The 2023 season could be the Detroit Lions’ first playoff appearance since 2016. Hopefully they can end an even bigger drought and win their first playoff game since 1991. There’s a full 17-game slate to conquer before getting there which hopefully yields plenty of fantasy points. After scoring the fifth-most points (26.6) across the league in 2022, there’s good reason to believe they will.
Detroit Lions Fantasy Football Preview
Key Subtractions and Additions
Subtractions: D’Andre Swift (RB), Jamaal Williams (RB), D.J. Chark (WR), Michael Brockers (DT),
Additions: David Montgomery (RB), Cameron Sutton (CB), Emmanuel Moseley (CB), Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (S), Jahmyr Gibbs (rookie RB), Jack Campbell (rookie LB), Sam LaPorta (rookie TE), Brian Branch (rookie S), Hendon Hooker (rookie QB)
Jared Goff enters 2023 after the second-best fantasy football season in his seven-year career. He threw for his second-highest touchdown total (29) while matching a career-low in interceptions (7). Goff’s 17.6 points per game rank 14th on a points-per-game basis at the position from last season. The Lions’ late-season playoff push included a QB3 finish (of quarterbacks who played more than one game) from Weeks 13-17 in which Goff averaged 22.0 points per game.
If Goff is to finish as a QB1 in fantasy football this season, he must continue protecting the ball and having success through the air. His 2.09 rush attempts per game average is not nearly enough to produce meaningful rushing numbers to score points on the ground. In fact, he’s averaging just 1.48 attempts per game in 31 games as the Lions’ starter. Detroit’s backfield takes carry of the ground game, especially with scoring as Goff has yet to rush for a touchdown in two seasons with the team.
Unfortunately, Goff’s weapons are far different in 2023 than those of 2022. His top target, Amon-Ra St. Brown, is still there, but D.J. Chark, T.J. Hockenson, and nearly the entire 2022 backfield are all on different teams. That said, Goff is more likely a streaming option than a steady starter. He should still wind up in the top-16 or so, but is a touchdown-dependent QB1 for 2023 fantasy football. The Detroit Lions save $26.6 million next year by releasing or trading Goff. For dynasty formats, let’s hope he plays his way into an extension with the team. Continuity matters.
A complete overhaul of the backfield is one of the biggest stories of the Detroit Lions off-season. After leading the league in rushing touchdowns (17), Jamaal Williams is now on the New Orleans Saints. Ahead of the final year of his rookie deal, D’Andre Swift has been traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. These two alone accounted for 83% of the Lions’ 2022 backfield touches. More importantly, they and Justin Jackson accounted for all 23 of Detroit’s rushing scores last season. None of these players are on the Lions.
Rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs is the leading candidate to dominate touches out of the Lions’ backfield this season. Not only did Detroit draft him 12th overall, but they traded away Swift two days later. Gibbs is one of, if not the, most talented receiving backs from the 2023 rookie class. Playing behind one of the best offensive lines in football, Gibbs could command a good portion of both Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift’s roles left behind.
57 of Williams’ 262 rush attempts last season were inside the red zone. That includes 45 inside the 10-yard line and 28 inside the five. He led all players in attempts from each distance. This is where free agent signing David Montgomery could play a significant role. His 31 red zone rushing attempts tied for 20th in the league. That’s with his quarterback, Justin Fields, logging 25 of his own.
Montgomery has at least 200 carries in every season, but just a 3.9 yards per carry career average. Behind a stronger Lions offensive line, he should perform much better, especially racking up yards after contact. Still, Jahmyr Gibbs has an edge given draft capital, receiving upside, and overall talent. Gibbs is a high-end RB2 with the potential to be an RB1 while Montgomery is likely a flex with touchdown upside.
There is no threat to Amon-Ra St. Brown finishing as the Detroit Lion’s WR1 again this fantasy football season. His 146 targets last season accounted for 26% of the team’s target share. They’re also 41.9% of the Lions’ wide receiver targets. As the seventh-most targeted wide receiver in the league, St. Brown has a chance to see even more in 2023 which gives him a shot at finishing inside the top-five at the position.
St. Brown’s 21 red zone targets also rank ninth amongst all players last season. Given that 63.4% of the Lions’ 2022 offensive touchdowns are from players no longer on the team, there’s a great chance St. Brown improves upon his six from last season. He scored on 28.5% of his 2022 red zone targets.
Jameson Williams will serve a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s gambling policy. That mean’s he’s eligible to return at Baltimore in Week 7 then home to Las Vegas in Week 8 before a Week 9 bye. Realistically, you may only start Williams for the final eight games after the Detroit Lions’ bye.
Regardless, he’s more of a boom/bust option for fantasy anyway. His 19.6 yards per catch in college is evidence of his incredible big-play potential. Especially considering Williams racked up 1,572 yards on just 79 catches in his final season at Alabama. In his return from a late 2021-22 season ACL tear, Williams played in just six games as a rookie last year. He logged nine targets catching just one of them. That one catch was a 41-yard touchdown reception.
Given the suspension, I’m not reaching too high to get Williams on my 2023 redraft teams. He’s an excellent mid-to-late round best ball pick with upside. We haven’t seen enough from him yet and only get a maximum 11 games out of him this season.
In the 10 games after trading away T.J. Hockenson, one of three tight ends remaining logged four or more targets just twice. The Detroit Lions offense spread the ball around elsewhere instead. Overall, the tight end position saw just a collective 16.6% target share in 2022 with Hockenson’s targets included.
All of the options from last season post-Hock are still on the team. Between Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra, and James Mitchell, none of them interest me for fantasy football.
Second round draft pick Sam LaPorta has an outside chance to be fantasy relevant in his first season. Of the 16.6% target share the tight ends saw, Hockenson commanded 46% of them in six games before getting traded to Minnesota. LaPorta’s final two seasons at the University of Iowa yield consistent stat lines of at least 53 receptions and 657 yards in each.
Beyond Amon-Ra St. Brown, the options in the passing game are uninspiring until Jameson Williams returns from suspension. If LaPorta shines in training camp and can get on the field sooner than later, he may work in as the third pass catcher behind St. Brown and running back Jahmyr Gibbs. I’m not drafting LaPorta in formats outside of deep bench tight end premium leagues and best ball for 2023.
I’m not even thinking about the Detroit Lions defense for fantasy football until there is consistent production. As the fourth-worst fantasy defense in 2022, the Lions allowed the fourth-most points in the league to opposing offenses. They did improve throughout the season, but four of their first five games resulted in two or less fantasy points. They are a matchup-based streaming option and likely low on the list to start the year.