Fantasy Football Target Practice: The 2021 Detroit Lions

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The Target Practice series from our writing staff aims to decipher NFL rosters with the most perplexing pass-catcher situations. The goal is to look at the overall passing potential of an offense and estimate possible target distribution, including the target floor and ceiling for each player, allowing you to consider their range of outcomes in their receiving games.

Few if any offenses in the NFL have changed more than the Detroit Lions since last season. First, they swapped out Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff. Then they let Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola walk in free agency. They also have an entirely new coaching staff led by head coach, tough guy, and walking quote machine Dan Campbell. They also hired former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn as offensive coordinator.

Vacated Targets

The Lions have by far the most vacated targets from 2020, a whopping 360. That’s 118 more than the next closest team. Those 360 targets accounted for 64% of the team total last season. Marvin Jones led the way with 115, Danny Amendola saw a nice 69, and Kenny Golladay only managed 32 during his injury-plagued season. Other notable, and I use that term loosely, departures include Marvin Hall, Mohamed Sanu, Jesse James, and Kerryon Johnson.

Jared Goff is going to have to throw the ball to somebody and the Lions are counting on a mixture of young talent and recycled free agents to fill their target void. It’s very possible the Lions’ two most targeted players this season are a tight end and running back, but receivers will be targeted too. As of this writing, no Detroit wide receiver is being drafted before the 14th round of fantasy drafts, in large part due to the ambiguity surrounding the passing offense. Let’s take a look at how the targets could shake out for the Lions in 2021.

D’Andre Swift, RB
Floor: 70 targets / Ceiling: 105 targets

Swift has been the topic of many fantasy debates this offseason. Whether you’re for Swift or against him, we should all recognize there’s a legitimate chance that he sees triple-digit targets in 2021. Last season, he averaged 4.4 targets/game while being eased into the offense as a rookie, which works out to 75 targets over 17 games. His targets, however, will be coming from Jared Goff, who isn’t exactly known for checking down to running backs. Last season in Los Angeles the Rams targeted the position just 13% of the time, the second-lowest rate in the NFL. It’s unclear how the new coaching staff will utilize the talented pass-catching back in Detroit, but his target ceiling out of the backfield is one of the highest in the NFL.

Jamaal Williams, RB
Floor: 30 targets / Ceiling: 55 targets

Williams isn’t likely to have a significant role in the passing game, but it could be enough to annoy Swift fantasy managers. He averaged 2.8 targets/game, a 44 target/season pace, during his time in Green Bay. He’s frequently lauded not only for his pass-catching ability but also for his pass-blocking skills, so he’s likely to see plenty of work on passing downs. Now instead of stealing those valuable snaps from Aaron Jones, he could be stealing them from Swift.

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T.J. Hockenson, TE
Floor: 100 targets / Ceiling: 150 targets

The 101 targets Hockenson saw last season were the fifth-most among all tight ends are 44 more than any returning Lion. There exists a non-zero chance that he ends up as the most targeted tight end in the NFL in 2021. As the eighth overall pick in the 2019 draft, Hockenson could be in line for a predictable third-year breakout season. If he does burst into the elite tight end territory, his current ADP in the fifth round could pay off huge.

Breshad Perriman, WR
Floor: 65 targets / Ceiling: 120 targets

Now on his fifth NFL team, Perriman has never topped a nice 69 targets in a single season. He has, however, put together a few hot streaks in recent years. After returning from injury in Week 9 for the Jets last season he was on pace for 92 targets over a full season. Over the last five weeks of 2019, when he played with Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay, he was on pace for 126 targets over a full season. If Perriman can stay healthy there’s an outside chance he leads Detroit in targets.

Tyrell Williams, WR
Floor: 60 targets / Ceiling: 100 targets

If you were playing fantasy football back in 2016, you probably remember when Williams exploded for 119 targets and finished as the WR16 for the Chargers. Since then, he averaged just 66 targets over the next four seasons and missed the entire 2020 season with a shoulder injury. He may have a few big plays for Detroit but doesn’t profile as a target hog.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR
Floor: 50 targets / Ceiling: 90 targets

Many draft pundits expected St. Brown to be selected within the top 100 picks of the 2021 NFL draft. Instead, he fell to the Lions at pick 112 in the fourth round. That kind of draft capital doesn’t bode well for his first-year production, but there have been positive reports of him playing out of the slot in Lions camp. A good slot receiver can be peppered with targets, but St. Brown will have to compete with Hockenson for targets in the same area of the field.

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Quintez Cephus
Floor: 35 targets / Ceiling: 70 targets

Cephus is the only wide receiver on the current Detroit roster that saw a target in 2020. He saw 35 of them last year as a rookie, ten of which came in the first game of the season. He was pegged to step into a starting role early this offseason before the free-agent additions of Perriman and Williams. Now he’ll likely be at the bottom of the target pecking order as long as everybody in Detroit is healthy.

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