It has been an offseason of change in Detroit, most notably with the hiring of Jim Caldwell and Joe Lombardi to coach the team and its offense in 2014 but also with a number of new pass catching weapons added to the mix as well.
We’ve covered the offensive scheme that you can expect to be employed, but in short you’re going to see a West Coast based system that takes chances down the field when they present themselves. The running backs will stay involved, and with Lombardi’s history with the league’s most productive TE (Jimmy Graham) you can expect the position to be used effectively, also.
In comes Eric Ebron, then, and along with him the excitement about his 2014 contributions with the TE whisperer. Its easy to be excited, of course, at 6’4″, 250 pounds the athletic Ebron ripped off a 4.6-40, and a 120 inch broad jump – both among the tops at his position. The overall viewpoint is that while he has room to improve as a blocker, he is ready to contribute in the pass game right away.
That’s all well and good, but those hoping to draft Ebron late and plug him in as a TE1 should note that just one rookie TE has averaged more than 5 fantasy points per game (Jordan Reed, last year), so while Ebron will make meaningful contributions to his team in his first year the complexity of the NFL game suggests he’ll be more of an asset in year two after a season to refine his craft.
His real contribution to the fake game will be in support of Matthew Stafford‘s passing numbers (Stafford is our 4th ranked Quarterback) and also the distraction he creates for opposing defenses accustomed to keying on Calvin Johnson.
For his part, Ebron knows his role (per the Detroit Free Press, via Pro Football Talk):
I’m here to help Calvin out, Calvin gets a million and one double teams a game, so hopefully, I can be that X factor in the middle of the field that frees Calvin up so he can do what he does and it’ll make our offense that much better.
Of course, you don’t need an article telling you that Calvin Johnson is going to be a fantasy football asset this year but do note that the additional weapons are good news for him, not a negative. Sure, they may have more targets to disperse around the field but with additional options comes additional challenges for defenses that would otherwise spend their time focused solely on knocking Johnson off his spot.
Its good news for Stafford too, who has never had any trouble throwing for high yardage but struggled to close out games last season and found himself challenged to post productive outings when Johnson was out of the game or otherwise limited. He’ll now have viable second and third reads, which should help limit his mistakes and increase his efficiency. Cutting down on the turnovers while increasing his touchdown passes should land Stafford, an annual threat to throw for 5,000 yards, among the highest part of the 2nd tier of fantasy quarterbacks for this coming season.
New Lion Golden Tate hopes to make an impact in his first year in silver and blue as well, and stands to benefit from the defensive attention paid to Johnson along with joining an offense expected to pass much more frequently than did his old team in Seattle.
With 64 receptions for 898 yards as part of the Super Bowl winning Seahawks Tate easily enjoyed his best season as a pro in 2013. In Detroit however, he’ll benefit from volume alone, if nothing else. Seattle attempted the 2nd fewest passes per game in the league, at 26.25. Detroit’s 39.63, meanwhile, were the 5th most. The coaching staff has changed for the Lions but the offense still projects to be considerably more pass heavy than that of the Seahawks. The sure handed Tate caught 68.8% of his targets last season and will serve as a solid make them pay option when coordinators spend too much time covering Megatron.
All told, while you may see a few targets heading in the direction of other parties the move is good news for Johnson who will still command double coverage but at least has a few options elsewhere in the offense to keep defenses honest.
- Calvin Johnson holds as the best wideout in fantasy football
- Matthew Stafford should be a top-5 QB on most draft boards/in most league settings this season
- Tate is in line for a career year, based on target load alone
- Eric Ebron is an intriguing option in year two, but likely carries a rookie-hype-inflated price tag in year one