After a 4-0 preseason in 2008, the Lions went out and did the impossible by becoming the first NFL team to finish 0-16 in one season. The 0-16 looks horrible, but it’s not as bad as it seems. The Lions were in a lot of games last year and played exciting football for the most part. A repeat of 0-16 won’t happen, and you can expect to see an even more exciting team in 2009. There is fantasy talent at virtually every position; expect a 7-9 finish in Motown in 2009.
QB: Daunte Culpepper, Matthew Stafford, Drew Stanton
RB: Kevin Smith, Maurice Morris, Aveion Cason
WR: Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson, Dennis Northcutt, Keary Colbert
TE: Brandon Pettigrew
PK: Jason Hanson
Quarterback: It’s been decades since the Lions have had a top-notch QB. You have to go back to 1971 and Greg Landry to find the last Lions QB that played in the Pro Bowl. Some would argue that the Lions haven’t had a true star at the QB position since Bobby Lane in the 1950’s, and they would be right! The Lions say there’s open competition for the starting QB role in Detroit between Daunte Culpepper and Stafford. We don’t buy it, and we fully expect Culpepper will be under center when the season opens. Culpepper shed some pounds in the off-season (he played at 290 last year and is down to 265), his injury woes seem to be behind him and he has been reunited with his former OC Scott Linehan. There is also plenty of pop left in his cannon of a right arm. Culpepper’s last great year was 2004 in Minnesota with Linehan as his OC when he had 4,717 passing yards and 39 TDs. Linehan left for Miami in 2005, Culpepper’s injury woes started and he hasn’t been the same since. Stafford will back up Culpepper to start the season and, if the Lions stumble out of the gate, he will get his shot as the starter after the Lions’ Week 7 bye. Take Culpepper as a low end QB2 and don’t be surprised if he comes through with a good year in 2009. Stafford will watch from the sidelines in his rookie season. Culpepper certainly has the offensive weapons around him to get the job done.
Running Back: The Lions have been searching for a quality RB since Barry Sanders retired prior to the 1999 season. Sanders’ retirement was a move that stunned the football world. It’s virtually impossible to be the “next” Barry Sanders, but the Lions have a pretty good RB in second-year back Kevin Smith. Smith is big at 6′1″ and 211 pounds. In his rookie season, Smith got better as the year went on. He had 305 rushing yards through the first eight games and 671 rushing yards in the last eight games. He also caught 39 passes for 289 yards last season. That’s not bad for a rookie playing behind the worst O-Line in all of football and for a team that trailed in every game during 2008. The Lions brought Maurice Morris over from Seattle to serve as the backup to Smith. That role is very familiar to Morris, as he was the backup for Shaun Alexander during his glory days in Seattle. While Morris has never been a “star” NFL RB, being around Alexander for all those years makes him a valuable commodity. Plus, if Smith should go down to injury, Morris is more than capable to step in and take over.
We love the fact that Smith is the undisputed RB1 in Detroit and that they brought Morris in as a mentor who will give him a breather from time to time. There is no RBBC here. OC Linehan used Steven Jackson as the feature back in St. Louis and he will employ the same strategy in Detroit. We currently have Smith ranked as a low end RB1 with great upside. If you draft Smith, make sure you grab Morris as the handcuff.
Wide Receiver: The Lions come into 2009 with a decent receiving core. Calvin Johnson is the undisputed WR1 in Detroit after the 2008 mid-season trade of Roy E. Williams to Dallas. The Beast is just that, a beast! Despite everything that went on in Detroit last season, C.J. was still the third-highest overall WR and 13th-highest overall fantasy scorer. You can’t dismiss those accomplishments as anything less than a stud being a stud or a beast being a beast. Underachieving WR Bryant Johnson comes over from the 49ers (and formerly the Cardinals) and assumes the WR2 role in Detroit. As with virtually every 49er, Bryant struggled last season and has yet to mature into the star many thought he would be coming out of Penn State. Facing single coverage (with C.J. on the other side) all season will certainly help B.J. Dennis Northcutt comes over from the Jaguars and will start in the slot position. Rookie Derrick Williams, out of Penn State, could challenge Northcutt for the slot position role but will probably settle in as the #1 return man for the Lions in 2009. Take any one of the best 15 QBs in the league, have them chucking the pigskin to Megatron and C.J. would be the overall WR1 in the NFL. Given his situation in Detroit, you have to bump him down some. He will still be one of the first three WR to go off the board in most 2009 drafts. B.J. should be considered as a mid-range WR5 with potential to move up to a low-end WR3. Leave Northcutt on the waiver wire until he shows something.
Tight End: For the first time since Charlie Sanders (1968-77) the Lions have a TE that will be a star in the NFL. The Lions shocked just about everyone when they selected Brandon Pettigrew out of Oklahoma State with their second pick in the first round (20th overall) of the 2009 Draft. Pettigrew has the rare combination of being an outstanding pass catcher and having even better blocking skills and technique. He doesn’t have great speed, but the Lions don’t need speed at the TE position with Johnson & Johnson stretching the field. Pettigrew will be the Lions starting every-down TE as a rookie. That being said, his value will be greater to his NFL owners than it is to his fantasy owners. Rank him as a high end TE3 capable of filling in during bye weeks and watch how he progresses at the pro level.
IDP: The Lions have had a woeful defense since the beginning of time. It won’t get much better this year but they are improving. A year under his belt should help DE Cliff Avril, who was named to the Sporting News All-Rookie Team at the end of 2008. Julian Peterson comes over from Seattle and brings leadership and Pro Bowl-caliber play. With Peterson, the Lions get an instant upgrade at the LB position. The Lions drafted hard-hitting safety Louis Delmas (Western Michigan) with the 33rd overall pick in the NFL 2009 Draft. Delmas will be asked to step in immediately to help shore up the Lions’ defensive backfield. The Lions will be better on defense in 2009 but that’s not saying a lot — they can’t get much worse! Look elsewhere for your IDPs on Draft Day 2009.
It’s very surprising that a team that has lost 23 of their last 24 games can get this much fantasy ink. The truth is that there is talent on this football team. The Falcons, Dolphins and Ravens were a combined 10-48 in 2007 but they improved to a combined 33-15 in 2008. The Dolphins alone went from 1-15 to 11-5. It’s true that the Dolphins have the greatest living mind in football in Bill Parcells and the Lions don’t, but they are headed in the right direction.
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