The Detroit Lions are an odd bunch. On one hand, they’re loaded with talent and have possessed a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford since 2009. So many big names have passed through Detroit, including Calvin Johnson and Barry Sanders, 2 of the all-time greatest at their respective positions.
Yet while the Lions can never seem to get it together as if a dark cloud hovers over their franchise summoned by the late, great Bobby Layne, they’re often a hotbed for offensive productivity.
For this reason, the Lions are a good team to place productivity bets on.
Let’s get started.
1 – Stud: Kenny Golladay, WR
- 65 receptions
- 1,190 yards
- 18.3 yards per reception
- 11 touchdowns
Golladay played in and started all 16 games for the first time in his career and ended up with career highs in total yards, yards per reception, and touchdowns. He led the NFL in touchdown receptions and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
Even more inspiring from Golladay is the fact his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, went down with a back injury at midseason.
He ended up catching passes from Jeff Driskel and some kid named David Blough. This shows that Golladay can produce regardless of who’s under center for the Lions. For you, this means Golladay will probably perform better than advertised in 2020 even if Stafford isn’t at 100 percent.
Golladay is safe to bet the over with, though be leery about betting the over with his yards per reception because the more passes any receiver catches, it’s harder to keep that number high. And online sportsbooks will try to set his yards per reception at a high, yet favorable, obstacle.
As for receptions, reception yards, and touchdowns, going with the over is a safer pick because if the durable Matthew Stafford of old returns, Golladay’s numbers will skyrocket.
Last year, Stafford was on pace for a 4,900-yard season and while Golladay proved he could produce with the worst of quarterbacks, having Stafford there this season will provide a sure boost to his statistics. It all hinges on whether the 32-year-old Stafford, who’s entering his 12th season, can still play.
If you’re a fantasy football owner, Golladay will be a 1st to 2nd-round pick so if you like him, grab him early. He’s not lasting past the middle of the 2nd round.
I’ve linked ESPN.com’s 2020 fantasy football projections to this article to give you an idea of what to expect out of Golladay this season, whether you’re playing fantasy football or if you’re betting strictly on productivity.
Golladay’s statistics for 2020:
- 65 receptions
- 1,111 yards
- 17.0 yards per reception
- 8 touchdowns
Other than that, Golladay is your stud for the Lions.
2 – Sleeper: Kerryon Johnson, RB
- 113 carries
- 403 yards
- 3.6 yards per carry
- 3 touchdowns
- 10 receptions
- 127 yards
- 1 touchdown
The injury bug hit Johnson, who was poised for a breakout season in 2019. Instead, he landed on Injured Reserve after 8 games and he struggled to gain any kind of ground. As a result, the Lions went out and drafted D’Andre Swift in the 2nd round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
But if you bet on productivity or play fantasy football, there’s no reason to give up on Johnson. He’s entering his 3rd season and will be 23 when the season begins, which means he potentially has a lot of life left in his NFL career, even at running back where career spans are typically shorter.
Instead, Johnson’s projected statistics figure to be lower due to the addition of Swift and the fact he’s coming off an injury-riddled 2019 campaign where he struggled throughout the first 8 weeks. It’s unlikely Johnson tears up the stat sheet, but if he stays healthy, he’ll easily supplant his projected numbers.
Project Johnson to enter camp as Detroit’s 1st team back and while Swift will get his touches, Johnson is still the primary runner in the backfield. Also, note that Johnson and Swift are built along the same lines, so it’s unlikely there will be a preference in certain situations.
Instead, look for the duo to be a 2-back committee, with Johnson leading the way. This assumes Johnson remains healthy throughout the season, but either way he’s a low-risk sleeper pick
Lean toward betting the over unless it appears Swift is outplaying him in camp, which is still set to begin in July 2020 at the time of this writing.
If you’re a fantasy owner, Johnson is probably going to fall and Swift may get the nod as an early round pick. The smart thing is to handcuff the backs. This gives you leverage when it comes to who to start on Sunday.
Here are Johnson’s 2020 projected statistics:
- 185 carries
- 749 yards
- 4.1 yards per carry
- 6 touchdowns
- 26 receptions
- 215 yards
- 1 touchdown
3 – Stumbler: Matthew Stafford, QB
- 187 completions
- 291 attempts
- 2,499 yards
- 19 touchdowns
- 5 interceptions
- 20 carries
- 66 yards
Stafford was on his way to an incredible season when he went down after the 8th game and never returned. He was on pace for 4,998 passing yards, 38 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions when he fractured his back.
So why is he the stumbler?
Stafford can easily come back from this and play lights out and it’s likely he can. But for this article, the stumbler is a player who would be safer to bet the under on if you bet on productivity at NFL betting sites, or to provide insurance for if you play fantasy football.
The likelihood that Stafford repeats his 2019 campaign is slim to none and slim’s about to buy a ticket out of town. His are Aaron Rodgers-type numbers, and while Stafford’s a productive quarterback and one of the best to strap on a Lions’ helmet since 1957, he’s not Aaron Rodgers.
Look for Stafford to put up close to 4,000 passing yards, but he’ll probably end up a hair below it. Not just because he’s an older player, but also because he has 2 good running backs who will take pressure off of him having to drop back and throw almost 40 times a game.
Instead, he’ll throw the ball about 30 times a game while the Lions figure to bring in a more balanced approach on offense. Also, Stafford often throws between 25 and 29 touchdowns per season, so to think he’ll approach 30 again is farfetched.
Yes, he can always repeat 2019 and even do so by playing in all 16 games, but a balanced offensive attack will negate some situations where he’d otherwise have slung it 35 to 40 times a game.
Here are his 2020 projections:
- 343 completions
- 540 attempts
- 4,233 yards
- 27 touchdowns
- 11 interceptions
- 33 carries
- 124 yards
- 1 touchdown
The same should go for pass attempts, which have steadily decreased since 2016, and were as low as 555 in 2018, down from his peak of 727 attempts in 2012, which to this day remains an NFL record.
4 – Breakout: T.J. Hockenson, TE
- 32 receptions
- 367 yards
- 11.5 yards per reception
- 2 touchdowns
Hockenson had a pedestrian rookie season and he underperformed given his draft status as the 8th overall pick in 2019. Despite this, it’s not uncommon for tight ends to make a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2.
Here are some examples.
Despite gaudy rookie numbers, Rob Gronkowski doubled his production from Year 1 to Year 2. The same goes for Jason Witten, Jimmy Graham, Eric Ebron, David Njoku, and Austin Hooper, to name a few.
Since the big jump is common among tight ends, Hockenson makes a safe bet for the over on many production lines, such as receptions and especially touchdowns, as tight ends receive ample opportunities near the goal line because of their height.
For fantasy owners, he’d be a perfect prospect to take a flyer on in the late rounds and might even wind up becoming a fantastic keeper selection for 2021 if you play in a keeper league. Keep Hockenson under the radar to be the Lions’ 2020 breakout player.
Here are his 2020 projections:
- 54 receptions
- 619 yards
- 11.6 yards per reception
- 4 touchdowns
The Lions own some hot talent and it was tough to even choose a stumbler here as even Matthew Stafford can have a repeat of 2019 and finish what he started one season ago.
Stafford can easily remove the stumbler label with another spectacular season but be cautious, especially given his age and if the Lions don’t win early, 2019 may be Stafford’s swan song.
Hockenson didn’t produce well in 2019 but neither has a horde of solid tight ends in football during their rookie seasons. Hockenson can easily join that club.