With the NFL Draft and free agency having come and gone, we’ll break down all sorts of fantasy-relevant questions entering the 2018 season. Here we’ll look at whether or not the Detroit Lions offense can support three viable fantasy wide receivers.
The 2017 season was our first glimpse of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones playing a full season together, and they didn’t disappoint, finishing as top-15 wide receivers in PPR scoring. But with promising 2017 third-rounder Kenny Golladay healthy and primed to break out, can the Lions offense support three wide receivers?
How the Lions Offense Will Look in 2018
Working in favor of the trio is Detroit’s consistent commitment to passing the ball under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who was retained despite the changing head coaches. The Lions haven’t ranked lower than 11th in pass attempts under Cooter — in fact, they’ve never ranked lower than 11th since drafting quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2009. After missing much of his sophomore campaign in 2010, Stafford has averaged 625.3 attempts per season and has hit at least 4,200 passing yards every season.
That said, with the coaching change to Matt Patricia, the Lions seem to be venturing to establish more of a ground game. They drafted mauling center Frank Ragnow with their first-round pick and followed that up by selecting highly productive Auburn back Kerryon Johnson in the second round. They also added veteran banger LeGarrette Blount to help them be more physical. As the failed Ameer Abdullah experiment comes to a close, it seems like the Lions will be trying improve upon their league-worst 76.3 rushing yards per game from 2017. This won’t stop them from passing the ball, but it could potentially drive down their pass-attempt volume.
Of the three receivers, Tate has the most secure role. His 6.0 average depth of target, per AirYards.com, is less than half of Jones (15.2) and Golladay’s (14.8). Tate operates close to the line of scrimmage and does his damage after the catch, while the other two stretch the field with deep routes. If Golladay’s emergence hurts anyone, it’s more likely to be Jones — which was already the case in 2017:
Marvin Jones with and without Kenny Golladay is striking but a small sample likely blows this out of proportion. pic.twitter.com/uV3CogiimV
— Kyle Dvorchak (@ffkylethekid) July 4, 2018
Can Any Offense Support Three Fantasy Wide Receivers?
In their two years together, Jones and Tate have seen similar target shares, ranging from 19% to 23%. Per our NFL Trends Tool, wide receivers with a 19-23% target share have averaged 12.59 fantasy points, a +1.26 Plus/Minus, and a 47.7% Consistency Rating on DraftKings since 2014.
Based on last years’ wide receiver scoring, this would barely crack the top 24. In other words, Jones and Tate outperformed expectation in 2017 given their respective target shares. Some of this is obviously due to their talents and that of their quarterback, but it’s still a reminder to temper expectations.
The Lion’s third wide receiver over the past two seasons — Golladay in 2017 and Anquan Boldin in 2016 — saw a 13-16% target share. Wide receivers with that target share have averaged 9.15 DraftKings points per game, a +1.03 Plus/Minus, and 46.4% Consistency on DraftKings since 2014, numbers more in line with a fantasy WR4/5 than WR3.
For one team to have three wide receivers place inside the top 36 at the position is rare. It’s happened just three times in PPR formats during the last five years, and those teams tend to look like the record-setting 2013 Denver Broncos helmed by Peyton Manning.
Betting on three Lions wide receivers to finish in the top 36 is betting on an outlier among outliers. It’s probable that at least one will be a bust relative to ADP.
How to Treat Them in Fantasy
As Golladay continues to be integrated into the offense, Jones may see a dip in target share but is still the guy to own among the two Lions deep threats. Jones’ 1,103 receiving yards in 2017 were the most by a Lions receiver since 2014. Both Jones and Tate have been dependable weapons both for Stafford and in fantasy, with Consistency Ratings of 55.9% and 55.2%, respectively, in their Lions careers. Golladay will struggle to best his 41.7% rookie-year mark so long as he remains behind Tate and Jones in line for targets.
The best-case scenario for all involved is Golladay siphoning some of the 86 targets free-agent departure Eric Ebron left behind as the Lions transition the tight end position to a lower-volume pass-catching role manned by newcomers Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo, and second-year man Michael Roberts.
The most likely outcome is that Golladay takes some of Ebron’s targets while also slightly cutting into Tate and Jones’ share. The Action Network’s 2018 wide receiver rankings from experts Sean Koerner, Chris Raybon, and Matthew Freedman echo this, ranking Tate and Jones lower than they finished in 2017, and Golladay inside the top 50.
Competition for targets and the potential for a more balanced offense doesn’t particularly bode well for any of these receivers being great values in 2018. Tate will likely continue to have a high weekly floor given his role running high-percentage routes, and Jones and Golladay’s downfield ability will allow them produce strong per-target efficiency, but if you want league-winning upside, these may not be your guys.
Golladay in particular will likely struggle with consistency, though this will keep his DFS salary low and make him an ideal tournament play. Golladay’s best-case scenario would be missed time from Jones, in which case, watch out!
But if you really want to capitalize on the wealth of receiving talent in Detroit, buy Stafford, who we have ranked as a top-12 quarterback for 2018. Rostering Stafford gives you the upside of him throwing to proficient receivers no matter where he looks, all without you having to deal with the volume-based ceiling each of them may have.
You can use our tools to research more player- or team-specific questions for yourself, and be sure to check out The Action Network for more in-depth NFL analysis.
Pictured above (from left to right): Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay
Photo credit: Raj Mehta – USA TODAY Sports