If you ask me, the importance of coaching changes is one of the most overlooked aspects of fantasy football. It’s not that we’re ignorant of coaches and what effect they can have, but rather that we tend to paint with very broad strokes and work in generalities. We operate on assumptions like “the New Orleans Saints have a good passing offense, I want a piece of that” or “I want any player Aaron Rodgers is targeting.”
While these things may be true, all too often they are retrospective analysis – we find out too late that the Los Angeles Rams, for instance, are now a really good offensive team.
In this series, I’ll take a close look at the major coaching changes throughout the league. My goal is to provide a little more context of what to expect out of the new regimes and hopefully help you find some angles to attack in your leagues this off-season.
The Lions are in a different place than some of the teams that turned over head coaches this year. They didn’t have a disaster of a season, or multiple disastrous seasons (though apparently, you can avoid losing your job even for those in some towns, cough (Cleveland), cough). During Jim Caldwell’s four years in the Motor City, they had a winning record at 36-28. The problem is that winning record didn’t culminate in any division titles or a single playoff game, so the axe did fall on nice guy Jim Caldwell.
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Both Patriots assistants were long rumored for head coaching jobs, and in the case of the Lions, Matt Patricia actually signed his contract. Patricia has been a coach in New England for 14 years. He actually spent his first two years on the offensive side of the ball, as an ‘assistant’ and then an assistant O-line coach, but he’s been on the defensive side in some capacity ever since. For the past six seasons, he’s been the defensive coordinator.
It makes a lot of sense that the Lions brought in a defensive minded coach. The Lions defense ranked 27th in the league last season, while the Patriots were a top ten defense again (even though they didn’t look the part early). The Lions defense has been falling ever since they lost Ndamukong Suh to free agency a few years back. Patricia’s first priority, then, is to fix that defense.
So what about the offensive side? Well, they didn’t change much at the top. Jim Bob Cooter is staying in town as the offensive coordinator, but Matthew Stafford and company have done very well under Cooter, from a passing standpoint anyhow. The running game has been poor, and that might be me being nice. They ranked 31st in rush yards per game last season. That’s a big reason they also said goodbye to offensive line coach Ron Prince.
Prince was replaced by a veteran offensive line coach with a lot of experience in Jeff Davidson. Davidson has spent time coaching or helping coach some very successful units, including the Patriots of the early aughts and the Vikings from 2011-2015. He also acted as the offensive coordinator in Carolina from 2007-2010 which featured some very successful rushing attacks.
As I mentioned earlier, Matthew Stafford has done very well under Jim Bob Cooter, and I’d expect that to continue in 2018. He’s a very solid quarterback who I feel you can get without breaking the bank in many cases. I would feel good about relying on Stafford as a starter on my fantasy teams. Hopefully, an improved rushing attack can help open things up for the passing game. Also, the line gave up 47 sacks last year, and an improvement there would help Stafford.
I was a believer in Ameer Abdullah. I liked him coming out of the draft, and I thought he had a real opportunity in Detroit. The fact is that he hasn’t taken advantage of the touches in the Detroit offense. Some of that can certainly be blamed on the offensive line play, but some of that fault has to rest with Abdullah as well. I think there’s a good chance that Detroit drafts a running back relatively early this year. Theo Riddick is still around and has been a good spot starter in fantasy lineups, and I could see him handling the addition of a new starter better than Abdullah. Still, I’m not excited about any of the running backs currently on the roster, unless you get them very cheap.
The changes in the Lions coaching staff won’t change my thinking much on the wide receiver corps. With Cooter still running the show, I’d expect about the same performance from Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. Of course, young Kenny Golladay is another one of those dynasty community darlings, and many expect a jump out of him in his second year. But he won’t be an easy player to pry away from anyone, either.
It’s a similar story at tight end as well, where it appears the Lions will hold onto Eric Ebron. Some thought he could be a cap casualty this season, but he is still currently on the team. Some people like Ebron, some don’t. I’m in the latter camp – he just doesn’t have the hands I like to see at the position. Sometimes I wonder if he has hands at all.
The Bottom Line
I think we should expect a lot of the same out of the Lions’ offense in 2018. They didn’t make any moves at OC, and they will also bring back almost all the same weapons. The only question is about the running game. Who will be the lead back? Is he on the roster already? Can new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson turn that line into a run blocking machine? It’s hard to say. I’d be open to buying their weapons in the passing game, but I think I’d avoid that backfield for now.
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