In fairness, Calvin Johnson is a pretty interesting guy too. When you set the single-season record for receiving yards and nearly become the first wide receiver to finish with over 2,000 yards in a season, the interest level is pretty high. Oh, and thanks for finally smashing that Madden curse thing, Calvin. Die die die.
But as we first noted a few weeks ago, the two Lions receivers immediately behind him on the depth chart are about to up their interest factor quickly.
At first there was apprehension around Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles. That especially applied to Broyles since he’s torn an ACL in each of the past two seasons. After his most recent tear it was reasonable to think that Broyles would miss part of the 2013 season, since the injury occurred much later in 2012 (Week 13). Now that’s far from true after Broyles was a full participant in mini-camp.
Meanwhile, Burleson broke his leg in Week 7, an injury he’s since recovered from. The workload he could sustain early during OTAs was still limited, but now he’s “full go” according to his quarterback Matthew Stafford, who spoke to Lions.com in a recent interview. In that same piece, Tim Twentyman noted that both Broyles and Burleson are fully expected to be ready for Week 1.
Clearly that’s wonderful news. But what are the fantasy implications? Glory, that’s what.
Stafford’s struggles this past season — and especially the drop in his touchdown/interceptions ratio (+3 in 2012, a sharp decline from +25 in 2011) was partly rooted in his tendency to revert to sidearm chucking. But a severe lack of healthy and capable targets certainly didn’t help matters.
With Burleson and Broyles injured, and Titus Young suspended and later cut, Stafford was left with the lethal combination of Tony Scheffler (a tight end by trade) and Kris Durham as his options behind Johnson. That’s the Tony Scheffler who was targeted only 26 times the previous season as a depth option, a number which jumped to 42 after the rash of injuries. And it’s the Kris Durham who had recorded only three career receptions and zero career starts prior to Week 14 last year. Ruh roh indeed.
Now with Burleson returning, Stafford will have a fine second option who had 757 receiving yards in 2011, which included five weeks with 80 yards or more. And he gets the return of a quality slot man in Broyles who will push Burleson for targets, making him a solid fantasy sleeper candidate.
Currently Broyles is hidden far down in the ADP burial grounds, and he’s easily in late-round lottery ticket territory. At Fantasy Football Calculator he’s coming off the board on average at 130.9 overall, the beginning of the 13th round in 10-team leagues, and in same territory as other frequent fliers like Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd, and Cordarrelle Patterson.
It’s pretty easy to support a Broyles stash among that ground with his place in a firmly reinforced Lions offense. Even if Burleson wins the No. 2 job opposite Johnson, Broyles should still get plenty of looks from the slot, and enough to warrant consistent flex play consideration depending on the depth of your league. For example, during a Week 7 game against Chicago last year, Broyles had 51 yards and a touchdown on just three catches, even though Young also finished with 81 yards on six catches.
There’s plenty of distribution to be found in an offense which led the league in pass attempts last year, and it wasn’t close. Stafford threw 727 times, a pace which will likely still be high again starting this fall because Calvin Johnson, but it’ll drop off somewhat with Reggie Bush ideally bringing some semblance of respect to the Lions’ running game.
Head coach Jim Schwartz has said that Bush will be utilized frequently in open space as a receiver, and so frequently that he could finish with 80 catches. The last time he topped the 80-catch mark was during his rookie season with the Saints, and it took 121 targets for Bush to get there. At first that seems mildly concerning for Broyles and Burleson, and their target opportunities. And then it doesn’t.
Let’s play the hypothetical numbers game, and start by assuming that when Stafford’s throwing volume falls but still remains high, he finishes somewhere around 680 attempts in 2013. If we give Bush 115 of those, and Johnson 200 (he led the league in targets last year with 205), we’re already at 315 targets between just two options, and pushing towards the halfway mark of Stafford’s attempts total. But that still leaves plenty of room for Broyles and Burleson to hover around 100 targets apiece at the very minimum (in 2011 Burleson was targeted 110 times).
That’s a lot of value to be found in a suddenly healthy and promising offense.