Toss in Reggie Bush with healthy receivers, and you get Calvin Johnson maybe, probably being even better in 2013. No, really.
Notable additions: Reggie Bush, re-signed Joique Bell
Notable Draft picks: None with a fantasy impact outside of Ziggy Ansah in IDP leagues (though guard Larry Warford could start immediately)
The Marquee men (the elitest of the elite)
Calvin Johnson (ADP: 8.0): If you’re taking a wide receiver in the first round (just say no) and you’re ignoring the slow, plague death of running back scarcity, it has to be Johnson. There’s just really not much to say here other than to remind you through numbers that he’s really, really good (#analysis).
Surely you remember that he set the single-season record for receiving yards (1,964 yards) last year, coming just shy of truly shattering history with a 2,000-yard season. He did that with an average of 122.8 yards per game, six double-digit reception games, two 200-yard games, and three games when he averaged 20 yards per catch. Yep.
Because they lacked anything which resembled a running game, the Lions led the league in pass attempts. Matthew Stafford was asked to throw 740 times, which trumped Drew Brees’ attempts (671) by a wide margin. Of those throws, 205 of them (27.7 percent) were intended for Johnson, making him the most targeted pass catcher in the league.
Because he’s Calvin Johnson and he’s the best, that target volume will remain exceedingly high, though with Ryan Broyles and Nate Burleson healthy (see below) and with the addition of Reggie Bush (also see below), it could decline enough that the impact on his production lands somewhere between noticeable and sort of significant. Johnson still had a highly effective season yardage-wise in 2011 with 1,681 yards, but that gap compared to last year was the result of receiving only 158 targets with Burleson healthy. At one point in 2012, the Lions’ decay at wide receiver led to Kris Durham being Stafford’s No. 2 option. Dire times indeed.
However, targets tell only a slice of this story, friend. Johnson still led all wide receivers in fantasy points (215) last year despite being the subject of the most absurd statistical anomaly since numbers were invented. He’s only a year removed from scoring 16 times, a number that plummeted mostly because he was tackled at or inside the opposition’s two yard-line five times this past season. Really sit and process that for a second.
At one point last season through Week 9, Johnson had 48 catches and only one touchdown. In 2011, he averaged a touchdown once every six catches. I’m no arithmetic major, but I think we can safely bet on that number correcting itself.
Matthew Stafford (ADP: 65.4): Back so long ago in those blissful early spring times of late May, you may recall that I acknowledged your deep-rooted Stafford concerns, while noting that those who fear Stafford are actually helping the rest of us. And look, they still are.
I get it. Stafford has a booming arm, but far too often he either doesn’t set his feet or throws sidearm, and the result is the loudest and ugliest duck to grace this Earth. That’s what led to his completion percentage dropping from 63.5 to 59.8, which in turn sucker punched his TD-to-interception ratio (41:16 in 2011, and just 20:17 in 2012). All that is troubling, but since there should be much more diversity in his targets now and Bush has arrived to open up areas underneath, both Stafford’s scoring and interception rates should correct themselves and hover around 2011 levels.
That will lead to glorious value. Stafford’s ADP is still sticking around the mid 60s, which takes away much of the sting associated with his Favre-ian ways. He’s not in late-round quarterback territory, but if we’re managing risk (and we are…always), currently Stafford stands up well in the same tier as Colin Kaepernick (no Michael Crabtree) and Robert Griffin III (no knee ligaments last January).
Reggie Bush (ADP: 22.5): In point-per-reception leagues, Bush will be a stud. Or at least he should be if we’re to believe the words of a head coach, and really, what’s this world coming to if we can’t do that?
Shortly after Bush was signed to a four-year contract, Jim Schwartz said his reception total could top out at 80. Combine that with the Lions’ experimentation with him during minicamp that was very Jamaal Charles-like as he lined up in the backfield, the slot, and in motion, and expecting a spike in his receiving numbers is a pretty easy thing to do.
What we’ll likely see is a hybrid of the Miami Reggie Bush, and the New Orleans Reggie Bush. With the Saints, Bush started his career by recording back-to-back seasons with over 70 receptions (88 in 2006, and 73 in 2007). But then in Miami, he finally topped the 200-carry mark for the first time, a miraculous feat which took six seasons.
It’s easy to see a world where Bush has 300 touches for the first time in his career, and about 70 of those coming through catching footballs.
The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)
Ryan Broyles (ADP: 127.3): If Leshoure (below…again) defines the matchup play, then Broyles is the overlord of the sleeper WR3′s. Broyles has torn an ACL in back-to-back seasons, first during his senior year at Oklahoma, and then during his rookie year with the Lions after he was a second-round pick. Thankfully, he has the Adrian Peterson gene, and his body is one-eighth titanium. Just six months removed from his most recent surgery, Broyles was a full participant in the Lions’ minicamp.
That should be illegal, but here we are. Now Broyles is being widely labelled as a breakout candidate, and those applying that label (*points two thumbs at self*) likely won’t be wrong, assuming he doesn’t break again.
Broyles is versatile, and able to excel both outside and from the slot. We obviously have a highly limited sample size to work with since he appeared in only eight games last year between recovering from one ACL tear, and then being wiped out by the next one. But consider that of his meager 22 receptions, five went for 20 yards or more, and over the two games immediately prior to his season-ending tear he recorded 161 receiving yards at a pace of 21.3 yards per grab.
Brandon Pettigrew (ADP: 155.0): Pretty much every time I write about tight ends and all things tight ends, I say something about streaming them all the time every time this year, and how that could be fun and profitable. As such, each tight end has value, especially late rounders who will be targeted often. Meet Brandon Pettigrew.
Due to the sheer girth of options around Stafford and most notably, Bush possibly siphoning off a lot of intermediate looks up the middle, Pettigrew’s value has fallen dramatically. The ADP listed here is on the low end, and other handy forecasting services have him a little higher at about 136th overall.
That’s good. So good, because with a late-round tight end, we care more about opportunity, and the chance for sporadic outbursts given the right matchup. Despite his down year in 2012 (567 receiving yards, a drop from 777 yards in 2011), Pettigrew was targeted over 100 times for the third straight year. Even if that falls to, say, around 80 with Bush being a target sucker, that will still lead to ample ball-catching for a TE who’s deep in sleeper territory.
The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)
Mikel Leshoure (ADP: 117.6): Leshoure is under this here heading because although he’ll receive his share of carries as the boom to Bush’s flash, for fantasy purposes he’ll define flex or matchup play. Primarily, he’ll get short yardage and goal-line carries, and he’ll have the opportunity to vulture touchdowns.
Say what you will about his lack of burst (and if you do that, you’ll mostly say horrible, nasty things), but he’s pretty good at smashing anything that gets in his way over a short distance, and crossing a white line. Despite averaging a woeful 3.7 yards per carry, Leshoure still scored nine times last year, five of which came during a particularly hot stretch between weeks 11 and 16.
Of course, touchdowns as a whole are rarely linear from year-to-year, and Leshoure could be set for a downward spike due to more than just Bush’s presence. There’s another troubling stat: six of his nine touchdowns came on runs of five yards or less. That’s not notable at first until we recall the absurd frequent goal-line stuffing Calvin Johnson encountered, which led to Leshoure’s opportunities. It’s highly unlikely that both of those things are repeated in 2013.
Nate Burleson (ADP: undrafted): Burleson’s value to all involved lies in what he can do for Stafford by being someone who isn’t named Calvin Johnson, and being able to catch balls thrown in his direction. Like Broyles, he was a surprise full participant in OTAs after breaking his leg last year, and barring a setback he’ll also be a full participant when games matter.
His upside, though, is just…meh. Two years ago as the guy who would presumably be treated with plenty of neglect by defenses more concerned with Johnson, Burleson didn’t have a 100-yard game, and he averaged only 47.3 yards each week with his average vertical ability. If they’re both healthy and fully functioning, Burleson should be third in line for targets behind Johnson and Broyles.
The Mop-Up Men (deeeep sleepers and handcuffs)
Joique Bell (ADP: undrafted): Since Leshoure is useful only when there’s a goal-line a few yards away, Bell should be watched as both a Bush handcuff in deep leagues, and possibly a PPR sleeper.
In a time share with Leshoure for much of the season last year, Bell averaged five yards per carry on 82 carries, but his 485 yards on 52 catches is much more appealing for you PPR aficionados. In an offense that will give plenty of touches to a lot of different players (Schwartz’s words, not mine), Bell rising to become a quality PPR flex play is a very real possibility if Leshoure’s plodding and stumbling resumes.