The Detroit Lions are rebuilding again. Who will be fantasy relevant in 2021?
The Lions are going through another coaching change and rebuild, but this time it will be without star QB Matthew Stafford. The Lions received a haul for Stafford which included three draft picks plus QB, Jared Goff. Many think Goff will be a bridge QB for the Lions rebuild, but what else do the Lions have on their offense? Let’s take a look at the Lions’ Camp Battles at receiver and how the running back rotation could play out in 2021.
Running Back Rotation
This isn’t really a camp battle for the starting job, but for what the rotation will look like at RB. Most teams do not just use one main dominant back anymore, and I see this being the situation with the Lions. Dan Campbell came from the Saints, so he saw firsthand how a two-back system could work. Like in Green Bay, Williams will be the second option, but will still be heavily involved in the offense and can be used as a flex option some weeks.
I think Swift is the leader at the RB position for the Lions, and see him being a top-five back in Dynasty. Swift missed three games and only received over 50% snap share for 6 of 13 games, but still finished as RB18. He averaged around 12 touches a game, so he does not need volume to put up good numbers for the offense.
I see an increase in touches for Swift, with a 35%-60% split between him and Williams. Below are projections that I have for the two main backs for the Lions:
- Swift: 290 Rushes, 1,290 rush yards, 80 targets, 64 receptions, 473 rec yards, and 11 total TDs for an average 18.35 Fantasy PPG
- Williams: 169 Rushes, 691 rush yards, 48 targets, 37 receptions, 262 rec yards, and 7 total TDs for an average 10.23 Fantasy PPG
These averages would have made Swift the RB7 last year and Williams as a situation flex play in PPR Fantasy Formats.
WR Depth Chart
The Lions let Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay walk in free agency, so there is a lot up in the air with the WR depth chart. Let me preface this breakdown of the WRs by saying that I believe that TE TJ Hockenson will lead the team in target share at 20% and be a top-five TE in fantasy for 2021.
An early report from camp is that Goff is targeting Swift and Hockenson the most, so the WR depth chart is still in the air. The WRs include a couple of journeyman vets, a second-year player with only 35 targets, and a rookie fourth-rounder.
Let’s take a deeper look at the depth chart and some projections I had for the WRs before training camp.
Williams has some familiarity with OC Anthony Lynn from his days with the Chargers but only once has he received over 60 targets in five years. His best year was with the Chargers was in 2016 when he had over 1,000 yards and 7 TDs. I don’t see him repeating this with the Lions and think he will eventually be supplanted as a starter in 2021 by one of the younger receivers.
Projection: 70 Targets, 43 Receptions, 634 Yards, 3 TDs, 7.3 Fantasy PPG
Perriman is a former first-rounder that didn’t work out with the Ravens but has found moderate success with the Buccaneers and the Jets in the past two years. Those two years, while better, still only add up to 1,100 yards and 9 TDs. He is a good field stretcher but since Goff isn’t known for going deep down the field, his ceiling is limited. I see him as a rotational third or fourth WR this season.
Projection: 61 Targets, 38 Receptions, 545 Yards, 3 TDs, 6.5 Fantasy PPG
Cephus showed flashes in college but had only moderate success on the conservative Wisconsin offense. He was drafted in the fifth round by the Lions and, early on, looked like he may be a breakout player. Cephus had over a 70% snap share and 13 targets in the first two games, but after that, only had 22 targets in the other nine games he played.
Many are counting out Cephus, but I think he could be a top-two WR for the team. He had good metrics last season which included being 11th in target separation and 27th in QB rating when targeted. Fantasy-wise, his projection is slightly higher than Williams and is — at best — a stash in Dynasty.
Projection: 77 Targets, 46 Receptions, 626 Yards, 4 TDs, 7.8 Fantasy PPG
Amon-Ra St. Brown
Brown had an early breakout age (18.9) and a high dominator (33.1%) at USC, so I was surprised when he dropped to the fourth round in the 2021 NFL Draft. While draft capital means a lot, he was drafted by a WR needy team where he can get playing time right away. At rookie minicamp, Brown has impressed with his hand skills and route running in drills.
Brown is not a speedster, but his great route running allows for him to beat coverage, so I think he could be a solid second receiver for the Lions. The only problem is they don’t have a WR1, so he will most likely take that role this year. Brown’s projections are the highest of the Lions’ WRs, but he still not projected as a consistent starter at WR in 2021.
Projection: 89 Targets, 58 Receptions, 721 Yards, 4 TDs, 9.1 Fantasy PPG
For 2021, the players you want are D’Andre Swift, TJ Hockenson, and maybe Jared Goff as a second QB in SF leagues. The WR depth chart, as I see it in 2021, is Amon-Ra St. Brown, Quintez Cephus, Tyrell Williams, and Breshad Perriman. Brown is an interesting pick in Dynasty, but in redraft, he is only draftable for depth in deep leagues.