Kenny Golladay laughs in the face of regression as the safest fantasy football option on the Detroit Lions

The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the eventual start of the 2020 draft season. Here, we’ll tackle pressing fantasy questions, #FantasyHotTaeks, and team win totals. Next up, the Detroit Lions.

Matthew Stafford was working toward a potential career year before he got hurt. Does he crack the top-10 QBs in 2020, or does his lack of a rushing ability cap his ceiling?

Matt: I’m just bearish on saying any non-obvious quarterback will definitely finish as a Top-10 option. That said, such a finish is within Stafford’s range of outcomes. The biggest difference between Stafford last year and his previous seasons: He was letting it rip with Darrell Bevell as his offensive coordinator. Stafford averaged 10.6 air yards per pass attempt in 2019 compared to a measly 6.9 the year prior. That shouldn’t go away considering he has two strong vertical receivers starting outside in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. Stafford’s early-season schedule (Bears, at Packers, at Cardinals, Saints) isn’t too intimidating. He is on the radar as a late-round quarterback option.

Scott: All that matters is that Stafford has a plausible path to the Top 10, and he’s priced affordably (the current QB13 in Yahoo ADP). He was clicking in Darrell Bevell’s offense before getting hurt, and Stafford has exciting toys to work with. Recency bias is a hell of a drug; your opponents are more likely to focus on Stafford missing two months as opposed to how he crushed it the prior two months. Take advantage.

Liz: A top-ten fantasy finish is certainly in Matt Stafford’s range of possible outcomes. Last year he was on pace to close out 2019 as the 10th-best QB in fantasy, posting five top-six or better outings over the first nine weeks of the year. Stafford’s play seemed reinvigorated under new OC Darrell Bevell, as he flirted with a top-six true passer rating (107.9) and a top-two adjusted yards per attempt (8.6). It’s also worth noting that he was on pace for nearly 36 rush attempts — a higher total than he’d put up since 2016, which could be attributed to Bevell’s run-friendly approach as well as his recent exposure to the success of mobile QBs.

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There’s no denying the pass-catchers at Staff’s disposal are next level, but the offensive line gives me pause. With two new starters added to the unit via free agency and the draft, I’ll be curious to see if the group can gel. Last season, Detroit’s offensive trenchmen gave up pressure on 37.5% of Stafford’s dropbacks, allowing an average of exactly two sacks per game. Stafford’s limited mobility — in tandem with his middling protection — creates obvious concern regarding re-injury. Yet, the same could be said of the three QBs I have ranked ahead of him: Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Tom Brady. I just trust those guys more, which is why Stafford is my QB11

This backfield got way more complicated when the Lions drafted Georgia’s D’Andre Swift. Is the disparity in the ADPs of Swift (74.1 ADP) and Kerryon Johnson (113.6) correct — or should we avoid this situation entirely?

Liz: Since entering the league, Johnson has struggled with knee issues. A sprain to his left knee cost the Auburn product six games in 2018 (Weeks 12-17) and surgery on his right knee forced him to sit out eight games in 2019 (Weeks 8-15). It’s no secret that Matt Patricia wants to employ an effective and explosive run-first offense, which can’t happen without a standout rusher. So it makes sense that the franchise would want insurance behind Johnson ... and the fact that they used an early second-round pick on Swift signals that the team has grown impatient with Kerryon’s injury issues.

While Swift is a dynamic runner with excellent vision and instincts — considered by many to be the most complete back in this year’s draft — his inconsistent pad level leaves him vulnerable to injury. In fact, he comps most similarly to Davlin Cook, who has struggled with his own durability issues (knee, hamstring, shoulder) since entering the league. Ultimately, as previously discussed, I’m wary of Detroit’s offensive line and would prefer to fade this backfield altogether. However, if managers are committed to adding shares of this RB group, then the advantage goes to the fresher legs. Swift should be rostered ahead of Johnson. For reference, Swift is the Yahoo Consensus ranked RB27 while Johnson is at RB38.

Scott: These are reactive picks for me, not proactive picks. I don’t see Swift as a can’t-miss guy, nor do I consider Johnson an obvious risk of being mothballed. I expect both to play a fair amount, and the Lions to sink-or-swim through the air, anyway.

Matt: I don’t think I’ll be bothering figuring out this split prior to the season. Johnson hasn’t been a bad player thus far in his career and Swift is unlikely to usurp him to the point that he’s completely irrelevant. We also shouldn’t assume that Swift is a lock to lead the team in touches, especially if a truncated offseason puts him behind the eight-ball. If we do get a split backfield here, the Lions offense is unlikely to be juicy enough to support two relevant backs in fantasy. Swift is ranked as the RB27 in FantasyPros consensus rankings. That’s way too aggressive but I don’t think I’ll be taking the cheaper option (Johnson at RB40) either. It’s just a pass.

Kenny Golladay led all receivers with 11 TDs in 2019, and he’s now being taken as the seventh WR in drafts. Will touchdown regression ruin his potential fantasy ROI, or is his production safe thanks to Stafford's return?

Scott: I’m not going to sweat regression for Golladay, given that he’s likely to get a full year tied to Stafford. Those 11 touchdowns came despite two months of absolutely grotesque quarterback play in Detroit. And even if Golladay slips to seven or eight scores, so what? It’s the era of the wide usage tree (something the Lions, incidentally, do not have); a mere three players had double-digit touchdown catches in the NFL last year. Only injury can keep Golladay from set-and-forget status; he’s a very reasonable target in the second or early third round.

Matt: Odds are he scores fewer touchdowns in 2020 but that doesn’t mean he can’t return on an ADP that falls within the top-10 wide receivers and the top-25 overall picks. Kenny Golladay truly came into his own as a true No. 1 receiver. He beat press coverage routinely and separated at all levels of the field. While Marvin Jones looks like a value at his ADP, for sure, that doesn’t mean he has to wreck Golladay’s ceiling. In fact, Golladay delivered 80.5 yards per game at 21.1 yards per catch with Jones on the field compared to 56 yards per contest without his teammate. Some of that is noisy because of Stafford’s injury absence but having both of these guys on the field makes the offense more efficient.

Liz: I’ve been high on Golladay since his days as a Huskie. I even have an FF squad — Rosé all Golladay — named after the 26-year-old. There’s no doubt that Golladay has emerged as one of the league’s most exciting deep threats. In 2018 he posted a top-15 total target depth and top-nine contested catch rate, illustrating how he could best be used. 

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As a third-year player in 2019, he officially broke out and averaged 4.3 catches and 80 yards per contest with Matt Stafford under center. Even after a back injury prematurely ended Stafford’s season, Golladay continued to put up numbers, posting at least a top-20 fantasy finish in four of seven games with Jeff Driskel and David Blough starting. In fact, from Weeks 10 through 14, before Marvin Jones hurt his ankle, Golladay averaged 73.6 yards per contest and managed three spikes. If he can be productive with Driskel, he’s going to smash with Staff.

Detroit Lions projected 2020 lineup

#FantasyHotTaek

Liz: This isn’t exactly a hot take, but Marvin Jones is a wild value in the ninth round. A player that managed a top-three TD rate on end-zone targets (67%), a top-15 production premium (+18.4), and was the WR19 in FF points per game is currently going in the ninth round (behind Noah Fant!). Selecting a player with top-30 potential (even higher if calculating on a week-to-week basis) outside of the top-40 players at the position is solid security. Sure, he’s 30-years-old and has been banged up in back-to-back seasons, but Jones offers a high floor at a point in drafts where options become increasingly volatile.

OVER/UNDER on 6.5 Win Total from BetMGM

Scott: Matt Patricia hasn’t fixed the defense or won the locker room during his Detroit tenure, so I have to fade this team, no matter my admiration for Stafford and friends. Poor coaching is harder to overcome in the NFL than in any of the other major American sports. Punch the UNDER.

Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF

Follow Matt: @MattHarmon_BYB

Follow Scott: @scott_pianowski

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