Lions: May the 'Schwartz' be with them
Last season, the Lions were professional losers -- literally and figuratively.
Let's count a few of the things that went wrong: An 0-16 record (first-ever for an NFL team!); a last-place defense that yielded 32.3 points per game and only intercepted four (!) passes all season; five different QBs (including three different starters); and the in-season firing of GM Matt Millen. Wait, add that last one to the "Things That Went Right" list, along with Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith and the Roy Williams trade.
As you can imagine, there have been many changes in Detroit this offseason. Martin Mayhew has taken over as full-time GM, former Titans' defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has taken over as head coach, and the Lions used the first pick in the draft on Georgia QB Matthew Stafford. Will any of these changes lead to success? How about one win?
Well, at least one win is likely (baby steps, people) because, as hard as this might be to believe, the cupboard isn't completely bare in Detroit. Johnson, who finished fifth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,331) and tied for the league-lead in TD receptions (12), is entering his third season in the league. RB Kevin Smith, who piled up 976 rushing yards and eight TDs during his rookie season, will be back and should get even more touches this year. His all-around game makes him a major breakout candidate.
Of course, much of the Lions' success (or lack thereof) will depend on the quarterback, be it veteran Daunte Culpepper or the rookie Stafford. Whoever wins the job will have to contend with a subpar line and inconsistent receiving corps (aside from Johnson). Rookie TE Brandon Pettigrew will be asked to do a lot, both in the receiving game and blocking game. It would benefit everyone if he can adapt to his role right away, though that's asking a lot from a rookie.
The defense upgraded at several key positions (LB, CB), but there are still concerns about the middle of the line and the secondary. While this unit should improve (it can't get any worse), it will still give up points. Of course, fantasy owners of Detroit's offensive players don't mind the late-game garbage yards/touchdowns that inevitably come when the Lions are playing catch-up.
Schwartz will have quite a task on his hands as he tries to rebuild the franchise. He has some tools at his disposal, however, so there is some hope. Fantasy owners can share in the optimism, especially if they grab Johnson or Smith early in their drafts.