With Week 3 of the preseason wrapped up, it’s time to get those fantasy football drafts rolling.
There’s a familiarity aspect that comes with drafting a player from the team you root for, which usually makes the pick feel safer than a rookie or depth piece from another team.
If you watched Kerryon Johnson at all during last year’s preseason, there’s a chance that the excitement of the Lions potentially having a reliable back caused you to reach for the former Auburn rusher in 2018 fantasy drafts. Or maybe following closely the development of receiver Kenny Golladay gave you the foresight to predict his breakout sophomore season.
And why not? One of the cons of fantasy football is that it can force a conflict of rooting interest. If you don’t want to be rooting for a Lions win while rooting against a player from the roster, here’s an outlook for the top five Detroit players to target in your upcoming fantasy football draft.
Stafford’s name is currently the most buzzworthy on Detroit’s roster. Reports of the Lions’ 11th-year quarterback suffering from a broken back injury at the end of last season, one of his least productive seasons as a pro, coupled with his skipping of several practices and the year’s first two preseason games, have fans and media alike wondering what the actual status of his health is. So that’s the biggest drawback to selecting the former Georgia star in your draft.
But come Week 1, that concern could quickly be voided. Nobody really knows at this point. The addition of red-zone weapon T.J. Hockenson could mean big things for Stafford’s touchdown numbers, and despite the reputation of Darrell Bevell’s commitment to the running game, the former Seattle offensive coordinator is also known to dig the long ball. Depending on the size of your league, there’s also a pretty good chance that Stafford goes undrafted, so the low-risk decision to pick him up late in the draft or via the waiver afterward is going to be an option worth exploring.
Both CBS and ESPN peg the Lions to be on the cusp of having a top-10 running back. It wasn’t long into Johnson’s rookie year that he claimed his stake as the future of Detroit’s backfield, with a 101-yard rushing performance in a Week 3 win over New England giving the Lions their first 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush in 2013 — mind you, this came under the alarmingly predicatable scheme of since-departed coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.
Injuries cut Johnson’s rookie campaign a bit short, but his clip of 5.43 yards per carry make him a really intriguing fantasy pickup in 2019. Plus, he’s now had his first full NFL offseason to develop his game, a pair of new tight ends that love to move bodies, and a coordinator/coach pairing that’s hell-bent on running the football. The sheer volume of Detroit’s projected rushing attack gives Johnson an extremely high fantasy ceiling.
By now, you’ve probably seen enough film breakdowns of the 6-foot-5, 251-pound Hockenson from his days at Iowa and training camp footage put out by the team. But the concern here isn’t about whether Hockenson is the franchise tight end that Detroit hopes he is — it’s whether he’s worth a selection in your upcoming fantasy draft.
Hockenson has shown great ability as a pass-catcher — he picked up 52 yards on three catches in Friday night’s preseason loss to Buffalo — but is equally heralded for his run blocking. He’s a good FLEX option and there’d be worth in grabbing him late in the draft because of his upside, but he’s probably not somebody that should be relied on as a No. 1 tight end from jump.
Golladay will likely be Detroit’s No. 1 fantasy receiver in 2019. But under the run-heavy offense of Bevell, what exactly does that mean for your pre-draft rankings?
We’ll start with this: Don’t reach for Golladay. He’s projected to be reasonably productive — we noted earlier how the deep ball is a big part of Bevell’s scheme — and is coming off a 1,200-yard, six-touchdown season. Still, it’s best to not let a player’s upside effect his draft position too drastically. Like Hockenson, he’ll be best taken as a WR2.
Marvin Jones Jr.
Jones in 2018 put up over 500 yards receiving and five touchdowns before suffering a knee injury in Week 10. The Lions’ going all-in on its running game and adding a few additional targets at the tight-end position this offseason would likely indicate that his production will slip.
Still, since arriving in Detroit, Jones has been the primary receiving target for Stafford. Golladay’s emergence will take some of the defenses’ attention away from Jones as a deep threat, and without Golden Tate hanging around to clean up on check-downs, there’s a chance that Jones could get more targets this season than he did a year ago.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.