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The Detroit Lions don’t care about fantasy football

The Detroit Lions are sitting pretty at 3-1, but a large portion of online discussion has been centered around fantasy football and how the Lions are misusing certain players.

Detroit Lions v Green Bay Packers Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Fantasy football is just that: fantasy. In the realm of reality, the Detroit Lions are using their players how they want, and they are winning. It’s hard to argue against that, but alas, here we are.

Through four weeks of the 2023 NFL season, a recurring complaint has been the Lions’ “misuse” of their first-round running back Jahmyr Gibbs. Some have expected Gibbs to be the main back out of the gate, but it has instead been David Montgomery leading the charge when healthy. This came to the forefront on Thursday night in the Lions’ stomping of the Green Bay Packers.

Montgomery got a whopping 34 carries to Gibbs’ eight carries, and this was a byproduct of the flow of the game. The Lions got out to a substantial early lead, and that played into Montgomery’s hands: run the ball hard up the middle.

Montgomery’s 113 yards after contact is impressive, but that did not appease most people from the fantasy football sphere. Instead, the focus was on that uneven carries split and Montgomery’s average of 3.8 yards per carry. Gibbs had an average of 5.0 yards per carry, so naturally, he should have gotten the bulk of the carries, right?

Looking at superficial stats is not the right approach. For what the Lions were trying to do against the Packers, Gibbs was not the best option. In a pinch, the Lions would have been fine with Gibbs (as they did last week versus the Atlanta Falcons), but running up the gut is not Gibbs’ game. Given how dominant the Lions offensive line was on Thursday, there was little reason to run it toward the perimeter either; the Lions were looking to bleed the clock and impose their will.

Let’s answer some questions and address some concerns.

I would love to know what game he was watching, but it was very evident that Montgomery was a better fit for the Lions wanted to do than Gibbs. Gibbs is an electric player, but even at Alabama, he was more scalpel than sledgehammer. This game called for a sledgehammer. When/if the Lions are playing from behind, expect the script to flip in Gibbs’ favor.

A double dose of fantasy football analysis:

Montgomery is far better than a “mid bowling ball,” and it would be quite bold to fire your coaching staff after a 34-20 win to advance to 3-1 on the season. I won’t beat a dead horse about the play call selection being in Montgomery’s favor, so let’s instead focus on the rest of the criticism. When you are trusted with goal line and short yardage situations, your average is likely going to suffer. A one-yard touchdown is just that, one yard. However, converting such plays is a success even if the surface-level stats like average do not indicate it.

As for the Lions not winning because of Montgomery, how quickly we forget that he directly led to 21 of the 34 points that were scored. That should count as contributing to the win, right?

This was from Week 3 versus the Falcons, but it remains notable anyway:

After Gibbs ran for 80 yards on 17 carries while Montgomery was recovering from injury, the Lions were apparently still not using him correctly. Gibbs handled the bulk of the carries, but per this analysis, they needed to run him outside more often (and dial-up more 20-plus yard carries in a historic beatdown, but I digress).

We have established that fantasy folks think the Lions should use Gibbs on the perimeter more than running up the middle—fair enough, this plays to his strengths. Yet in Week 4, when the flow of the game was orientated towards running it up the middle, we got people complaining that Gibbs wasn’t carrying it.

Which do you want? Do you want Gibbs to carry it up the middle or not? Is there no appeasing fantasy football analysts?

Here is a palate cleanser for you. Gibbs is well on track to have a good and potentially great NFL career. Two of his comparisons, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara, had similar numbers of carries to start their rookie seasons. The other prized running back prospect from the 2023 NFL Draft, Bijan Robinson, is just eight carries ahead of Gibbs. If these fantasy football analysts are going to panic about Gibbs not getting enough touches, why aren’t they examining historical comparables?

I’ll leave you with a perfectly summarized tweet from Benjamin Raven:

The Detroit Lions have not often been in the national spotlight, and as a result, our players have gone under the radar at times. However, this past offseason may have been the opposite. So much attention was directed towards Gibbs as a top-12 selection that certain people became hyper-fixated on how he would be used.

Yet for people who actually paid attention to Lions training camp and preseason, it became clear how valuable Montgomery was to the team and the coaching staff. Gibbs was never going to be a bell cow in Detroit while Montgomery was healthy. You can debate draft value all you want (please try to save it for after the Super Bowl parade), but the Lions are not going to force a player into an expansive and impractical role solely due to their draft status.

The Lions offense has been playing extremely well to start the season, but Montgomery may be the most integral cog in it. For as good as Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jared Goff, and Sam LaPorta have been, Montgomery has arguably been the most impressive player on offense. Instead of complaining about why the Lions are or aren’t giving their rookie carries, perhaps we should put some faith in one of the league’s top offenses.

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