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2017 fantasy football predictions for Detroit Lions' skill players

The question I get more than any other this time of year – after what’s happening with Matthew Stafford’s contract – is what do I think of Player X in fantasy football?If you play fantasy, you know I can’t tell you where to draft someone. There are so many factors that go into that every year. How deep is your league? Is it a dynasty? What sort of scoring system do you use? And maybe most importantly, who are your league mates?Maybe you’re with a group of friends who are mostly Lions fans. Well, that probably clouds the league’s perception of players one way or another. Some people may want a Lion on their team so they have a rooting interest while they watch games every week. Others may shun Lions players because of the team’s history of underachievement.So what follows here isn’t a draft guide, per se, but more of a projection of what numbers to expect from various Lions skill position players this fall. Injuries could throw these numbers for a loop, but by and large this should give you an idea of how I expect the Lions to deploy their top offensive options this fall.Matthew Stafford2016 stats: 4,327 yards, 24 TDs, 10 INTs2017 prediction: Gone are the days of Stafford throwing for 5,000 yards in a season. I don’t doubt he still could, if that’s what the offense called for, but Lions coach Jim Caldwell has long sought more balance on offense and the hope is, with a healthy backfield and better blocking options, the Lions should be able to accomplish that this fall. Stafford has been in a pretty defined passing range with Caldwell as coach, throwing for between 4,257 and 4,327 yards each of the last three years. That’s a 70-yard difference between high and low passing totals under Caldwell, which is pretty remarkable.Stafford won’t kill you with turnovers; he’s advanced beyond that in his ninth NFL season. He’s also not liable to have many walk-off weeks where he carries your team all by himself. Last year, he had just four 300-yard passing games and four games with three or more touchdowns. The Lions should play at a faster pace this year with their no-huddle offense, which could allow for a more snaps a game, but given their issues up front right now I wouldn’t expect a big jump up in stats. I’d guess a shade under 275 yards passing per game (or 4,400 yards for the season) with maybe a tick up in touchdowns (28) and interceptions (12).[2017 Detroit Lions projected starters]Ameer Abdullah2016 stats: 18 carries, 101 yards, 0 TD; 5 catches, 57 yards, 1 TD2017 prediction: Don’t pay much attention to Abdullah’s numbers the last two years. He was a rookie who battled fumble problems in 2015, and he played just six quarters last season because of a Lisfranc injury. Now, Abdullah’s injury history should be taken into consideration, as should the Lions’ vision for their backfield. Running backs coach David Walker said Abdullah is the team’s lead back – “Ameer’s our guy,” he told me last month – while Theo Riddick will play as the pass-catching option and others will fill in beyond that.Given Abdullah’s durability concerns and the chance that fumble problems pop up again, I’ll stop just short of predicting 250 carries (a mark just 11 players reached last year) and 1,000 yards (12 players hit that). I think Abdullah can be in the 210-carry range with 880 or so yards rushing and a couple touchdowns (Zach Zenner might swipe a few in goal-line work). He’ll be a productive pass catcher as well. Not to the Riddick level, but 35 to 40 receptions seems doable.[Predicting fantasy football busts for all 32 NFL teams]Theo Riddick2016 stats: 92 carries, 357 yards, 1 TD; 53 catches, 371 yards, 5 TD2017 prediction: Riddick missed six games with ankle and wrist injuries last year or he probably would have hit the 80-catch mark for the second straight season. Riddick won’t give you much as a rusher – 250 yards seems more than reasonable – but he should be in the 70-catch, 650-yard range this fall so pay close attention to him if you’re in a PPR league. The Lions have new red-zone weapons in Darren Fells and Kenny Golladay, so he might not go much beyond those five touchdown catches. But if Riddick is healthy – he’s been in a red no-contact jersey all summer – he can be a valuable asset to your team.[Wait, what? One NFL analyst says the Lions are better than the Packers]Golden Tate2016 stats: 91 catches, 1,077 yards, 4 TDs2017 prediction: Tate has been remarkably consistent, catching at least 90 passes and never more than six touchdowns in each of his three seasons with the Lions. Given that he’s Stafford’s most trusted receiver, and that he will play in the slot in some three-wide sets, Tate seems a good bet to be in the 85- to 95-catch range again this year. Tate doesn’t offer much as a deep threat – I have a hard time seeing go for much more than 1,000 yards – and there’ll be games where you’ll scratch your head at his three-catch, 40-yard performance. But more often than not, Tate will put up six catches for 75 yards and get a target or two in the red zone.Marvin Jones2016 stats: 55 catches, 930 yards, 4 TDs2017 prediction: Jones was a disappointment last season, especially if you traded for him after Week 4. But he’s still the No. 2 receiver to own for fantasy purposes. Jones it the Lions’ top deep threat and is capable of 120 yards and a score in any week. Of course, last year he only had four games with more than four catches, so he might be matchup-dependent for your team. I forecast a tick up in most numbers for Jones this year, though not dramatically so. Maybe 60-couple catches for nearly 1,000 yards and six touchdowns.[Wait, what? One NFL analyst says the Lions are better than the Packers]Kenny Golladay2016 stats: N/A2017 prediction: Golladay is everyone’s favorite sleeper wide receiver, and he’d be a great addition for your dynasty team. But if you’re counting on big – or steady – numbers from him this fall, you might be disappointed. Golladay has played as a backup most of the summer, but I do expect him to eventually emerge as the Lions’ No. 3 receiver. The problem, behind that he’s a rookie in an offense with a lot of options, is that the Lions will use plenty of two tight end sets this fall. A reasonable expectation for Golladay this year is 35 catches for 500 or so yards and four touchdowns, the bulk of which may come in the second half of the year.Eric Ebron2016 stats: 61 catches, 711 yards, 1 TD2017 prediction: Ebron is a tough one to predict as he always seems to be in the training room and has taken part in just two practices so far this summer because of a hamstring injury. He’s gone from 25 to 47 to 61 catches, and he needs a big season this year or the Lions might find his 2018 contract too onerous to keep. Given Ebron’s health – he’s never played more than 16 games in a season – and the Lions’ other options, I’d guess that Ebron comes in around 60-65 catches and 700 yards again, but adds a few more touchdowns to his stat line.Finally, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington, TJ Jones and Darren Fells all should play a more specialized role on offense this fall and are best suited for the deepest of fantasy leagues.Contact Dave Birkett: [email protected] Follow him on [email protected] Download our Tigers Xtra app for free on Apple and Android devices! 
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