The Lions struggled in 2019 on their way to a 3-12-1 record in Matt Patricia’s second year as head coach, noticeably worse than his 6-10 rookie year. Of course, injuries had a considerable amount to do with this, most notably Matthew Stafford’s eight missed games. Detroit was 3-4-1 in the games he played and would have been on pace to finish with 6 or 7 wins had he played all year. With an offseason of significant acquisitions, the Lions will be looking to make their first playoff trip since 2016. Can Stafford improve his play and help his fantasy owners make the playoffs this year?
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Stafford was putting together an excellent fantasy season under first-year offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in the eight games he played in before fracturing his back in November. His 16-game pace was just under 5,000 yards for 38 touchdowns and ten interceptions. He was putting up the 4th-most fantasy points per game among all quarterbacks over the first half of the season. The Lions got worse offensively after Stafford went out – they averaged 25.5 points per game over the first half of the season (would have been 8th) and ended the year at 21.3 (18th).
QBs that averaged more fantasy points per game than Matthew Stafford in 2019:
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 22, 2020
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I have Stafford picking up right where he left off last season as he’s the QB11 in my season-long projections. The defense should be much-improved after their offseason additions, but the Lions haven’t ranked higher than league-average in rush attempts since Stafford was drafted. It’s hard to imagine that they won’t be a pass-heavy team yet again, and Stafford has remarkable potential given the weapons around him.
ADP: 130.7, QB18
Auction Value: $4
Stafford is being drafted well outside the top 12 quarterbacks at the moment, which is likely a product of recency bias. The fantasy football community can be heavily swayed by what’s happened in the last several months, and we didn’t watch Stafford play any football over the second half of the season. With such a low draft price, Stafford will be one of my favorite late-round targets given his likelihood to finish as a top-12 guy.
In 2018, Stafford struggled as he only threw for 21 touchdowns against 11 interceptions, finishing as just the QB20. However, in the six prior seasons, Stafford averaged 275 fantasy points per season, which would have placed him as the QB12 last year. I would call that his absolute floor, though, as I expect the high level of weapons in Detroit to help him elevate his play. I would say his basement (assuming he plays 16 games) is around 4,500 yards with 25 touchdowns and ten interceptions, which would have made him a borderline top-ten QB for fantasy last year.
As I’ll break down shortly, the Lions might have assembled the best set of skill position players Stafford has ever had in his career. Darrell Bevell has a history of coaching QBs to fantasy success, previously helping Russell Wilson to some of his best statistical seasons. While the Lions’ defense should be improved on paper, there’s also a strong chance the team finishes higher than 16th in pass attempts per game. Stafford was the #4 QB in fantasy over the first half of the season, and he certainly has top-five upside heading into this year.
Matthew Stafford was the NFL’s most aggressive QB in 2019 https://t.co/T2FX60dQWv
— The Lions Wire (@thelionswire) May 21, 2020
Detroit Lions Offense
The Lions have assembled an impressive group of skill position players for Matt Stafford this year. Kenny Golladay entirely broke out last year, going for 1,190 yards and 11 touchdowns. Marvin Jones also had a great year, just missing out on a 16-game pace of 1,000 yards but putting up nine touchdowns in 13 games. T.J. Hockenson had a forgettable rookie year but flashed his elite talent at various points and is expected to be a significant factor in his sophomore campaign. Kerryon Johnson missed eight games, but he was solid when on the field and will be supplemented by D’Andre Swift. Swift was the 35th overall pick in the draft and was widely regarded to be the most talented running back in the class, although he was selected after Clyde Edwards-Helaire. The offensive line is solid, allowing a just-above-average pressure rate last year, but there’s no reason why this offense can’t be among the league’s best in 2020. The Lions averaged the 8th-most points per game last year with Stafford at the helm, and they should be able to get back to that top-end level of production.
— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) May 25, 2020
Strength of Schedule
Unfortunately for Stafford, the Lions’ division-mates were not too kind to quarterbacks last year. The Bears (4th), Packers (5th), and Vikings (8th) were in the top quarter of the NFL in 2019 in fantasy points allowed to QBs. To help balance that out is the slate against the AFC South, a division in which no team ranked higher than 18th in fantasy points allowed to QBs (Titans – 18th, Jaguars – 19th, Colts – 20th, Texans – 26th). The Lions will also play all four NFC South teams, all of whom should present relatively easy sledding for Stafford. The Panthers ranked 12th in QB points against but lost more than half of their defensive starters. The Saints (21st), Buccaneers (23rd), and Falcons (24th) were all lower-end teams against the pass. Finally, the Lions play fellow bottom-feeders in the Redskins (25th) and Cardinals (32nd), who were some of the worst teams in fantasy defense against QBs. While their division schedule is one of the toughest in the NFL in pass defense, there is a light at the end of the tunnel as their non-divisional slate will offer plenty of high-scoring opportunities for Stafford.
Matthew Stafford is underrated after missing the final eight games of the season, but there are reasons to think he might come through with a career year in 2020. His early-season pace was fantastic (QB4 over the first eight weeks), and the Lions have plenty of passing weapons for him to take advantage of. It’s hard to imagine Stafford’s situation being much better heading into this year with his offensive weaponry, Darrell Bevell, and inconsistent defensive play, all giving him plenty of stat-padding opportunities. With his current ADP well into the double-digit rounds, I’d be perfectly happy holding off on drafting a QB and grabbing Stafford in one of the final few rounds.
— ❾９❾ᖇ❷ (@RG2WRLD) May 29, 2020