Dan Campbell’s goal has been to build a “winning culture” in Detroit. In 2021, folks around the team claimed they could feel that change happening though the team still only won three games. This year though, the team turned that feeling into a reality, finishing with an actual winning record and coming within one game of making the playoffs. They’ve got one of the best young offensive lines in the league with guys like Penei Sewell and Frank Ragnow. Their 2022 round pick Aidan Hutchinson is looking like a slam dunk as well. So they could be serious contenders with some more playmakers on defense and a little fine-tuning to the offense.
With this series, we are taking a look at each NFL team to gauge the direction of the offense from a dynasty fantasy football perspective. Is this team gearing up for a Super Bowl run? Are they in the midst of a rebuild? Are they considering blowing it up? We’ll take all of that into account as well as the current contracts and upcoming free agent and draft classes to give you our best recommendations on how to handle these weapons in your dynasty fantasy football leagues.
BUY - Attempt to acquire this player at or slightly above market value
HOLD - The player is likely more valuable than the market indicates. Hold them if you have them or try to acquire them at a discount.
SELL - The perceived value for this player is higher than the projected remaining value in your average dynasty league. Cash out now.
SELL/DROP - Depending on the depth of the league, always try to sell guys before dropping. But this player is likely not worth the bench spot he’s occupying so you might need to just drop them.
*Contract information is proved courtesy of Spotrac.com*
Detroit Lions Quarterback
The Lions have one quarterback under contract for 2023
Jared Goff - Age 28
Contract: Jared Goff is under contract through 2024. He can be released in 2023 with $10 million in dead cap, $20.65 million in savings or in 2024 with $5 million in dead cap and $26.65 million in savings.
Outlook: People really should not be surprised that Jared Goff has gotten a legitimate shot to be the long-term starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions. I mean, the current general manager for the Lions, Brad Holmes, was the Rams' head scout when they drafted Goff and he did bring that team to the Super Bowl. And honestly, Goff’s at least earned the right to compete for the job moving forward. It certainly takes the pressure off the Lions in their quarterback search to have a QB that is capable of winning games at the helm. As we mentioned above, they have him under contract for the next two years but can move on fairly easily if need be.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL - The caveat here is that you need a buyer which is much more likely in superflex or two quarterback leagues than it is one QB leagues. In one QB leagues, he’s probably not a guy you are super excited to start so he’s more of a bye week fill-in than anything. And the main problem in all formats is the lack of mobility - rushing upside is king in fantasy football.
For example, the passing stats for a guy like Kirk Cousins in any given year are incredibly similar to Josh Allen. In 2022, Cousins threw for more yards than Allen and, in 2021, he averaged more yards per game, similar TDs per game, and fewer interceptions. But Cousins is perennially a backend QB1 while Josh Allen is a top 1-2 QB because Cousins has no mobility. And neither does Jared Goff. Goff has never run for more than 108 yards in a season. He hasn’t scored a rushing TD in two years. On top of that, we know the leash is short for him and, if this rebuild hits any sort of rough patch, he will be the scapegoat. At which point his value goes to zero.
Free Agency/Draft Outlook
The camps are pretty split on this one. Do you build around Goff and go all in on competing for a championship now? Or do you hedge your bets by bringing in a young QB to compete with Goff as early as possible? We do know they need SOMEONE else in that room as you can’t just ride with one QB so here’s how I would handle it.
Don’t go out of your way to bring a veteran in - it’s too lateral of a move to go from Jared Goff to a Derek Carr or even a 46 year old Tom Brady. If a quarterback is available at the right price in this draft, you take them. That could be at pick 1.06 (which is the Rams pick they received as part of the Goff/Stafford swap), that could be at pick 1.18, or it could be somewhere else in the second, third, or fourth rounds. It’s only a recent phenomenon that quarterbacks seemingly HAVE to start right away so you bring a young guy in to learn behind Goff. If Goff is good then that’s great - you can trade the kid you drafted. The Patriots did that like five times behind Tom Brady as young QBs hold a surprising amount of value. Jimmy Garoppolo was drafted in the second round then traded for a second round pick. Even Josh Roshen returned a second. OR if Goff is good but the kid is great, you can trade Goff. That’s what the Chiefs did when they drafted Patrick Mahomes and traded Alex Smith. Then you get back some value that way. Worst case, Goff stinks and you bench him for the young QB. That’s better than finding out Goff isn’t going to get it done and having no backup plan.
Detroit Lions Running Backs
The Lions have two running backs under contract and one back who is an exclusive right free agent.
D’Andre Swift - Age 24
Contract: D’Andre Swift is under contract through 2023 then he’s an unrestricted free agent
Outlook: The story on Swift to this point is pretty straightforward. He’s obviously an explosive athlete capable of incredible performances. But he’s been hampered by two things. Injuries (he has yet to play a full season) and split backfield (Jamaal Williams dominated the goal line work this year, leading all players in goal line carries and touchdowns). We’ve all imagined what things might be like without those hurdles.
Dynasty Recommendation: BUY - If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times - injuries are only a problem until they aren’t. It’s one of the EASIEST ways to get discounts in dynasty. Dalvin Cook. Joe Mixon. Christian McCaffrey. If someone out there is saying “injury prone” or “he burned me before, I’m buying.
Now, in regards to the split backfield? First off, we don’t even know if Jamaal Williams will be back. But, even if he is, virtually all backfields are split these days. Swift gets the more valuable pass work and has the explosiveness to crack lineups either way. He’s also a free agent in 2024 and he’s a leftover piece from the previous regime so he might not even be in the long-term plan for the Lions. I mean, T.J. Hockenson clearly wasn’t. If that’s the case, he’ll get to pick himself a nice spot in free agency. So go out and take the discount on Swift if it’s available.
Greg Bell - Age 24
Contract: Greg Bell is under contract through 2024 but can be released this year for $750,000 in savings with only $10K in dead cap.
Outlook: Bell was actually cut but he cleared waivers which allowed him to revert to the IR list. The contract that is in place honestly doesn’t make him any more likely to make this team than any random free agent.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP - If you play in a league that is deep enough for Bell to be rostered at all, god bless you.
Craig Reynolds - Age 24
Contract: Craig Reynolds is eligible to be retained as an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) which means they can keep him for the minimum salary without any team being able to sign him.
Outlook: Even though he’s been in the league for four years, he’s only been active for 6+ games in one season (2022) so he’s only accrued one season of service in the eyes of the league. That means he can be kept for $870,000 in 2023. Based on what we’ve seen from him so far, he’s likely worth that.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP - He actually flashed in a couple of games in 2021 so he’s not necessarily an automatic drop if you are in a deep league with the roster spot. As of this moment, he and Swift are the only guys realistically signed (though technically he’s not signed). But he’ll turn 27 this offseason so the upside for a guy like this is pretty low in most formats.
Free Agency/Draft Outlook
The Lions absolutely need to do something here. You can’t just roll into 2023 with Swift and Reynolds - especially given the injury history for Swift. The reason I’m not worried about Swift’s value long-term lies in the options they have. The worst-case option is they sign both Swift and Jamaal Williams to long-term deals and it’s a split for a long time. Even then, Swift is a viable starter under those conditions plus Jamaal turns 28 in early April. If they spend up on another RB in the draft to play the Jamaal Williams role, that likely means Swift is gone as a free agent in 2024 where he can pick his landing spot. We’d like that. Or, maybe they just bring in a lesser complimentary back and Swift gets a bigger share of the workload. Wouldn’t mind that either. Regardless, we are betting on the talent and we believe it’s there.
Detroit Lions Wide Receivers
The Lions have five wide receivers under contract with another three signed to reserve/future contracts.
Jameson Williams - Age 21
Contract: Jameson Williams was drafted in the first round of 2021 and will be on his rookie contract through 2026.
Outlook: We knew he would have a slow start to his NFL career after tearing his ACL late in 2021 and that ended up being the case. They held him out for most of the year then eased him back in as he never played more than 25% of the snaps in a game. He finished 2022 with one carry and by only catching one of his nine targets but both the carry and the reception went for ~40 yards, showcasing his explosive ability.
Dynasty Recommendation: BUY - It’s crazy to say it but Williams, even as a rookie, is currently the highest-paid WR on the team at ~$4.4 million a year. It will be hard to pry him away from the guy who drafted him in your dynasty league since they too knew about the injury situation but I’ve seen fantasy gamers move on from him for a first because they are a little worried. In his class, Williams was honestly the most productive wideout before the injury and he’d easily be the top wideout in the 2023 class. The Lions believe he can get back to that level since they traded up in the first round to get him. Brad Holmes even recently said that he doesn’t think anything Williams did this year is anywhere remotely close to where he’s going to go.
Josh Reynolds - Age 27
Contract: Reynolds is a free agent after the 2023 season. He could be released for $750,000 in dead cap and $3.2 million in cap space.
Outlook: The reality of the Reynolds signing is that it was likely done to help bridge this rebuild. Reynolds is best utilized as the versatile “next man up” like he was with the Rams where, if someone goes down, he can fill in at split end, slot, or flanker. But he doesn’t do any one thing particularly well.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL - We stop just short of saying SELL/DROP here until we see what the Lions do in free agency. But, the writing is on the wall for Reynolds and we saw a bit of that this year when everyone was healthy. When guys like Williams and Chark were hurt, Reynolds would play 70-80% of the snaps. Towards the end of the year when guys were healthy, that trickled down to 40-50%. If you can pawn him off, I would do it because simply bringing Chark back would put him on the outside looking in.
Kalif Raymond - Age 27
Contract: Raymond is a free agent after the 2023 season. He could be released for $925,000 in dead cap and $2.4 million in cap space.
Outlook: Like Reynolds, the long-term plan isn’t likely to feature Raymond in the starting lineup. If he’s on this team in 2023, it will be to back up St. Brown and return punts.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/Drop - Raymond wasn’t particularly fantasy relevant outside of best ball and this team is still in the rebuilding phase. You don’t need to hold him unless it’s a fairly deep format.
Amon-Ra St. Brown - Age 23
Contract: Amon-Ra St. Brown is on his rookie contract through 2024.
Outlook: It’s incredibly rare for fourth round wide receivers to do anything in this league but St. Brown has proven he’s the best one since Jamison Crowder. He topped his impressive rookie campaign with his first 100-catch and 1,000-yard receiving season, finishing as a top-10 WR in all formats.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL. This might come as a surprise to some people given his success and young age. And I have no problem with holding him if you can’t cash out at his current incredibly high price, especially in PPR. But I’m worried about ARSB moving forward for three reasons.
First, this team moved on from Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Jamal Agnew, T.J. Hockenson etc. during the early stages of this rebuild - St. Brown has absolutely flashed on this skeleton crew but so did Preston Williams on the Dolphins when they were tanking. The Lions drafted Jameson Williams, much like the Dolphins drafted Jaylen Waddle, but the Dolphins didn’t stop there did they? They continued to stack weapons with guys like Tyreek Hill. The Lions aren’t just going to move forward with just Williams and St. Brown, so expect a tight end and split end to be added to this team. The big concern is that the new split end and Jameson Williams end up being the guys out there on two-WR sets with St. Brown playing pure slot meaning he would come out of the game for those plays. That would hurt his targets.
Second, he NEEDS those targets. He’s a slow(ish) low-aDOT possession slot WR. He and A.J. Brown both got 146 targets but Brown totaled over 300 more yards than St. Brown. We’ve seen a guy like Tyler Boyd thrive when his team lacked weapons but then when they added Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase, he came back to earth (and came off the field for two-WR sets). The targets are really the only thing separating St. Brown from guys like Tyler Boyd and Jakobi Meyers.
Third, the quarterback situation could change. And the quarterback is a big reason he gets those targets. Look at Tyler Higbee’s starts down the stretch in 2019. It looked a lot like the kind of games you get from St. Brown - a lot of short targets without huge yardage totals. Goff is not embarrassed to take the low-hanging fruit, but the next QB might not be so quick to dump it down like that.
Quintez Cephus - Age 24
Contract: Quintez Cephus is in the final year of his rookie deal. He could be released with $1,000,000 in cap savings with only $76,000 in dead cap.
Outlook: Cephus battled injury all year so we didn’t really get a chance to see what his role will be on this team. He’s running out of time to carve one out.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP. As a day three pick, he was already facing an uphill battle and now he’s once again struggled to stay healthy. Probably a drop in most leagues.
Trinity Benson - Age 26
Contract: Trinity Benson is not under contract but they can retain him on an affordable deal in 2023 as a restricted free agent.
Outlook: Benson played in one game in Week 10, injured his knee, and immediately went on IR.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP. Brad Holmes traded for Benson and then defended the trade afterward which is about the only positive he’s got going for him. Holmes called him a “long term project” but he’s more of a “watch list” project for us at this point.
Free Agency/Draft Outlook
Amon-Ra St. Brown is the slot guy and Jameson Williams is the flanker. They still need a bigger split end that can tether his foot to the line and beat the jam. So the question is whether we would prefer the devil we know in DJ Chark returning or the devil we don’t know, who could be a stud. It’s hard to believe that this team would consider themselves serious about competing now while starting Josh Reynolds or Kalif Raymond as their third WR. Chark is honestly the best free agent wide receiver out there, so I’m buying him in dynasty whether or not he returns to the Lions.
Detroit Lions Tight Ends
The Lions have one tight end under contract, two that are eligible for exclusive right free agent contracts, and one signed to a reserve/future contract.
James Mitchell - Age 23
Contract: Mitchell was drafted in 2022 so he’s under contract through 2025. He can be released this year for ~$182K in dead cap with ~$749K in savings.
Outlook: The fifth round rookie saw an uptick in snaps after the Hockenson trade but so did every other tight end. In fact, he finished as the third fiddle of the group in snaps, routes run, and targets. He was a rookie though we will have to see.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP - For us to hang on to later-round players, they need to have some sort of mitigating circumstance like athleticism or a clear path to starting/targets. Mitchell doesn’t really have either so don’t feel obligated to hold him.
Brock Wright - Age 24
Contract: Wright is a free agent, but because he has less than three service years, they can retain him as an exclusive rights free agent. That means they can bring him back for the two-year veteran minimum of $940K without him being able to seek a deal elsewhere.
Outlook: Wright is the de facto “starter” but he spent far too much time blocking to be viable. He blocked on 29.8% of his pass plays.
Dynasty Recommendation: SELL/DROP - It’s a tough sell but some people simply look at the depth chart and an up-and-coming offense and say why not? If you ask me why not I would point you to the stat above that shows they asked him to stay in and block instead of running routes on one of every 3-4 pass plays.
Shane Zylstra - Age 26
Contract: Like Wright, Zylstra only has one service year so they can retain him on an inexpensive exclusive rights free agent deal.
Outlook: Unlike Wright and Mitchell, Zylstra was clearly categorized as a pass catching tight end. He blocked on only 2.1% of his pass plays so virtually ran every route when he was out there. We like that.
Dynasty Recommendation: HOLD - This is the one tight end from this team I would have considered holding. But the moment they add a tight end or even sign another WR like Chark, I’m dropping. Just like the other tight ends on this team.
Follow Andrew Cooper on Twitter @CoopAFiasco for more NFL and fantasy football insights and stay tuned as we hit on all 32 NFL teams in this series leading into NFL free agency!
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