After a horrid 0-16 season made the Lions the laughing-stock of the league, Matt Millen and Rod Marinelli were sent packing, and Jim Schwartz was brought in to right the ship.
This is arguably a job that can’t be corrected in one season, and probably not even two or three, but if anyone can get Detroit going in the right direction, it’ll be a defensive-minded coach who will run the ball and keep his quarterback protected.
At least, that’s the hope.
The Lions have made strides by adding quality players to compete at several lacking positions, including receiver and linebacker.
While their roster certainly offers more buzz than 2008′s did, is there already room for optimism, or will Lions fans be gearing up for another run at a winless season?
5. Can Calvin Johnson Do It Again?
Johnson broke out in his second season, hauling in 78 catches for over 1,300 yards and 12 scores, despite playing for a winless ball club.
But don’t blame him for that.
Johnson did all he could to keep Detroit’s ineffective offense in games, while watching his defense blow any leads they could conjure up.
While that isn’t certain to change in 2009, the one thing Johnson won’t be worrying about is getting the ball.
Both Matthew Stafford and Daunte Culpepper have big, strong arms, and have the ability to go deep and get the ball to Johnson.
True, Johnson cracking 1,300 yards and grabbing another 12+ scores might not mean a division title or the playoffs in 2009, but at this point, Detroit will have to take it’s bright spots where it can get them.
Congratulations, Matt Millen, this one worked out for everyone.
4. Can Kevin Smith Be a True Feature Back?
If the carries are there, and the passing game holds up it’s end, Smith should easily crack 1,000 yards, and could even aim for 10+ scores.
His solid play and ability to be effective at both running and catching the ball made Rudi Johnson obsolete in 2008, and will likely render all other rushers as after-thoughts in 2009.
Smith isn’t a burner, but he combines great vision with solid speed, and elite between-the-tackles running.
The big question is if the off-season acquisitions and addition of Brandon Pettigrew on the line will shore up his blocking enough to help him make that extra step.
3. Is Jim Schwartz “The Guy” For the Job?
His 10 seasons in Tennessee lead us to believe, yes, yes he is.
Schwartz may be picking up the pieces in one of the most dysfunctional NFL cities we’ve seen in some time, but if teams like New Orleans and Atlanta can overcome trying times and embarrassing lawsuits to make the playoffs, then greener pastures could be on their way for the Lions.
Schwartz has assembled a patch-work defensive line-up of former studs, such as Julian Peterson and Larry Foote, and could easily coach Detroit into a competitive team in his first season.
It will take time to get the right players for his system, but with years of experience with Tennessee, there’s enough evidence in playoff appearances, defensive stars, and NFL ranks that suggest he indeed is the man for the job.
2. Matthew Stafford vs. Daunte Culpepper
While the jury is still out on Daunte Culpepper, fans and experts alike are eager to see what Matthews Stafford has in store for both Detroit’s future, as well as present success.
Culpepper. while wildly inconsistent at times, developed a solid connection with star receiver Calvin Johnson, and proved in spurts that he’s still a serviceable quarterback.
It’s clear that his knee injuries from his past hinder his mobility and confidence, and at least up until late last season, he still hadn’t shown the league he was the same passer he was three or four years ago.
It’s very possible that it’s time to label him a “washed-up” veteran, but if Detroit can save Stafford’s body from a brutal beating in his first year, while stealing solid games from the aging Culpepper-then why not?
However, if you ask players around the league, including future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, they’ll say it’s best to just “throw them into the action”, in regards to Stafford.
The argument can truly be made either way, and despite rumors that Stafford has a good chance of being the starter on day one, it’s sure to be a heated battle throughout pre-season.
In the end, Stafford is a near-lock to be starting around mid-season.
1. When Will They Get That First “W”?
Despite the new regime, solid draft, and key additions on both sides of the ball, it still looks like quite the uphill climb for Detroit.
It’s not enough to just make progress in a growing division like the NFC North. The Lions, despite their best efforts, watched as the Vikings, Packers, and Bears all widened the gap between the cellar dwellers, furthering the notion that regardless of their record in 2009, Detroit will inevitably find themselves at the bottom of the division.
Don’t believe it? Well, on paper at least, the schedule to start the season is, well, brutal.
Detroit opens the season on the road against a New Orleans Saints offense that can score on anybody, along with a defense that is regarded as “much improved”.
They then go home to face the Vikings and Redskins, and then have road games at Chicago and Green Bay sandwiching a match-up against the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Their sigh of relief? Their bye week in week seven.
Their first realistic chance at victory comes the next week against a woeful St. Louis team that, after a overhaul of it’s own, probably is on even ground with them.
Can Detroit fans handle an 0-6 start? Well, they may have to.
Posted by Kevin Roberts Date: Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The top ten picks of a Fantasy Football draft is fairly self-explanatory, no matter the format or scoring settings.
It’s simply, really. If you have a league the has two quarterbacks starting, getting Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, or Tom Brady with your top pick isn’t a bad move.
If your league has three running backs starting, you would be doing yourself a favor to get the best three running backs available—and so on and so forth.
But what few people realize, is that many fantasy football championships are won in the later rounds, when owners take fliers on rookies, players with legal troubles, or guys without a team.
Here are 13 players, in no particular order, that deserve a shot to prove to you that they’re still fantasy relevant.
Plaxico Burress, WR, Free Agent
Rumors in New York (Jets) have cooled a bit, but don’t buy it. Burress will see his court issues simmer down for the 2009 season, likely allowing him to continue his playing career.
After all, how is a man to pay for all those lawyers if he can’t earn a paycheck?
Burress may still wind up with some sort of suspension, but either way, is worth taking in the later rounds of your draft, simply because he’s still a candidate for 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns if he plays.
You’re not really going to draft a demoted Isaac Bruce before Burress, are you?
Matt Jones, WR, Free Agent
Jones won’t be facing any suspensions from the league, and the serious part of his legal issues is pretty much over with.
All Jones really has to worry about now is finding a starting spot on a team.
There are plenty of team (Jets, Giants, Cowboys, and Bears, just to name a few) that could use a 6’6″ receiver with good hands and great speed.
Jones probably hasn’t signed yet for two reasons: He doesn’t want to go to the Organized Team Activities, and a few teams may be a bit cautious about his recent problems.
Don’t worry. He’ll find a team and he’ll continue his progression into the better half of the league’s receivers. If the guy could put up solid numbers in Jacksonville, just imagine what he can do if Jay Cutler is throwing him the ball.
Edgerrin James, RB, Free Agent
James may be getting up there in age, but he showed he can still grind it out in last year’s playoff run with Arizona.
He’s lost some speed, but he’s a tough runner who is useful out of the backfield as a receiver, and is solid at picking up blitzes.
While he’s unlikely to find a starting job, he could be very useful as a change of pace back, with several teams in the league lacking veteran experience or overall depth at the position.
Brett Favre, QB, Free Agent
After Favre appeared on HBO’s Joe Buck Live and answered the tough questions, it appears imminent that he will sign with the Vikings.
Still, nothing is certain until he’s signed and in camp, so you can probably still get him in the late rounds of your draft.
Maybe people either still don’t believe he’s coming back, or don’t feel he offers anything as a fantasy quarterback.
I’m here to tell you that it’s foolish to buy into that line of thinking. Favre has all the supporting cast in the world to put up his 2007 numbers again, although with less yards.
Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor will pick up the slack so Favre won’t wear out his arm again, while Bernard Berrian will give Favre the big-play threat he craves.
The Vike’s solid offensive line should be able to protect Favre while all this goes on, and numbers like 3,500 yards, 25 TD, and 15 INT are extremely possible in an offense he knows better than anybody.
Laurence Maroney, RB, New England Patriots
No, he’s not guaranteed the starting job, and yes, he was hurt for most of last season. In fact, even when he was playing, he was ineffective and didn’t look like he did in 2007.
However, regardless of what you may have heard, he’s definitely in Bill Belichick’s plans, and based on the success of the running back by committee in New England last season, he’s still a better pick-up than, say, Noah Herron.
It obviously depends on how many teams are in your league, but if Maroney ever does grab hold of the starting job again, he could be a fantastic steal by you.
Peyton Hillis, RB/FB, Denver Broncos
After putting up over 340 yards and five touchdowns as the Broncos’ interim starting running back lat least season, Hillis figures to get some kind of touches in Josh McDaniels new offense.
Hillis is a versatile offensive threat that can run, block, and catch at an extremely high level, and should be used in a variety of packages.
Despite the likelihood he will be deployed a good amount, he’s lasting on boards until the very end of drafts. Make sure that he doesn’t.
Chris Henry, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
With a healthy Carson Palmer back and a new gung-ho attitude from teammate Chad Ochocinco (I still hate saying that), Henry could emerge as the explosive third option he was just three seasons ago.
Injuries to himself and his quarterback, as well as the usual off-field issues have been holding Henry back, but he could be primed for a big season if everything in Cincy works out as well as Carson Palmer thinks it will.
When healthy and out of trouble, Henry is a threat for 6-9 scores, as well as 350-600 yards. He shouldn’t be without a fantasy owner when your draft is through.
Brian Leonard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Let’s keep things relative, and address the Bengals ground game, too.
We all know Cedric Benson had an impressive three-game stretch to end the season last year, but we’re fooling ourselves if we think three good games can erase the previous three seasons of horrid play.
Benson is no sure thing, which is why the Bengals brought in Leonard from St. Louis.
Leonard will be used as a blocker and a third-down/short yardage back initially, but if Benson struggles, we could see him taking on a more prominent role.
Leonard is a very useful weapon as a receiver out of the backfield, as well, and Marvin Lewis will look for several different ways to get him on the field.
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets vs. Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions
These guys are at a tie for now, simply because neither has been guaranteed the starting gig.
I like Stafford’s potential for this season better based on Calvin Johnson, while Sanchez has a better moxie to him, and probably has a better running game and overall team surrounding him.
Neither are Joe Flacco or Matt Ryan clones, and both are in worse situations than last year’s impressive rookies were. However, there is still some fantasy value there, and if they wind up starting, they could become useful in deeper leagues.
Jerome Harrison, RB, Cleveland Browns
Jamal Lewis is over 30 and clearly not as quick or fast as he used to be (was he ever?).
Harrison has been offering Cleveland a special change-of-pace style for a couple years now, and should finally get his chance to prove his worth.
He won’t take over the starting job before the season starts, but by the end of the season, I’d be shocked if they weren’t at least splitting carries.
The Wild Card
Joey Galloway, WR, New England Patriots
Galloway is definitely up there in age for a receiver, but he can still burn rubber and get behind the secondary.
Bill Belichick’s offense will allow him to have the field all to himself with most of the attention focused on containing Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
Think back when Donte Stallworth was the third option on the 2007 New England team. Galloway could easily put up numbers in the realm of 50 rec, 750 yards, and 6 TD.