I need to be up front about the Lions: I am a lifelong Lions fan and, at times, have a hard time with discernment when it comes to this team. Luckily, for me, the Lions have been a very relevant offensive team of late, which translates nicely into fantasy.
I have, more than a time or two, taken Calvin Johnson with the first pick of the first round in a draft. That was well before the wide receiver craze. I have expressed my feelings about the Megatron retirement before. Selfishly, I am glad my two favorite players of all time were drafted and retired as Lions, but I will miss seeing him every week.
The offense is treading on new ground this season. Megatron has been a fixture since Matthew Stafford has been around. My daughter is a year-and-a-half, and when she is ready for playtime to be over, she grabs her blanky and her binky. Similarly, when Stafford was ready for a play to be over, he threw to his blanky, or his binky, you decide.
Conventional wisdom suggests that this offense will struggle without one of the best receivers in NFL history. However, I'm going to provide a different perspective - and one from a guy that has watched every Lions' snap for years (I was a newlywed once and didn't get to watch much football then). I do believe the Lions and Stafford will struggle to get in sync early in the season. I also believe that when Stafford does get comfortable with other receivers, the offense will be better than it was with Calvin. While a banged up Megatron is better than most receivers, Stafford would force the ball to Calvin when he was double, triple or bracket covered. Calvin made a lot of those plays, so it worked. Now that there isn't a player that is 6'5", who runs like a gazelle, and jumps through the roof, they are going to have to try a novel idea: throw to the open man. That should benefit the three primary pass catchers not named Theo Riddick: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Eric Ebron.
Matthew Stafford (QB) - 4250 yards, 30 TDs, 13 INTs.
Matty Hat Back, aside from being my much better-looking doppelganger, is another QB in what seems to be the biggest tier in fantasy, the low-end QB1 tier. He slots in with guys like Tony Romo, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins. When Jim Bob Cooter got to Detroit, he was a different player. He ended the season as the number 9 QB overall. In the past three years, Stafford has thrown for at least 4250 yards. Stafford could very well lead the league in pass attempts again this season, which means volume, and volume is ideal in fantasy. If you believe in Stafford, draft him late and power through the early struggles.
Ameer Abdullah (RB) - 800 yards, 6 TDs, 40 catches, 320 yards, 2 TDs.
Oh, Ameer, how we all loved you last season? In your first game, you made us all feel like you were the steal of the draft. Then...the rest of the season. Abdullah ended with 597 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 25 catches for 183 and 1. Not exactly impressive, but he was a rookie and had fumbling issues. This year, I can see Abdullah getting a lot more work and cashing in on all of his talent. Draft him as an RB3 or RB4, and he'll be well worth the investment. Call me a homer, but A.A. is someone that could become an every week starter for a championship team this season, if only as your flex.
Golden Tate (WR) - 100 catches, 1200 yards, 7 TDs.
No single player is going to replace Calvin Johnson. Tate has been the beneficiary Johnson's health problems for the last couple years, but I don't expect crazy numbers like he put up when Calvin was out. I do expect Stafford to lean heavily on Tate, especially early in the season. Expect Tate to get a lot of targets, which should translate into a lot of receptions. Even as the second option the last two seasons, he caught at least 90 balls. Tate is a great WR3 and a good WR2 if you're not going WR crazy in the early rounds. The only drawback for Tate: TDs. He hasn't had more than six touchdowns in any of the last three seasons. I don't see Tate being he biggest beneficiary in terms of TDs with Megatron on the couch.
Eric Ebron (TE) - 70 catches, 800 yards, 7 TDs.
Every year, there are a few players that I like more than everyone else. Some of those hit (see Robinson, Allen), and sometimes they do not (see Bradford, Sam). Ebron is one of those this year.
Ebron is in his third season, and for pass catchers the third season traditionally means a break out. I believe that Ebron will be the biggest beneficiary of Megatron's retirement. He has the size to be a red zone threat and the athleticism to get down the field. His statistical output has progressed in each of his first two seasons (25 to 47 catches), and this season should be no different. You can draft Ebron late, and he could be this season's Tyler Eifert.
Zack Zenner (RB)
Someone has to pick up the big-back slack left by the departure of Joique Bell. In 2015, Zenner led the NFL in preseason rushing yards. His regular season production wasn't as good, but Detroit never committed to him. Bell didn't give the Lions much last season, but he was a major cog in their offense in 2014. Zenner is a big body and should get the goal-line work. Abdullah will get the majority of the first and second down work, but Zenner can work his way into a split of that role if Abudullah isn't ready to be an every-down back.
Theo Riddick (RB)
Riddick was a lot better than you remember last season. He ended with 80 catches and 3 TDs. That doesn't make him much of a standard play, but he was a very good PPR play. The Lions drafted Abdullah in the second round because of his run/pass catching abilities. If A.A. is going to be what he was drafted to be, that's going to push Riddick out as the pass catching specialist. I would avoid drafting Riddick, even in PPR leagues.
Marvin Jones could easily be added as one of the core players. I have him projected for 75 catches, 900 yards, and 7 TDs). Stafford has a lot of options, and when he learns to use all of them, they could be a scary offense. The Lions' season relies on just that, the ability of the offense to sync. The Lions are going to have plenty of fantasy-relevant players, and I will have my fair share of them, especially Ameer Abdullah and Eric Ebron.