Sunday, July 26, 2015, 11:13am
The Lions return all five of their receivers from the end of last season — Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Jeremy Ross, Corey Fuller and Ryan Broyles — plus add TJ Jones (back from IR) and Lance Moore (free agent) to the mix. This competition will be fierce, and someone notable is guaranteed not to have a job at the end of camp.
The numbers are there, and so is the production from the two-headed monster of Johnson and Tate. But Detroit got little out of its third receivers last season (primarily Ross) and is looking for someone to step up as a complement this season.
Moore would seem to be the favorite, as the most experienced of all the candidates for the job, both in years in the league and years in this offense. He grabbed 346 passes for 4,281 yards in eights seasons with the Saints, seven of which occurred with current Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi on staff.
The Lions third WR could have some fantasy value in their passing offense. Detroit touted that experience when signing Moore, and quarterback Matthew Stafford has gone on and on about how Moore sees things in this offense that other receivers don't. Competency in the offense, and reliable route-running, were issues last year, the story said. The piece also added the staff still likes Fuller a lot, because his size and top-end speed allow him to stretch a defense the way Detroit's other No. 3 possibilities cannot. Broyles and Jones are both smaller receivers who do their best work underneath, and it's hard to see a situation where both make the team.
Detroit has thrown the ball more than it has rushed it every season since 2001 according to ESPN Stats & Information. The closest the Detroit Lions have come to "balance" was in 2004, when Detroit ran the ball 407 times and attempted 505 passes.
In Detroit's more successful seasons, the Lions have trended much heavier toward the pass. In 2011, one of the two seasons Detroit made the playoffs this century, the Lions rushed the ball 356 times and had 666 passing attempts, completing 423 of them.
Last season, Detroit ran the ball 396 times and threw it 604 times, completing 365 passes. So while the Lions appeared to focus their draft on improving a run game that had its worst yards per carry since 2003, don't expect to see a massive play-call shift.
"It's all quarterbacking," former NFL QB Elvis Grbac said. "I got in a league where Drew Bledsoe was starting to come in and just in the last 10 years, retired since 2001, so it's been some time. But just the league in general, it's quarterback-driven. If you don't have a quarterback, you're screwed."
The story went on to say: A 50-50 split hasn't been typical for Jim Caldwell historically. In his three seasons as head coach in Indianapolis, the Colts never rushed more than 393 times in a season. They never threw less than 534 times in a year, and that was in 2011 when Peyton Manning was injured. The only sample size in which a team coordinated or led by Caldwell has had more runs than passes came during the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl run in 2012, when Caldwell took over leading into Week 15. Through the final three weeks of the regular season and the playoffs, the Ravens ran the ball 249 times and passed it 235 times. The following season was more in line with what happened in Indianapolis, where Baltimore had 423 rushes to 619 passes.
Much of the same is expected this year, and the story mentioned how Grbac thinks QB Matthew Stafford has progressed nicely in the offense. The team lost pass-catching RB Reggie Bush, but seems to have a more than capable replacement in Ameer Abdullah, who looks like he's going to hurt the value of Theo Riddick. Both Joique Bell and Abdullah crack our top-31 backs, with Abdullah having top-25 potential in PPR leagues. Stafford is just 13th on our QB list, but if WR Calvin Johnson can stay healthy Stafford could crack the top-10 and be a nice value at QB with an ADP of the ninth round.
Saturday, July 4, 2015, 10:20am
Second-year tight end Eric Ebron has expressed interest in joining QB Matthew Stafford in Atlanta at some point over the next month, and it wouldn’t be surprising if other guys find their way down there too.
"This team is a hard-working team and when we go away, we come back in great shape," Stafford said. "But there's no substitute for running routes for a receiver and catching the ball from the guy you're going to be catching the ball from during the season."
Stafford will hook up with WR Calvin Johnson but hopes others, like Ebron, make it a point to be there, too. The offense is expected to run much smoother in year two of Joe Lombardi’s system. Stafford has already talked about being much more comfortable with it. The story went on to say Ebron is expected to play a big role this season, and continuing to work with some of the other guys – like a Jeremy Ross or veteran Lance Moore – over the next month will only help Stafford and this offense be able to hit the ground running for the start of training camp.
Monday, June 29, 2015, 8:25am
While league rules have carved into the amount of offseason practice time — which some have called unnecessary — others are looking for more.
According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wants to bring receiver Calvin Johnson and the rest of his targets together for some pre-camp work of their own.
Such camps aren’t new, as Peyton Manning has been taking his receivers to Duke every spring, and others do the same. But Stafford said he thought it would help.
“I think it’s big,” Stafford said. “I’m obviously in Atlanta quite a bit, so Calvin’s right there, throw with him some. But try to find a way to get together with some of the other guys as well. . . ."
Stafford went on to say there's no substitute for running routes for a receiver and catching the ball from the guy you’re going to be catching the ball from during the season. The Lions got good numbers out of Johnson and Golden Tate last year, but the rest of the offense struggled at times. They were 22nd in the league in scoring offense, and no other non-Johnson or Tate receiver had more than 322 receiving yards, the story said.
Sunday, June 28, 2015, 4:39pm
Giants QB Eli Manning, 34, signed a six-year, $97 million deal with the Giants in 2009. It's been re-worked frequently to create salary-cap room but Manning's still on the same deal. It expires after the 2015 season.
Despite his age and despite his propensity for throwing picks (he's led the league three times, including 2013), Manning has two Super Bowl MVP awards and certainly qualifies as a top-end quarterback.
From a fantasy perspective, Manning had one of the best statistical seasons of his career in 2014, throwing for 4,410 yards with 30 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. That he did it in a new offensive scheme is only more impressive. It was a rough start for the Giants but the emergence of Odell Beckham Jr at WR certainly helped turn around the offense. WR Victor Cruz should be back healthy and the team signed Shane Vereen as a pass-catching running back. The point of the story is more times than not, QBs tend to get deals done with their current team, so there's a good chance Manning stays in New York - and he has the potential for a nice 2015. He's ranked ninth on our QB list heading into camps. With an ADP of the 12th round, he's a potential sneaky pick because guys behind him in our rankings - Tony Romo, Ryan Tannehill, Philip Rivers and Matthew Stafford - all project to come off the board before Manning.
Inaccuracy has been Matthew Stafford's calling card his whole career, completing under 60 percent of his passes in four of his six seasons. Of the top 10 passing quarterbacks in 2014, Stafford had the lowest completion percentage (60.3) while attempting the fifth-most passes in the league (602).
However, news out of Lions minicamp is that Stafford has turned things around and is impressing coach Jim Caldwell. "He's improved," Caldwell told MLive.com on Tuesday. "He has a better feel for the system. You can see our timing's better, receivers have a better sense of the routes that they're running. All around I think we've made some improvement."
"I mean, it's obviously always a work in progress," Stafford offered. "But there's no question we've taken strides forward this spring." Caldwell went on to say that, concerning Stafford's completion percentage, he expects "an improvement from where he was last year."
Stafford finished as the #17 QB last season, but in the three previous seasons, he didn’t finish outside the top 10. Stafford tends to struggle when Calvin Johnson isn’t fully healthy, as was the case last year. He should improve his numbers in his second season in Joe Lombardi's offense, especially with a healthy Johnson back in the fold.
One area Lions QB Matthew Stafford significantly altered was his willingness to attack opposing defenses downfield. In 2014, he attempted just 63 passes that traveled 20 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage. At just 10.5 percent of his total pass attempts, it was the lowest rate of deep shots in his six-year career.
A number of factors contributed to Stafford holstering his cannon more often than not last season. It starts with the conscientious effort to reduce turnovers. Then there was the decreased time in the pocket due to inferior pass protection. And you can't discount the injury issues which hampered top downfield weapon Calvin Johnson much of the season.
The Lions made a serious effort to improve the blocking up front this offseason, using the team's first-round draft pick on guard Laken Tomlinson. Detroit also parted ways with long-time center Dominic Raiola -- an average pass-blocker last season -- making way for last year's third-round pick, Travis Swanson, to take over at that spot.
In addition to the investment in the offensive line, Johnson should be back at 100 percent to start the season. In the first three games last year, before the star receiver first injured his ankle, Stafford attempted five deep passes per game. That dropped to 3.6 attempts the final 13 weeks.
Stafford finished as the #17 QB last season, but in the three previous seasons he didn’t finish outside the top 10. Stafford tends to struggle when Calvin Johnson isn’t fully healthy, as was the case last year. Stafford is a serious threat to finish with QB1 numbers, though we have more confidence in the passers ranked ahead of him.
“I think as a runner he has great balance,” Lions QB Matthew Stafford said of RB Ameer Abdullah after a recent OTA practice. “He’s obviously a low-to-the-ground guy. He seems to hide pretty well behind there and he’s got good vision.
“Out of the backfield, catching the ball, he’s great. He’s got great hands. He has a good feel for route running."
Most scouts seem to agree that Abdullah doesn’t project to be an every-down back, so most of Joique Bell’s between-the-tackles role should be safe, at least for this season. On the other hand, Theo Riddick’s role as the Lions’ third-down back is in serious jeopardy. If things break his way and he sees significant time on passing downs, Abdullah could ultimately post top 25 numbers in PPR formats.
In 2015, the Lions hope a veteran like Moore can help Stafford feast on opposing defenses as he brings plenty of familiarity with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's scheme.
"He seems like a great guy," Stafford said last week at Taste of the Lions. "He obviously has knowledge of the system. It's changed a little bit. We talked about that, but not too much to where it's going to be tough for him to learn it."
Moore is turning 32 this summer and it's not clear how much he has left in the tank. He was only targeted 26 times last season as the Steelers' WR4, but he does seemed to be a handpicked choice for Lombardi's offense. He could serve as the team's WR3 if he has a good summer.
"I think that's going to be a big key to our growth is to get more production from Eric, and I think he's ready to do that," Lombardi said Tuesday, per the Detroit Free Press. "I know he's been making some trips to Atlanta to work with Matt already this offseason, so he's -- the thing you like about Eric is he's a bright kid and he works hard and he wants to be good. So we expect very big things from him moving forward."
"There's a big learning curve, obviously, for any rookie, and the tight end position is one that requires a lot," Lombardi said. "As you look back, if you're self-critical, you might say maybe we asked a little bit too much of him, from that perspective. So I think there's just a volume that he struggled with early, but he was productive and, again, for anybody, the second year's always where you see the biggest jump."
Ebron turned 3.8 targets into 1.9 catches for 19 yards and 0.08 TD as a rookie. He played half the snaps, so his lack of production is somewhat alarming. Tight end is a tough position to learn as a rookie, so there is some reason for optimism given Ebron's skill set.
"Our biggest thing is, in order to win football games, you've got to first not lose them, and I thought that he played smart football, and sometimes to a fault," Lombardi said Tuesday, per Ashley Dunkak of CBS Detroit. "We'll look for him to maybe take a few more chances this year with the football. He's got the arm to do it. He's got the receivers to throw it to."
After three straight top 10 finishes, Stafford was the #17 QB in 2014, though he was only a couple of touchdowns out of the #13 spot. As the 10th QB off the board in early drafts, it's possible that Stafford is being overdrafted, though if he's being encouraged to take more chances, it could boost his fantasy numbers.
Friday, December 19, 2014, 6:02pm
Broncos QB Peyton Manning (thigh) took limited practice reps again Friday. Manning will face Cincinnati, but he hasn’t played well (fantasy-wise) in recent weeks. He’s still pretty much a must-start, but it’s conceivable that an owner would bench him for Matthew Stafford or Matt Ryan, given the matchups.
Thursday, December 18, 2014, 6:14pm
Broncos QB Peyton Manning (thigh) took limited practice reps Thursday. Manning will face Cincinnati, but he hasn’t played well (fantasy-wise) in recent weeks. He’s still pretty much a must-start, but it’s conceivable that an owner would bench him for Matthew Stafford or Matt Ryan, given the matchups.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014, 10:04am
When Calvin Johnson missed three games earlier this season, it gave Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford a chance to get comfortable with and accustomed to all of the other targets on the team's roster.
Golden Tate thrived and is already over 1,000 yards this season.
But since Johnson returned against Miami in Week 10, the all-too-familiar Stafford-to-Johnson combination has not been as effective as normal. Stafford has only completed 43 percent of his targets to Johnson over the past three weeks and it is the first time since Johnson's rookie season in 2007 that he has gone three straight weeks catching less than 50 percent of his targets.
The story goes on to say that over the past three weeks, Johnson has been targeted 37 times, caught 16 passes for 230 yards with two drops. In comparison, Tate has been targeted 24 times and caught 17 passes for 247 yards and no drops. Caldwell believes Johnson is still moving at the same speed as he did at the beginning of the season, despite an ankle injury that limited him in two games and kept him out of three others.
Tate did much of his damage when Johnson was sidelined three weeks with a high ankle sprain, posting the two highest receiving totals of his career against the New Orleans Saints (154 yards) and Atlanta Falcons (151 yards).
During that time he was able to rapidly develop chemistry with quarterback Matthew Stafford.
"Having Calvin back certainly changed the dynamics a little bit, but you still see the little guy comes up big and played extremely well," HC Jim Caldwell said. "And I think with Calvin just being absent those few weeks, the rapport that was developed between Golden and Matthew is something that is certainly going to help us down the stretch."
Tate's recent stretch has been so impressive, he surpassed one of Johnson's many team records in the victory. The 11-catch performance is Tate's sixth consecutive game with seven or more receptions, besting a mark he came into the day sharing with Johnson and Brett Perriman.
This is great news for Tate owners. It was natural to expect a bit of a drop in Tate's numbers with the return of Johnson this week. But Tate had another big day and it looks like the time he had to develop with Stafford will pay off down the stretch. He should remain on the WR2 fantasy radar.
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