Free agency and the NFL Draft have come and gone. It’s time to fully embrace the 2023 offseason by breaking down the fantasy football aspirations of each and every team before draft season truly gets underway.
What follows is a fantasy-focused breakdown of the Detroit Lions, looking at key questions like:
- Was 2022 a one-off boom for Jared Goff or a sign of even bigger things to come?
- Does the No. 12 overall pick in the NFL Draft, Jahmyr Gibbs, warrant an early-round fantasy selection?
- Could Amon-Ra St. Brown receive a season-long target total that winds up starting with a two?
Every fantasy-relevant player from the Lions will be covered in the following paragraphs. Make sure to check out the Fantasy Life Team Preview Landing Page through the end of June for more all-encompassing fantasy football coverage.
Notable Offseason Moves
From the front office to the coaching staff to the roster, every NFL team will be different in 2023 compared to their respective 2022 version.
Noted knee-biting connoisseur/head coach Dan Campbell is entering his third season in Detroit. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn are both back as well. Last year, these coaches helped the Lions finally break their streak of four straight losing seasons, so the 2023 Lions should be thankful that all three are returning for the coming season.
There should also be plenty of optimism heading into 2023 after Detroit's offense was the fifth-highest scoring in the league last year. Johnson made a habit of digging deep into his bag for some cool tricks, including a clutch third-down conversion from Penei Sewell of all people, but even more encouraging was Johnson's willingness to throw the damn ball at an above-average rate while also moving the offense down the field with a sense of urgency.
- Pass rate over expected: -1.7% (No. 13)
- Goff play-action rate: 24.7% (No. 12)
- Situation neutral pace: 31.09 seconds (No. 12)
Of course, continuity in the coaching staff doesn't guarantee that the team will replicate their offensive success from last season. Just 49% of top-10 NFL scoring offenses repeated that feat the following season since 2000, meaning that we should expect roughly five of last year’s top-10 scoring offenses to decline in 2023.
Additionally, the Lions have made plenty of changes to their roster this offseason in free agency. The following QBs, RBs, WRs, and TEs have either joined or left Detroit in some way, shape, or form this offseason:
- QB: None
- RB: Former second-round pick D’Andre Swift was traded to the Eagles for a 2025 fourth-round pick and a late-round swap. The Lions also let Jamaal Williams walk and sign with the Saints in free agency. 2022 backup Justin Jackson remains an unrestricted free agent. Instead, Detroit opted to replace them by signing former Bears RB David Montgomery to a three-year, $18 million deal with $8.75 million guaranteed.
- WR: D.J. Chark signed with the Panthers, and Quintez Cephus was released after getting suspended for gambling. The lone free agency addition to replace these talents was 33 year-old former Lion Marvin Jones, who signed a one-year, $3 million to return.
- TE: None
In addition, Detroit added some rookie talent via the NFL Draft. Alabama RB Jahmyr Gibbs (1.12) and Iowa TE Sam LaPorta (2.34) profile as immediate contributors from Day 1 and could quickly become featured starters.
There’s also potential for Tennessee QB Hendon Hooker (3.68) to make some noise down the road, although Campbell’s near-term thoughts sure make it sound like 2023 will be a red-shirt year. The Lions also added WR Antoine Green (7.219) on Day 3 of the draft, but don’t expect too much from him if the history of draft capital tells us anything.
- Jared Goff (Ian’s QB17)
- Hendon Hooker (QB49)
Goff will turn 29 years old in October and enters the 2023 season as the Lions unquestioned starter. His seat is cooler than ever after posting arguably his best single-season performance over the last five years, although his completion percentage over expected still left a bit to be desired:
- 2022: -1.3% CPOE (No. 29); +0.17 EPA per dropback (No. 8), 61.2 QBR (No. 5)
- 2021: +0.5% (No. 17), -0.04 (No. 29), 39.5 (No. 24)
- 2020: +0.9% (No. 21), +0.04 (No. 25), 58.5 (No. 29)
- 2019: -1.7% (No. 28), +0.09 (No. 16), 50.6 (No. 28)
- 2018: +1.5% (No. 18), +0.2 (No. 8), 63.6 (No. 13)
- 2017: -0.9% (No. 23), +0.17 (No. 9), 55.7 (No. 22)
- 2016: -10.9% (No. 36), -0.35 (No. 36), 18.3 (No. 36)
The low CPOE rate wasn’t exactly due to throwing a bunch of deep balls, as only 9.4% of Goff’s attempts went at least 20 yards downfield last season (32nd among 40 qualifying QBs). His average target depth (aDOT) of 7.6 yards also ranked just 30th.
One reason Goff managed to lead such a productive offense even without standing out as one of the league’s more accurate passers came from the Lions’ success in the screen game in 2022.
- Lions yards per target on screens: 7.76 (No. 2)
- Yards per route run (YPRR) on screens: 1.53 (No. 2)
- Yards per reception on screens: 7.9 (No. 4)
Per Pro Football Focus (PFF), Goff went from the 10th-highest graded passer when getting the ball out of his hands in under 2.5 seconds to just the 24th-ranked signal-caller when holding the ball for longer. In other words, things tended to quickly go wrong for Goff when life wasn't made easy for him with quick pre-snap decision making.
The good news for Goff is that he'll have the same offensive coordinator as last year. Johnson showed a Sean McVay-esque ability to get the most out of the passing game and from Goff in his first season calling plays for the Lions. This led to Goff's first borderline fantasy QB1 finish for the first time in years. Here are his fantasy PPG and finishes dating back to 2016:
- 2022: 16.7 (QB13)
- 2021: 13.9 (QB22)
- 2020: 16.0 (QB23)
- 2019: 15.5 (QB21)
- 2018: 19.8 (QB9)
- 2017: 17.0 (QB10)
- 2016: 7.6 (QB32)
Ultimately, Goff is currently my fantasy QB17 heading into 2023, in the same tier as guys like Geno Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, Derek Carr, Matthew Stafford, and Jimmy Garoppolo.
I’m happy to draft Goff at ADP if I've already drafted Amon-Ra St. Brown and/or Jahmyr Gibbs earlier in the draft and wouldn’t fight anyone who wants to place him at the top of this big tier of QBs.
However, I usually prefer a first-or-last strategy when it comes to QBs in fantasy, which means that I'd rather either pay up for a true difference-making dual-threat QB or just wait to grab the last of the last pocket passer types in this extensive tier.
- Jahmyr Gibbs (Ian’s RB13)
- David Montgomery (RB24)
- Craig Reynolds (RB101)
Gibbs profiles as the sort of fantasy-friendly pass-catching RB who doesn’t necessarily need more than 200 carries to potentially have upside fantasy RB1 production. He was arguably the best RB prospect of the draft, perhaps even over Bijan Robinson, when looking purely at targets per route run (TPRR) and YPRR.
Gibbs is fast, routinely erasing pursuit angles on his way to the end zone. And while Gibbs’s lack of size (5’9, 199 lbs.) has led to questions surrounding his ability to handle an every-down role, teams usually don't draft a RB in the first round without a featured role in mind.
In fact, 10 of the 12 first-round RBs drafted since 2015 racked up 197 touches or more in their debut seasons.
Gibbs also joins a Detroit offense that's accustomed to feeding targets to their RBs in the passing game. Over the past three seasons, Swift has ranked fourth among RBs in total targets behind only Austin Ekeler, Alvin Kamara, and Leonard Fournette.
A true workhorse role seems unlikely for Gibbs after the deal the Lions gave Montgomery, but that doesn't necessarily preclude Gibbs from a potential top-12 fantasy RB finish in 2023, especially in PPR formats but even in standard leagues.
While RBs like Rhamondre Stevenson and Breece Hall get the slight nod from me over Gibbs thanks to the higher likelihood of them being featured in both the pass and run game, I’d still gladly draft a pass-catching RB like Gibbs over RBs who aren't projected to see many targets, like Travis Etienne, Miles Sanders, and Kenneth Walker.
In addition to Gibbs, Montgomery does also carry some fantasy upside this coming season. He's had some pretty great runs in Chicago these last few years, even if Montgomery's infamous ESPN graphic didn’t quite come to fruition.
On the one hand, Montgomery looks poised to inherit the same role that helped Jamaal Williams score a league-high 17 rushing TDs in 2022. On the other hand, the history of high-priced free agent additions has been rather brutal. There simply hasn’t been a good track record of success when RBs have changed teams over the years.
The good news for Montgomery is that he'll be just 26 years old this coming season, so there are no age cliff concerns at this time. Running behind PFF’s reigning eighth-ranked offensive line is also a nice luxury.
There have been 19 instances of teammates both finishing as top-24 RBs in PPR PPG over the last 10 years. This very Lions offense managed to achieve that feat in 2022 on the back of Swift (RB15) and Williams (RB18), so Montgomery shouldn't be overlooked in fantasy drafts. The biggest potential concern could be if the coaching staff again keeps a third RB like Craig Reynolds annoyingly involved like they did last year.
Montgomery’s path to fantasy success will require the Lions to repeat their top-10 offensive performance from last season and for the team to funnel him goal-line opportunities like they gave Williams in 2022.
I’m fine chasing Montgomery in standard scoring or half-PPR formats to an extent. Just realize that despite having led the NFL with 17 rushing TDs last year, Williams still just barely cracked the top-20 RBs in PPR PPG last season because of his lack of a pass-game role. Treat Montgomery as a borderline RB2 who will be TD-dependent but has upside if Gibbs were to miss time or start slow as a rookie.
- Amon-Ra St. Brown (Ian’s WR9)
- Jameson Williams (WR50)
- Josh Reynolds (WR102)
- Kalif Raymond (WR111)
- Marvin Jones (WR113)
St. Brown has earned at least nine targets in eight of his last 20 games, which is pretty incredible. While “upside” is generally associated with players capable of scoring an 80-yard TD in the blink of an eye, target-monsters like St. Brown kill their fantasy competition with one thousand paper-cuts in the form of target and reception volume.
The Sun God was one of just nine WRs to average at least 2.4 YPRR last season and remains the undisputed underneath and intermediate maestro for a passing offense that could once again be forced to keep their foot on the gas. Detroit's scoring defense ranked 28th last year, and if it doesn't improve in a meaningful way in 2023, the Lions could again find themselves in shootouts and lean heavily once more on their No. 1 WR.
St. Brown finished 2022 as the WR12 in PPR PPG and WR10 in expected PPR PPG. There was nothing fluky about his production; if anything, fantasy GMs were a bit unlucky considering that he was tackled at the one-yard line and denied a TD on three occasions last year, which led all WRs.
St. Brown is one of my top-10 fantasy WRs in the same tier as guys like A.J. Brown, CeeDee Lamb, and Garrett Wilson. I won’t fight anyone who wants to put the Sun God at the bottom of this tier, but he projects to see enough target volume that there's no justification for ranking him any lower than that.
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The rest of the Lions' WRs aren't great, and that's putting it nicely. Jameson Williams will miss the first six games of the season with a suspension, and while injury played a factor as a rookie for Williams, the list of first-round WRs who failed to gain at least 250 receiving yards as rookies is littered with busts.
Josh Reynolds flashed some upside early last season when St. Brown, Williams, and Chark were all out due to injuries, but Reynolds was relegated to a part-time role down the stretch and had just one game with more than 35 receiving yards after Week 5.
As for Kalif Raymond and Marvin Jones, neither figure to be major contributors in 2023. Raymond has flashed some big-play ability here and there for Detroit but has been just a role player, and the 33 year-old Jones's one-year, $3 million contract hardly cements him a starting WR role despite the Lions' lack of talent at the position.
Detroit's WR corps profiles as a committee outside of St. Brown. Perhaps Williams, the sophomore speedster, can obtain a full-time role the second he’s ready to go, but that remains to be seen, as the Lions declined to give him a snap rate above 25% as a rookie.
Ultimately, Williams is likely to be a boom-or-bust fantasy option who could have extra value in keeper formats if his 2024 ADP is higher without a looming suspension. He’s the only WR outside of St. Brown worth targeting in 2023 drafts, as none of the other Detroit WRs are projected to see consistent roles or target shares.
- Sam LaPorta (Ian’s TE20)
- Brock Wright (TE46)
- James Mitchell (TE64)
- Shane Zylstra (TE65)
Even as an incoming rookie, LaPorta could be the Lions' Week 1 starter at TE given his early second-round NFL Draft capital and the team's lack of talent at the position.
Wright is a former undrafted free agent who managed just one game with more than 25 receiving yards in 2022 even after the Hockenson trade, and Zylstra is another former undrafted free agent. He popped off for a 5-26-3 receiving line in Week 16 last season, but Zylstra's lackluster production in 16 other career games is a combined 9-68-1 receiving.
Perhaps the most intriguing Lions TE outside of LaPorta is Mitchell, who fell to the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft in large part because of a torn ACL just two games into his senior season. Mitchell’s 11-113-1 receiving line in 14 games as a rookie wasn’t dominant by any stretch of the imagination, but he did garner some stellar collegiate reviews due to his route-running and burst.
Iowa junior tight end Sam LaPorta escapes a tackle attempt by Kent State cornerback KJ Sherald in the first quarter at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. 20210918 Iowavskentstate Photo Credit: Bryon Houlgrave/The Register via Imagn Content Services, LLC
Meanwhile, The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had some rave reviews about LaPorta, the rookie out of Iowa, in his draft guide, “The Beast”:
“A four-year starter at Iowa, LaPorta was the featured target in offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s offense, evenly splitting his snaps between inline/backfield (49.4 percent) and slot/wide (50.6 percent). At a program known for producing NFL tight ends, he became just the second Hawkeye to be named the Big Ten’s Tight End of the Year and finished as the program’s all-time receptions leader (153) at the position.
Although he is more quick than fast as a route runner, LaPorta makes himself available mid-route because of his lower-body quickness and athletic fluidity. As a blocker, his functional strength and consistency must improve, but Iowa asks its tight ends to do everything (LaPorta even took three snaps out of the wildcat) and scouts rave about his competitive demeanor.
Overall, LaPorta is an average point-of-attack blocker and his lack of length hurts his success rate in contested situations, but he plays with outstanding quickness and body rhythm with soft hands as a pass catcher. He is in the Austin Hooper mold and projects as a low-end TE1 or high-end TE2 on an NFL depth chart.”
Ultimately, LaPorta is going in a perfectly acceptable range of fantasy drafts to throw a dart on him, even if it’s incredibly rare to find fantasy-friendly rookie TEs.
Still, expectations should be managed for LaPorta, as there doesn't seem to be the same sort of Dalton Kincaid-esque potential to essentially work as the offense’s big slot receiver. That’s the type of role that allowed Jordan Reed, Evan Engram, and Kyle Pitts to be the only three rookie TEs who have finished as top-12 PPR PPG options over the past 10 years.
I still prefer guys like Gerald Everett and Irv Smith in the later stages of the draft over LaPorta, but the Lions' rookie TE is a perfectly fine TE2 or TE3 option in best ball formats depending on how much draft capital you spent on TE earlier in drafts.
2023 Win Total: 9.5
- -125 juice on the over
The Lions went 4-5 in nine games last year that were decided by six or fewer points, so maybe things could go their way more in one-score games in 2023, especially playing in the NFC North, a division that's weaker than it’s been in quite some time following the departure of Aaron Rodgers.
#RestoreTheRoar nation sure loves the idea that the Lions could get back into the playoffs for the first time since 2016 this coming season. Prior to 2016, Detroit's last playoff win was all the way back in 1991.
Still, this offense really didn't add many weapons to the passing game while spending the majority of their offseason resources to address a RB room that already seemed perfectly fine. It’s great that the team is attempting to overhaul the defense in a major way, but the 30th-ranked defensive unit from 2022 in EPA allowed per play has a long way to go in order to be considered even average, let alone good.
I’m taking under 9.5 wins for a Lions team that certainly seems to be heading in the right direction but might be receiving just a bit too much optimism from the betting public.
It's tough to expect 10 or more wins from a Detroit team that performed well last season but is still led by a QB who has been more bad than good over the last half decade. And even though they drafted some offensive rookies with high potential, the Lions have just one proven pass-catcher in St. Brown until proven otherwise.
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