season. We saw far fewer concentration drops, and he seemed to turn the corner like we’ve been waiting and waiting for him to do. Ebron will still be just 24 years old in April, and I’m very excited about his outlook moving forward.
Dynasty Analysis: Ebron is a buy right now, and should continue to see improvements as he enters his fourth season in the league. My expectation is that he takes another step forward next year, and puts up somewhere around 65 catches for 850 yards and five TDs.
2017 Draft/Team Outlook
I’ve already alluded to what I believe the Lions should do in the upcoming NFL Draft, but I’ll quickly touch on it here. The Lions need to do something about their offensive line this off-season. They would also benefit from adding to the second level of their defense with oft-injured DeAndre Levy turning 30 in March. The Lions appear to believe Levy will still be a staple of their defense, and I hope that’s true, but an edge rushing outside linebacker would really help the defense out.
I’m sure most of you would prefer to hear me discuss my thoughts on what the Lions should do offensively, though, so on to that. The Lions would benefit greatly from another premier playmaker on the outside, but I just don’t know if they’ll make that kind of move in the draft. Corey Davis, who played his college ball at Western Michigan, would fit the Lions perfectly, but he may not even make it to the Lions first selection at 21. There are other talented playmakers in the draft class as you all well know, and more are surely to emerge in the NFL Combine. The Lions would benefit from adding one of them, but that should be secondary.
Bolstering the offensive line will do wonders for the playmakers currently already on their roster, so that’s got to be their primary focus. The biggest story of 2017 will hopefully be the emergence of Abdullah as a bell cow back. If healthy, and used properly, he should easily top 1,000 rushing yards with 1,250+ yard potential. Tate should rebound, Ebron should take a step forward, and Jones should be Jones. The Lions will likely be around the middle of the league record-wise, but should be building toward something in 2018—smack dab in the middle of Stafford’s prime.
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