What direction could the Lions take for their Head Coaching vacancy and how will that impact fantasy value?

By: Ryan Frederick | @RyanFred1415

Coming from the Detroit area, these last few years have been long. No Lions playoff wins since January 5, 1992 and no division titles since 1993, when I was only a few months old. The Lions exited one of the better runs in franchise history when Jim Caldwell was let go and Matt Patricia was brought in to get the Lions over the hump.  

From the start, however, it was all downhill. Players were angry and wanted out of Detroit. The now-former staff, seemingly alienated a lot of players and a lackluster offense that provided little to no help to your fantasy lineups outside of Kenny Golladay. Until this season, there have been zero glimpses of a run game, then they took D’Andre Swift and the handcuffing of Swift was to the point when the team finally named him the starter, Adrian Peterson said “you should’ve done this weeks ago” making fantasy owners shudder everywhere.  

In a seemingly never-ending carousel of head coaches, general managers, roster turnover and scheme changes, the Lions enter another turn of that carousel. The search for a new head coach and general manager is well underway, making it difficult to tell what the future holds for the Detroit Lions and their fantasy football assets. Which now begs the question: who will the new head coach be and how will he utilize Matt Stafford, D’Andre Swift, Kenny Golladay and TJ  Hockenson to help you moving forward? These are the candidates most likely to be interviewing for this job and what it will mean for your fantasy football team moving forward.  

Option One: “The Culture Builder”  

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh seems like the most likely option. Saleh is from the Detroit area, grew up a Lions fan and has been a fantastic coordinator for the  49ers since 2017. Fans will not find this attractive based on how the last defensive head coach went but there is a big shift happening in Detroit – they are looking to build an on-field brand for themselves; becoming a team with a winning culture that isn’t led by someone with a certain scheme or a certain background.  

They are looking for a leader of men who can go teach, develop and get guys who play hard every single play. The way Mike Tomlin coaches the Pittsburgh Steelers, or the way Brian Flores coaches the Miami Dolphins, is what Detroit wants and that is what they would hope to get with Robert Saleh.  

The prevailing thought behind hiring Robert Saleh is that he would try to bring the current passing game coordinator for the 49ers, Mike LaFleur with him to be his offensive coordinator. The brother of Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, Mike has been working under Kyle Shanahan since 2017 and despite not having great quarterback play and a ridiculous number of injuries, the 49ers have been very successful. Using motion to open up running lanes for the committee they have utilized, using running backs in the passing game, using speed over the middle with Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk to open up deep shots to George Kittle. It is a fast, spread offense that is extremely efficient.  

Historically, Matt Stafford has been very good in that type of fast-paced, spread-out offense as we have seen him have the most fourth-quarter comebacks in the league since 2009 while running that style of offense. However, without knowing how LaFleur coaches or schemes, or if the 49ers will even allow him to leave to go with Saleh, it is hard to know the exact effect on fantasy production. In theory, you would assume this would be a great fit for Matthew Stafford,  D’Andre Swift and TJ Hockenson; however, I would pump the brakes on the wide receivers in this situation. They would have to be thought of as boom or bust play every week until we see how this offense would click.  

Option Two: “The Offensive Genius”  

Well, the Lions just got done with the defensive guru, so now it might be time for the opposite of that. Eric Bieniemy, the offensive coordinator from the Kansas City Chiefs, seems like the slam dunk hire of the offseason. He helps operate by far the best offense in football and is widely considered one of the best offensive coaches in the game. He has helped teach Patrick Mahomes how to read defenses and help polish him to be considered one of the best quarterbacks of all time. The Chiefs have the speed to burn at receiver, a massive tight end that is utilized in all facets of the game and a quick, shifty rookie running back that is a big play waiting to happen.  

The Lions have more of this than you may think. They have one of the best arm talents in football with Stafford, they have the tight end in TJ Hockenson, who is quickly turning into a fantasy star and they have the young running back in D’Andre Swift, who I think is a better fantasy option than Clyde Edwards-Helaire. They just have not been utilized properly yet.  

They have some questions at wide receiver, which, if Bieniemy were to get hired, you could almost bet on the Lions early first-round pick being someone along the lines of DeVonta Smith,  Jaylen Waddle or Ja’Marr Chase to open the offense and let it fly. If Bieniemy is everything we all hope he is, the Lions’ offense would be one of the most productive in the NFL, making every Lions’ player’s value skyrocket and turn into potential league winners.  

Option Three: “The Young Gun”  

This is extremely unlikely to happen but if they wanted to go off the wall with a hire that would cause lots of intrigue, how about Joe Brady? The current offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. Brady is widely considered one of the best young minds in football after his work with Joe Burrow at LSU and the work he has put into the Panthers offense, which has been sneaky good with Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback and without superstar Christian McCaffrey. DJ Moore and Robby Anderson are both over 1,000 yards receiving and Anderson is top 10 in receptions at the time of writing.  

This would fit the mold of what the Los Angeles Rams did with Sean McVay or what the Bengals are attempting to do with Zac Taylor. Take a chance on a hotshot coordinator and give him some time to go to work and hope you strike gold. From a fantasy perspective, we have seen it both ways. McVay’s team started very, very young, but has had an immediate impact and created fantasy stars all over the field. Zac Taylor and the Bengals are still dismantling the  Marvin Lewis era and rebuilding, hoping to catch fire with Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins.  

We have seen some flashes, but there is still a ways to go. If the Lions go this route, I think the offense would look a lot closer to the Panthers this year than we might want, but it has proved to be decently effective for fantasy output. Shorter throws mixed in with a lot of usage from the running back position. D’Andre Swift would be the biggest benefactor from this hire and would be a Top 10 running back option for most weeks. Matt Stafford’s fantasy outlook would take a  hit with the shorter passes but maintaining possession and clock control doesn’t lend itself well to a quarterback who doesn’t run a ton. Tight ends and wide receivers would get a small bump in PPR leagues but probably not as much as we would hope due to the yard loss, the spreading of the football and the stronger emphasis on the run game.