2022 NFC North Preview: Fantasy Football Outlook, Sleepers, and Busts

Benjamin Haller breaks down the NFC North from a fantasy football perspective.

2021 Review

 

Points per Game 19.1 25th
Offensive Snaps 918 20th
2021 Record 3-13-1 31st
2022 Vegas Win Projection 6.0

 

Despite a miserly 3-13-1 record in 2021, the Detroit Lions under the stewardship of new, enigmatic Head Coach Dan Campbell were a fun team to watch in comparison to the disaster that was the Matt Patricia era. Patricia became synonymous with losing and a poor culture amongst the players, and that had spilled out into the media and made them a laughing stock in 2020. In Campbell, the Ford family has found a leader who can not only galvanize the players but the city too, his values akin to the character of the people of Detroit. Campbell’s coaching staff is littered with years of NFL experience and, after the Anthony Lynn experiment at Offensive Coordinator failed, the man responsible for kicking the offense into gear in the latter half of 2021, Ben Johnson now assumes the role.

Jared Goff gave the Lions an acceptable level of quarterback play and improved his chemistry with the emerging Amon-Ra St. Brown and old flame from the Rams, Josh Reynolds. The Lions will roll with Goff for another year until a $10m team opt-out in his contract becomes, at this stage, almost certain. D.J. Chark arrived from Jacksonville to bolster a thin receiver room and a flurry of veteran free agents were brought in to keep the defense respectable.

The draft is where it got exciting. Michigan superstar Aidan Hutchinson was taken with the second overall pick and gives Campbell a face for his franchise that everyone can get behind. Exciting Alabama can-do-everything wideout Jameson Williams was also snapped up in the second round to provide an x-factor on offense for the future. The building blocks are slowly coming together and this season is all about development for the Lions.

Sit back, strap yourself in and watch HBO’s Hard Knocks to see what’s in store for the Lions in the preseason. “It’s about to be fun, man!”

 

Passing Game

 

Passing Yards per Game 228.4 19th
Passing Touchdowns per Game 1.3 18th
Pass Attempts per Game 34.8 15th

 

Jared Goff is an average NFL starter. The stats say so, the eye says so. There is a stigma that he is something more, that because of where he was drafted and what was expected, he is a bad quarterback. This is not the case. Goff adapted nicely to Johnson’s system last year and ended the season top-12 in completion percentage. Goff only threw eight interceptions compared to throwing 17 touchdowns. The Lions didn’t ask him to risk too much so that is a part of things but otherwise Goff did what was asked competently. This should continue in the same fashion in 2022 and with slight upgrades in the receiving room and some continuity in play-calling, Goff could push into the above-average section of quarterback rankings. He has become valuable in superflex leagues for fantasy purposes.

Three reasons why we should be hopeful about this passing attack: first, Amon-Ra St. Brown had a brilliant rookie campaign and the Lions have found a playmaker on the outside and on deeper routs; second, Jameson Williams will return fresh off an injury to give Lions fans something to get excited about for years to come; and third, Josh Reynolds and D.J Chark are proven playmakers and great route-runners, they will now offer Goff another dimension to the offense. Quintez Cephus also showed a nice skillset and could be more of a player this season.

 

Running Game

 

Rushing Yard per Game 110.9 14th
Rushing Touchdowns per Game 0.7 26th
Rushing Plays per Game 25.1 21st

 

The only fault I can put on the new Lions coaching staff in 2021 was their lack of emphasis on their running game. D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams are two excellent backs who run hard, show toughness, and hold enormous respect in the locker room. They were underused last year and the Lions suffered for it. Part of that may have been Anthony Lynn’s fault, and certainly, the Lions looked to get more joy on the ground once Campbell and Johnson took over play-calling. Their lack of opportunity to run the ball in at the goal line was also a big issue.

What is exciting is that both Swift and Williams enter training camp free from injuries, something that has not been the case so far. To go along with their talents, the Lions’ offensive line may prove to be one of the best in the NFL. If the play-calling is good, this rush attack has the potential to be something special. Late-round 2021 flier Jermar Jefferson and undrafted free agent Godwin Igwebuike also showed they can add something to the ground attack when called upon.

 

Gotta Have Him

 

D’Andre Swift, RB

Swift is over the injury troubles that plagued him as a rookie and lingered into last year. He is also now under the wing of Offensive Coordinator Ben Johnson, who will look to feature the talented back right from the off. Swift has huge potential and now is the year to realize it. He needs to improve on his 4.1 yards per attempt, however, Swift did much of his work catching passes, finishing 5th in RBs with 62 receptions. He is particularly valuable in PPR leagues.

 

Sleeper

 

Jamaal Williams, RB

Despite the monster year in line for Swift, don’t count out Williams, who has proven to be the leader and tough competitor that embodies the team’s values. Williams had 180 touches in just 13 games in 2021, out-carrying Swift on the ground and being a factor in the passing game too. He is set to be on the field a lot and if the run game is given the focus it deserves, Williams will carve out a nice flex role for fantasy managers.

 

Rookie To Watch

 

Jameson Williams, WR

All the talk was about how the Lions were aggressive in moving up in the draft to snag the talented Alabama wideout with the 12th overall pick. After limited playing time at Ohio State forced Williams to transfer to the Crimson Tide, he wasted no time in getting to work in his final year in college. Williams went off for 1,572 yards on just 79 receptions, hitting the end zone 15 times. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL in the National Championship game and his early season will be carefully managed. He is certainly worth a stash in deeper leagues and could be a key waiver wire target once he starts seeing the field.

 

 

 

Feature image by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter) / Photography by Ian Johnson, Robin Alam, Larry Radloff & Rich von Biberstein / Icon Sportswire

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