Fantasy Football: Breaking down the Detroit Lions

• Inside the Locker Room

With John Niyo of the Detroit News

Can Matt Stafford finally put his injury issues behind him and start a full season?
There’s a misconception that the Lions’ offensive line is directly responsible for Stafford’s injuries, though it was a Julius Peppers sack that got 2010 started off on the wrong shoulder. Still, there’s no mistaking Stafford’s offseason determination to put an end to all that idle time, opting for surgery and an intense rehab on his throwing shoulder. By strengthening the muscles around his joints, the expectation is he’ll be better equipped to withstand punishment. He’s also now well aware of the value of throwing it away to avoid a sack. But really, the best medicine might be an offense with more playmakers and quick-read outlets that allows Stafford to dictate the tempo and avoid the kind of desperate situations that lead to problems.

Can Brandon Pettigrew develop a relationship with Matt Stafford like he did with Shaun Hill?
Pettigrew has the ability to be any quarterback’s best friend, as long as he figures out a way to hang on to the football. And while he had a breakout year with 71 catches — most of them without Stafford — his yards per reception, downfield targets and touchdowns go way up when the No. 1 quarterback is in the game.

How soon will Titus Young beat out Nate Burleson for a starting spot?
Young wasn’t drafted to replace Burleson. He was drafted because the Lions’ No. 3 wideouts — Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams — were so ineffective in 2010. The Lions wanted another receiver who could get separation and threaten defenses with deep speed to take away defenders over the top for Calvin Johnson, Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew.

• Fantasy Playoff Run — Weeks 14-16: MIN, @OAK, SD
Let’s be honest — we’re all looking at the Lions as a passing team. With that said, the playoff schedule is not friendly. All three opponents were in the top 10 against the pass last season — in fact, San Diego and Oakland were first and second vs. the pass, respectively. So maybe the Lions can run. Well, the Chargers (fourth) and Vikings (ninth) possessed top-10 rush defenses last year.

• Athlon Best Bets
Brandon Pettigrew, TE
Deep-Sleeper: Jerome Harrison, RB
Overvalued: Nate Burleson, WR
Top Rookie: Titus Young, WR
Bounce-Back: Matthew Stafford, QB
Top IDP: Ndamukong Suh, DL

• Try to Avoid
Nate Burleson, WR 

With Titus Young joining the fantasy ranks, and Jahvid Best, Brandon Pettigrew and Calvin Johnson combining to command high target totals, Burleson’s time on fantasy rosters may be ending. 

• Draft Class Fantasy Impact
The Lions should be a good source of fantasy value this season, and more weapons were added through the draft. Young will help take away some of the pressure on Calvin Johnson and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Don’t expect Young to make much of a fantasy impact in 2011, but he should be targeted in keeper formats. Even though Jahvid Best was solid as a rookie, adding a bigger, complementary back was necessary. Leshoure could have fit that mold and passed Best for the team lead in rushing yards. But with Leshoure's season-ending Achilles injury, it is hard to tell what the Lions' running game will look like.

More Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets and Rankings:
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 280
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Top 240 w/ IDPs

011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Quarterbacks
011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Running Backs
2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Wide Receivers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Tight Ends

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Kickers

2011 Fantasy Football Rankings: Defense/Special Teams

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