The Lions finally made the playoffs last year, but their extremely talented young players are starting to turn into extremely troubled young players. If I had been writing this post two weeks ago, I would have touted Titus Young as the next big thing to hit fantasy, maybe even comparing him to Julio Jones in production. That was before he sucker punched a teammate and then decided not to show up for the next few practices. Now it is one thing for a player to hit an opponent, but I cannot imagine what Louis Delmas did to deserve getting hit. Regardless of all the bad press, this is still a good team. They could easily win 4 or 5 of the other divisions in the league, but I really can't see them beating the Packers and the Bears this season. Fortunately for fantasy fans, that doesn't means they won't have a productive season.
It all starts with Matthew Stafford. Stafford was on fire last season, and there is really no reason to believe that he will be slowing down this season. Calvin Johnson is always going to make his QB look good, but it definitely helps that Stafford is actually a great player. I don't think there will be quite the boon of 5,000 yard passers this season, but Stafford should push 4,500 yards and 38 touchdowns again this season. He should be a solid starter, and I like him as my 3rd or 4th best QB in fantasy. Unlike most people, I'm still not dropping an early first round pick on a QB, especially not one with Stafford's injury history, but he is a strong 2nd round selection. If you do end up grabbing Stafford, make sure you have a solid backup, like a Matt Ryan who can step in if Stafford gets injured. He is too good for owners to worry much about his injury history. It would be a huge shock if he weren't a top 5 QB in Fantasyland this season.
Similarly, it would be a huge shock if Calvin Johnson isn't a top 3 receiver this season. Megatron is 26 years old, and he really could have a better season in 2012 than he did in 2011. There were a few games in the middle of the season where Stafford just couldn't find him on the field, and if those games disappear then Megatron could become a steal at 7th overall. I'm sure a lot of fantasy owners are worried about drafting a receiver this high, but Johnson is almost guaranteed to get at least 1,300 yards and 12 scores. That outpaces pretty much every second round running back, and those are the low end marks. Keep your eyes on 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns as a reasonable prediction, and know that he has the ability to outscore most quarterbacks on a weekly basis. I would love to confidently tell you that either Nate Burleson or Titus Young were going to have big seasons, but I just can't. I really want to believe that these guys will be fantasy contributors, but there is no way I'm drafting Burleson and I can't promise Young won't get suspended at some point during the season. Burleson is stuck in a rut of sub-800 yard seasons, and he isn't getting any younger. Titus Young has the opposite problem; he won't grow up. Keep your eye on Young, though. If he shows a more mature side during training camp, he could be a solid flex contributor. If he keeps acting out, don't even consider drafting him. Brandon Pettigrew is in a similar situation. As much as I want him to succeed, he just can't seem to get past that same 700-800 yard mark that 75% of the tight ends in the NFL fall into. I don't think you should pass on Pettigrew if you find him at a value spot, but definitely don't reach for him. There really isn't anything to suggest that he will be spectacular this season. I would predict him to be slightly better than average; right around 10th in the league.
There are really 3 different options at running back for the Lions this season. The 'Best' pick is Jahvid Best (Yeah, I made a bad pun...makes reading the blog more fun). He showed some new toughness and burst in his second season, but obviously he got injured and only played 6 games. His 4.6 yard per carry mark is solid, and Best is probably the mostly likely HB to catch passes out of the backfield. Best has nearly as many receiving yards (774) as he has rushing yards (945) in his NFL career. I love backs who can catch the ball, because they are valuable to their team even when they are behind. Mikel Leshoure is basically a rookie this season. We saw pretty much nothing from him before he was put on IR, and I worry about him coming back from this injury. It doesn't seem likely that he will take too many carries from Best unless the injuries start piling up again. Don't draft him unless something happens to Jahvid during the preseason, especially since we have no real NFL-level information about this back. Kevin Smith makes the blog because he is still on the team and deserves a little recognition. This old man was on the couch for the first half of the season and still managed to play decently as a flex RB down the stretch. He wasn't explosive, but he had heart and a nose for finding the end zone. Don't draft him, but don't forget about him if he starts playing. He seems like a really great guy.
This defense is valuable because of their ability to sack the QB and generate turnovers. This team will probably be one of the top 5 defenses in the league (from a fantasy prospective), and I would consider grabbing this unit in the 12th or 13th round. Jason Hanson has played for the Lions for 21 years. He can still kick the ball well, and the Lions score like crazy, so he should end up being a top 10 kicker if he can keep his starting job. Ronnie Sneed is breathing down his neck, but Hanson is just too consistent for the Lions to lose this season.