2019 Fantasy Football Rookie Roundup: Detroit Lions

The 2019 NFL Draft is in the rearview mirror, and it’s time for the next part of the NFL calendar. That’s right… massive, rampant speculation! They will go through drills in shorts, and we will endlessly project and prognosticate on their fantasy football futures. There are 78 guys who might have fantasy football relevance after their names were called in Nashville. Our goal with our Fantasy Football Rookie Roundup series is to give you a quick hit on every one of these guys. By the end, you’ll know these guys better than their mothers know them. Because it’s not like their mothers are necessarily good at fantasy football.

The Detroit Lions spent last season nurturing partial fantasy football breakouts from rookie Kerryon Johnson, and sophomore Kenny Golladay. That was all before they blew it all up, and inexplicably traded Golden Tate, cratering their season, and fantasy football hopes & dreams in the process. To give you an idea of how mad Golladay owners should be: the Lions averaged 24.6 points per game with Golden Tate last season, and after they traded him, they failed to reach 24 points in a single game until week seventeen, averaging just 17.4 points between weeks nine and seventeen.

However, much like your messy cousin who is still in college, it’s time for these Detroit Lions to pull a “New Year, New You” move. They did this by… failing to address their major weaknesses on offense through the draft while spending a top-eight pick on a player unlikely to help fantasy football teams in 2019. So, declaring a major change without doing a whole lot. Sounds about right for that messy cousin.

Round 1, Pick 8 – T.J. Hockenson, Tight End, Iowa

T.J. Hockenson is set up in the perfect spot to kick one of the “Big Three” fantasy football tight ends out of their spots (Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, and George Kittle). Hockenson will contribute right away to the Lions success, but I am bearish on him returning fantasy football value in 2019.

T.J. Hockenson is a complete tight end. He runs tight, fluid routes. Hockenson can come back to a ball and pluck it out of the air like a much smaller man. However, at 6’5” 251, he still comes off as skinny, somehow. He’s also a great blocker, who should spring Kerryon Johnson and C.J. Anderson for some long runs this season. Unfortunately for you, that doesn’t help much for 2019 fantasy football production.

Hockenson is amazing, and I am not going to deny that. I would also be stupid to deny history, especially since I spent four years and tens of thousands of dollars to get a piece of paper to say I am good at history. Wait, I graduated with honors. It says I’m really good at history. Either way, I would be stupid to deny it, and the history for rookie tight end fantasy football production is… well, I would say mixed, but that would imply that it isn’t straight trash outside of some outliers. It’s bad.

In the last ten seasons, there have been three rookie tight ends to turn in top-twelve fantasy football seasons in half-PPR leagues: 2009 Zach Miller, 2010 Rob Gronkowski, and 2017 Evan Engram. With just three guys, we can figure out to the formula to rookie tight end production: targets. Lots of targets, just like the rest of the tight ends. Evan Engram and Zach Miller both had a target market share of over 18.5. Gronk had a market share under 12 but (1) he’s Gronk, and (2) the 2010 Patriots averaged over 32 points per game.

So, it’s either a massive load of targets or a high-powered offense that will lead Hockenson to fantasy football glory his rookie campaign. Well, the first one isn’t likely to come to pass because HC Matt Patricia and OC Darrell Bevell’s recent records show that their game plan is to run a below-average number of plays, which obviously leads to fewer pass opportunities, which limits the ability for a high-powered offense (unless you have Patrick Mahomes). That knocks the Gronk path to rookie fantasy football production off the board. What, then, of the Evan Engram and Zach Miller method? With 1n 18% target share?

The Detroit Lions don’t throw to the tight end on an especially high basis, with just 15% of Matthew Stafford’s passes over the last three seasons headed towards a tight end. There’s also the small issue where, unfortunately for fantasy football owners, the Lions also brought in Jesse James on a four-year deal this offseason.  Let’s give Hockenson two-thirds of those passes, which will put him somewhere around 56 targets.

How about we get nutty, and call it 20% of passes going to the tight ends, with Hockenson getting two-thirds of those passes? That’s 70 targets. Only four tight ends have been top-ten in fantasy football with fewer than 70 targets in the last decade, and three of those guys had double-digit touchdowns. The only rookie? Gronk. If you think Hockenson is Gronk, take the plunge, but even if Hockenson is Gronk, Matt Stafford is not Tom Brady, and the 2018 Detroit Lions are not the 2010 New England Patriots. Temper your fantasy football expectations, accordingly.

TALENT

OPPORTUNITY

2019 OUTLOOK

Round 6, Pick 184 Overall – Travis Fulgham, Wide Receiver, Old Dominion

Last season, I called Michael Gallup a Xerox of Anquan Boldin. A strong, beefy guy over the middle who wins at the point of attack, so it doesn’t matter much that he can’t get open. Remember Multiplicity? The Michael Keaton vehicle that involved making copies of Michael Keaton, presumably for hijinx purposes? Well, that movie warned that like a Xerox if you make a copy of a copy of a person, the quality degrades. With that in mind, Travis Fulgham is the Xerox of the Xerox of Anquan Boldin. He has amazing hands, and can make circus catches… but he’s never open. He gets swallowed up by press coverage and bails himself out with those tremendous plays.

Generally, guys who can’t get open in college don’t suddenly figure out how to do that when they start playing against the best cornerbacks in the world. I am not up on Fulgham for 2019, especially when considering that he is likely behind Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, Jesse James, and T.J. Hockenson for targets. He’ll make some wild highlight catches if he gets on the field, but don’t expect much from him in 2019.

TALENT

OPPORTUNITY

2019 OUTLOOK

Round 6, Pick 186 Overall – Ty Johnson, Running Back, Maryland

For years, the Lions had a perennial fantasy football breakout candidate in Ameer Abdullah. He would inevitably make a huge preseason play that would send his draft stock through the roof. In the end, the current Viking is a niche player. Abdullah is just a home run hitter who can’t run the ball up the middle but was able to bounce it outside and make a long run if he gets a ton of space. Let’s just say… the Lions got their new Ameer Abdullah.

Johnson is set to finish far behind the other Lions backs in touches, which is something the previous iterations of the Lions weren’t smart enough to do.

TALENT

OPPORTUNITY

2019 OUTLOOK

Round 7, 224 Overall – Isaac Nauta, Tight End, Georgia

Did you read the stuff about T.J. Hockenson up above? Well, roll that up into a guy who was a second-percentile SPARQ athlete. Now, ask yourself if you should worry about him for your 2019 fantasy football teams.

TALENT

OPPORTUNITY

2019 OUTLOOK

About Jeff Krisko

You can follow me on twitter, @jeffkrisko for the same lukewarm takes you read here.

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