Hit the Targets 2021: Detroit Lions Edition
The 2020 season is behind us, recorded in the annals of history. Now, we can look forward to the upcoming season. And that means the return of the Stats and Shares series – albeit under a different name. The next three Hit the Targets articles will focus on teams who lost several important pass-catching players from 2020.
It will then look at players who may stake a claim as a favoured target on that team’s offense. We start with a team who featured on the Cash In Carries article last year – the Detroit Lions.
CULLING THE PRIDE
Last year, a huge overhaul of the Lions’ backfield saw 4 Running Backs leave the team. That led to the aforementioned Cash In Carries article.
This year, the clear-out has focused on pass-catchers. At last count, 13 players targeted in 2020 have left the Lions. The average number for teams around the NFL? 5.375. That’s a huge difference, and we stand to see a hugely different team next year.
But, after another disappointing season, it was clear something needed to be done for the Lions to compete in the division. And, to many, new head coach Dan Campbell was an unexpected appointment in starting the process.
The former Saints deputy came in with all guns blazing. It started with a confusing inauguration speech about getting back up and ‘biting kneecaps’. And the hardball approach seems to have continued with the considerable change in personnel.
It remains to be seen as to whether that is the answer. But it’s a very open way of putting your stamp on your team.
BYE-BYE TO BIG PLAYERS
Not only were there a lot of players let go, but many were big targets in the passing game. That included the entirity of the starting Wide Receiver group. Danny Amendola (12.28% of targets) and Marvin Jones Jr. (20.46%) are out. After a disappointing injury filled season, so is Kenny Golladay (5.69%).
But it went further than the starters. Marvin Hall (5.34%) Mohamed Sanu (4.09%) and Jamal Agnew (3.56%) have also gone. And the Lions remove two Tight Ends in Jesse James (3.91%) and Isaac Nauta (0.36%).
And, in a continuation from last year, the Lions turned over their Running Backs. Starting contenders Adrian Peterson (3.2%) and Kerryon Johnson (4.63%) departed, as well as Jonathan Williams (0.71%). Ty Johnson moved to the Jets during the season, but his early season contributions account for 1 target (0.18%).
Finally, Quarterback Matt Stafford (0.18%) left to join the Rams in a trade deal, with the Lions getting Jared Goff in return.
THE CIRCLE OF LIFE
That being said, the Lions have brought in a lot to replace those they’ve lost. So who amongst them might be in line to see a lion’s share of the targets in 2021?
Detroit’s mantra of ‘removal, not renewal’ left a lot of questions to be answered when the dust settled. Answers to those questions seemed a lot more certain in the Running Back position. With D’Andre Swift the sole remaining starter, the price to acquire his fantasy services rocketed.
But the acquisition of Jamaal Williams has put a huge spanner in negotiations. Acquired from divisional rivals Green Bay, his signing added a huge weapon to the backfield.
Williams’ usage in the last two years has seen consistent and productive pass-catching. Those years have seen a completion percentage above 80%. Each year has produced over 200 receiving yards. And 2019 also had the Running Back catch 5 receiving touchdowns. The former Packer has demonstrated that he could be a valuable tool for the Lions.
Swift himself saw 57 targets in 2020. His completion percentage was also over 80%, and his efforts added on an extra 357 yards and one receiving touchdown. Had Williams not signed with the club, the case for increased pass-catching involvement was strong.
And that strength has not lessened. But Williams’ previous usage in this area does cast doubts on whether this could happen. It also gives fantasy owners a massive headache.
So will Anthony Lynn’s announcement, where the OC described Williams as an ‘A’ back. If this leads to bigger things for Jamaal Williams, then the newcomer could well offer drafters upside in both pass-catching AND the running game. And that’s more than anyone ever thought would be there with Swift in the team.
The former Las Vegas Raider joins the Lions after missing the entirity of the 2020 season. Surgery followed a serious labrum injury, meaning the receiver sat out the year. In that time, the rest of the wide men took advantage. And, at the close of the season, Tyrell was far down the pecking order.
Now Williams is at a new team. And, compared to fellow signing Breshad Perriman, seems more likely to claim a sizeable amount of targets.
But why one over the other? Both have valuable experience to bring to the position. They have both seen time in the starting positions of their previous teams. And it’s tricky to separate the players on production.
The key could come down to important stats, such as completion percentage. Perriman has only seen one year with a completion rate above 60%. In fact, 2020’s year at the Jets saw that percentage at an all-time low – around 50%. Comparatively, Williams’ percentages in this area have been much better.
Staying fit could also be a considered factor. Perriman has found this difficult in previous seasons. It’s been four years since he has completed a full 16 games and this could be a big reason why he has been unable to hold down a job. He’s on his fifth club in five seasons.
We know Williams missed the 2020 season due to his injury. However, three of four seasons (2016-2019) saw him play a full 16-game schedule. When laid out on paper, Williams seems more likely to stay fit and, as a result, stands a better chance of holding a starting position.
However, my thoughts about who comes out on top don’t just stem from stats. Williams has the advantage of previously working with one of his new coaches.
The former Charger links up with his old head coach Anthony Lynn, who is now the Lions’ OC. Under him, Williams was used regularly as a starter alongside Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. He is a recognisable, tried and tested player in a crowd of unfamiliar options. That will be something that Lynn could turn to, particularly early on a season with few pre-season games.
It’s also easy to forget that Williams was also the primary Wide Receiver when he moved to the Raiders in 2019. There, he was second only to Darren Waller in terms of targets. However, he scored the most receiving touchdowns for the team that year. And it was only through injury that the former Western Oregon man found himself out of favour – not form.
So, now there are no recognised starting receivers at the team, this could be a big chance for Tyrell Williams. Back with his old boss, and no established obstacles between him and the WR1 position. At worst, he has some serious sleeper potential. At best…I’ll let you decide!
I’m going to briefly mention Fells because, as we know, there’s already a big player in the position.
T.J. Hockenson was called on early and often in most games last season. As a result, the Iowa man ended up in the Tight End Top 5 for 2020.
Not only that, but the large departure of viable pass-catchers could be hugely promising for Hockenson. He stands to get even more volume. But there could be some other chances here for other Tight Ends.
One such player is Darren Fells. He has got proven experience of being able to score touchdowns – with 11 in the last two seasons. The stats show he has the ability to be a complimentary redzone piece to Hockenson’s volume role. Furthermore, he could be a capable backup if Hock gets injured.
This signing doesn’t bode well for Hunter Bryant. The 2019 undrafted rookie struggled last year. Both fitness and form were valid concerns. But there is still a chance for the sophomore. Josh Hill’s retirement – coming two months after the former Saint signed in Detroit – offers up an opportunity for Bryant. The arrival of a new coach could mean the offseason is his final chance at breaking into the Lions’ roster.
NEW CUBS ON THE BLOCK
Another way of making your mark on a team (aside from clearing out the old players) is bringing in players during your tenure.
And Dan Campbell has certainly brought in a lot of prospective rookies – with nine in total vying for a spot. Can any of these fresh faces make an immediate impact on the pass-catching game? Here are my favourite prospects…
Brother to near-inconspicuous Green Bay receiver Equanimeous, there are higher hopes for this USC product. And he gets an incredible landing spot – an almost immediate opportunity to take a starting role in the team.
Not only that, but he was the first offensive skill player to be taken by Dan Campbell – in his first draft. This could be considered a big honour, and could also convey expectations. Campbell might need to prove that the receiver was worth the pick. And it seems St.Brown wants to do the same! The rookie has already come out with some fiery statements about proving himself in the NFL.
However, unlike Campbell, St.Brown has got some impressive credentials to back up his selection. The receiver has been amongst the targets since he arrived in college. His freshman year had him top the table in receptions, over established players like Michael Pittman. Pittman was the top USC target during St.Brown’s sophomore year in 2019. But the two of them were key weapons in the Trojans offense.
That year, and the one that followed, St.Brown familiarised himself well with the endzone. The 14 touchdowns he scored were split evenly across the two seasons. But what makes this more impressive is that the Trojans only played 6 games in 2020. This sort of scoring acumen makes a prospective team sit up and take notice.
But he’s not just prolific in scoring. He’s also good at picking up yards. The 2019 season saw him bag over 1000 yards, and he was projecting a similar yards/game figure last year. Naturally, there is a step up to the NFL to consider. But he stands a good chance of seeing starting game-time if that form can continue.
Plus, not only does he get a huge opportunity to play straight away, but a chance to face off against his brother’s team twice a year. If that’s not a reason to pushing for a starting spot, I don’t know what is!
The Lions have brought in Jamaal Williams to contend in the Running Back room. But the cupboard looks quite bare when you look past him and D’Andre Swift.
As such, there is a chance that Jermar Jefferson could see several opportunities this year as well. The Running Back has put up some impressive ground-based college figures. This will be a big benefit to the team in a change-of-pace role.
But it’s the receiving figures that accompany the rushes that should pique interest. Oregon State have used Jefferson extensively in the passing game during his freshman year. 25 receptions saw him tack on an extra 147 yards to an already impressive 1380 rushing yards.
There was reduced targets for him in the following two seasons. But the shortened season didn’t help anyone in 2020. And, when Isaiah Hodgins is mopping up every 2019 target in sight, there’s not a lot left for anyone else. Moving to the NFL gives Jefferson a chance to show his pass-catching chops during preseason.
One of the undrafted free agents taken by the Lions after the draft. There were many analysts questioning why Surratt hadn’t been taken. He was on many draft boards as a Day 3 draft pick. So to have him go undrafted raised questions.
Perhaps it was down to Surratt opting out of the 2020 season. The football calendar moved on without the Wake Forest receiver – and may have left him behind.
The year before that had Surratt as the leading 2019 scorer for the team. He caught 66 receptions went for 1001 yards and 11 touchdowns. A look at highlight tape sees Surratt using his 6’4″ frame for a distinct advantage. The receiver’s height allows him to tower over opposing Cornerbacks. And, once he brings those targets in, it takes a lot of effort to bring him down. He also shows quick retention skills on contested targets.
These attributes could be especially handy for the Lions passing game. Surratt’s height has him as one of the tallest in the receiving group. So, if they can stick him, Tyrell Williams and T.J. Hockenson in the endzone, there are going to be some big targets to deal with.
There are question marks about his ability to stay fit, as Surratt has not played more than 10 games in a college season. So his availability offsets his effectiveness.
Nevertheless, with the lack of depth at the position, the Lions may be the perfect landing spot for Surratt.
We look at an AFC South team who have lost some key pass-catching pieces.