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Fantasy Football Breakouts, Busts, and Locks - Detroit Lions 2022 Outlook

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Welcome to our fantasy football Breakouts, Busts, and Locks, a series on RotoBaller where our writers look at three key players on each NFL team. Today, we're talking about the Detroit Lions.

After trading Matthew Stafford last year, the Lions are now in the second year of a rebuild. What kind of fantasy value can we find on this team?

Below, you'll find a fantasy football breakout candidate, a fantasy football bust candidate, and a safe fantasy football pick for the Lions based on early ADP for fantasy football drafts in 2022.

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Fantasy Football Breakout: Amon-Ra St. Brown

The Lions' passing offense this season probably won't be great. But that shouldn't necessarily hurt second-year receiver Amon-Ra. St. Brown, as being the No. 1 option in a passing attack is still good for fantasy purposes, even when the passing attack struggles.

The Lions ranked 16th in the NFL in pass attempts last season, higher than teams like the Falcons and Bengals, who you think of as more "passing" teams. Detroit routinely finds itself behind, which means the team ends up throwing more. I'm not trying to make that "garbage time matters" argument that you sometimes see because relying on "garbage time" isn't a sustainable strategy, but the Lions should throw plenty in the second half. Don't expect a barrage of fourth-quarter touchdowns like we got a few years back with Blake Bortles in Jacksonville, but also recognize that the team will definitely have a higher second-half pass rate than a lot of teams.

And in that scenario, I have to like the No. 1 receiver, right?

As a rookie, St. Brown was targeted 119 times, catching 90 passes for 912 yards and five touchdowns. He did that despite not seeing a ton of action early in the season. In fact, he had a catch-less game in Week 7.

But from Week 14 on, the breakout was there for St. Brown. Over the final six games, he was targeted 67 times, catching 51 passes for 560 yards and five touchdowns.

That's 56.3% of his targets, 56.7% of his catches, 61.4% of his yards, and 100% of his touchdowns coming in that six-game stretch.

St. Brown caught fire at the end of the season. Once he firmly established himself as the Lions' No. 1 receiver, he posted numbers that over a 17-game season would have made him an elite receiver.

The Lions having more weapons this year probably means that St. Brown won't average 11.2 targets per game, but he should still see the highest volume of any Lions receiver, making him the perfect mid-round breakout target in fantasy.

 

Fantasy Football Bust: D.J. Chark

We're not long removed from D.J. Chark being a potential breakout player with the Jaguars. After a poor rookie campaign, Chark bounced back in 2019 with a 1,000-yard season. But two disappointing seasons followed that and Chark left this offseason for the Lions.

And if we're hoping Chark gets back on track and has the kind of career he was in line to have after 2019, the Lions are not a good landing spot—at least not in the short term.

Detroit's got a limited passing game, so while I outlined above why I like Amon-Ra St. Brown, I can't really get behind anyone else in this passing game aside from tight end T.J. Hockenson.

This isn't even really about Chark as a player. It's about the fact that if we assume St. Brown is the lead receiver, we have a huge mess of players behind him. I'm highlighting Chark because he's the likeliest guy to be the No. 2 receiver, but he's also the likeliest guy to get overdrafted by someone who thinks "there's got to be value in rostering the No. 2 guy."

Because behind Chark, you have Josh Reynolds and Quintez Cephus, who are both talented players, and you have rookie Jameson Williams, who is recovering from a torn ACL and will likely miss at least some of this NFL season. At some point, Williams should play, and a Lions team that's prioritizing the future will want to get him involved, which will come at the expense of all the other wide receivers.

So, be warned: Chark and the other receivers on this team are low-floor, low-ceiling players who you'll never feel confident starting in fantasy.

 

Fantasy Football Lock: D'Andre Swift

Swift's usage in both the run game and the pass game make him the only really reliable player on this team. And the fact that the back behind him is a veteran like Jamaal Williams instead of a fresh, young running back is a good sign that Swift will maintain his lead role in this run game all season long.

Williams was solid last year, but you can see in the game splits (shoutout to RotoViz) that 23.5% of his total carries came in the two games that he played without Swift. If Swift is healthy, he's the clear lead back in this Lions offense.

Now, usually I don't love running backs in bad offenses for understandable reasons: a bad offense will have to pass more late in games because they're behind more, thus lowering the ceiling of running backs, as they won't be getting as many carries.

But Swift negates that somewhat with his value as a receiver. He was third on the team in targets last year, trailing only Amon-Ra St. Brown and T.J. Hockenson. In 13 games, Swift had more targets than No. 2 receiver Kalif Raymond had in 16 games.

Now, some of that was definitely due to the Lions having a really poor collection of receivers last year. And as I mentioned above, that group did improve.

But even then, Swift should see at least a combined 200 carries/targets. Jared Goff will continue to target his running back in the short passing game, because Goff has really shifted into being a short-yardage guy. Per PlayerProfiler, Goff ranked 33rd in the NFL in air yards per attempt last year. Again, some of that is because of the lack of weapons, but not enough so that it would lead me to fade Swift.



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