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Juggernaut Index, No. 14: Lions offer Stafford, receivers, various fantasy sleepers

Matthew Stafford has consistently finished as a top-10 fantasy QB, yet we don’t draft him as such. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

If Matthew Stafford cares at all about career records, then he has a great chance to retire as the NFL’s all-time leader in passing yardage. Prepare yourselves for this outcome, because it is very much in play.

Stafford is only 30 years old and has already thrown for 34,749 yards. He’ll probably finish the upcoming season ranked No. 21 on the passing leaderboard, assuming good health. Next year, he’s going to leapfrog Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana and Dan Fouts on the all-time list.

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Drew Brees will actually break the career passing mark this October in all likelihood, and he’s going to reach 80K yards if he plays beyond 40. Brees certainly has a shot to put the record in a distant place. Still, if Stafford plays another 10 seasons (which is no small ask) at a level that approaches what he’s done over the past three (4345 yards per year), then he’ll find himself on the doorstep of 80,000 yards at age 39.

By that point, of course, Stafford will have made eleventy trillion dollars in lifetime earnings, so he might reasonably decide to leave the game and buy a small island. Or a large island. Or go live in space. Hard to say what he’ll do, but he’ll have options.

The point is, Stafford has been astonishingly productive over the years, and he’s still a young quarterback. We used to think of him as injury prone, but he hasn’t missed a game over the past seven seasons. He’s finished as a top-10 fantasy QB in each of the last three years. Stafford is an accurate and inventive passer with one of the strongest arms in league history.

Curiously, Detroit has not been particularly aggressive with the vertical passing game during Jim Bob Cooter’s tenure as OC. Stafford has ranked in the bottom-half of the league’s starting quarterbacks in deep attempts per game over the past two seasons (4.0), according to Player Profiler. He’s made significant leaps in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer-rating, however, while averaging better than 270 yards per game. Stafford has definitely not been a problem — not for the fantasy community, not for Lions fans. He doesn’t exactly have a distinguished postseason record (0-3), but that’s not entirely on him. He’s led the league in game-winning drives in three of the past four years, for whatever that’s worth.

No matter what you think of Stafford as a real-life QB, hopefully you can acknowledge that he’s an underrated fantasy commodity. He’s the eleventh quarterback off the board in recent drafts according to FF Calculator (ADP 99.7), but he’s beaten that rank in five of the last seven seasons. If you can land him at his ADP, it’s an easy profit.

Kenny Golladay, fantasy sleeper

You don’t need an expert to tell you that Marvin Jones and Golden Tate are rock-solid WR2s in our game. Jones has spent two seasons in Detroit, catching 116 balls for 2031 yards and 13 scores. He’s not a target monster like Tate, so if week-to-week consistency is your thing, look elsewhere. But if you like big plays and the occasional huge week from your supporting receivers, Jones is your guy. Tate has caught at least 90 balls on 120-plus targets in each of the four seasons he’s been attached to Stafford. When he retires, he’ll go straight to the PPR Hall of Fame. Tate is a short-range receiver who rarely gets a look near the goal line, so his fantasy value takes a dip in standard formats. But you knew that already.

Kenny Golladay, breakout candidate. (AP Photo/Jose Juarez)

Let’s get to the subject of our subhead…

Golladay opened his rookie season with a two-touchdown performance in a comeback win against Arizona — and the second TD was of the highest quality. The performance left little doubt that Golladay can be an impact player for the Lions. Unfortunately, a September hamstring injury interrupted his season. Golladay still managed to finish with 28 catches for 477 yards in 11 games, including five receptions that went for 40-plus. He has terrific size (6-foot-4) and big-play ability, and he was a buzzy player throughout the offseason. Tate is clearly a fan:

“I saw freakish catches [from Golladay], man,” Tate said. “Some real freakin’ freakish catches. Kenny’s still a young guy trying to figure it out, but he’s moving at a great pace. If he can just keep the mentality he has coming in, he studies, and just tries to get better every day, I’m telling you, this guy can be dominant. He’s a WR1 kind of guy.”

Remember, the Lions released Eric Ebron back in March, which leaves 80-90 targets up for grabs. Those opportunities won’t all remain with the tight end position. Detroit added Luke Willson on a one-year deal, but he was used largely as a blocker by Seattle; his single-season high in receptions is 22. Second-year tight end Michael Roberts could have a greater role, but we can expect a few of Ebron’s old looks to go to Golladay. He’s definitely worth a late flier.

The Lions backfield is the usual mess, with an interesting rookie entering the picture

Substitute rookie Kerryon Johnson for veteran Ameer Abdullah in this backfield hierarchy, add big back LeGarrette Blount to the mix, and … well, you know the drill. Multiple running backs are going to see the football for Detroit.

The Lions traded up in the second round to draft Johnson, a player coming off back-to-back terrific seasons at Auburn. Last year, he gained 1585 scrimmage yards on 309 touches, averaging 4.9 YPC and reaching the end-zone 20 times. He delivered triple-digit yardage totals against the toughest SEC teams on the Tigers’ schedule, including Alabama and Georgia, though he struggled a bit against people’s champ UCF. Johnson has size enough for a featured role and he obviously produced a few impressive highlights in college. He’s the prime candidate to lead Detroit’s backfield in carries in the season ahead.

Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson is looking to carve out a significant backfield role, but he’s not the only notable RB on the depth chart. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

However, we can be absolutely certain that Theo Riddick will retain the receiving role that’s led to 186 catches over the past three seasons. And if Blount is on a team’s roster, he’s going to see short-yardage and goal line carries. So there are a few complications for Johnson. We can’t realistically view him as anything like a bankable RB2 in fantasy, not if Riddick and Blount are getting a bunch of the most valuable touches. Johnson isn’t necessarily a special value at his recent ADP (69.6, RB31), but he’s made plenty of noise in camp. It’s OK to like the player and not love the price. This team’s O-line graded poorly last season, but a full year from LT Taylor Decker will certainly help.

New head coach Matt Patricia inherits a club that averaged nine wins per year under Jim Caldwell, making a pair of playoff appearances. It’s not as if this franchise hasn’t been competitive in recent seasons. Detroit’s defense ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards and points allowed last year, but the D isn’t without playmakers — notably Ezekiel Ansah, Jarrad Davis and Darius Slay. Incredibly, the Lions haven’t won a division title since 1993, when they played in the old five-team NFC Central. It’s pretty hard to imagine this year’s group finishing ahead of both the Packers and Vikings. But hey, when you have a competent QB, you have hope.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 25.6 (seventh in NFL)
Pass YPG – 261.4 (6)
Rush YPG – 76.3 (32)
Yards per play – 5.5 (10)
Plays per game – 61.2 (27)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco, 16) Arizona, 15) Seattle, 14) Detroit

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