Matthew Stafford's career has been one full of promise, and quite often, letdown. Stafford is a talented quarterback with a big arm that has thus far produced one elite year in four seasons of play. In the beginning, his career was plagued by injury, costing him 19 games in his first two seasons. That led to an injury-prone label and questions about Detroit's ability to protect him. In 2011, Stafford put everything together and silenced all of his critics by throwing for more than 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. At just 24 years old entering his fourth season Stafford was viewed as one of the great young quarterbacks in the league, and then mysteriously his efficiency went down the drain.
Despite throwing an incredible 727 passes in 2012, Stafford was nothing more than a low-end QB1 last season. He struggled with accuracy, regressed in his mechanics, and continued to throw a high number of interceptions. If 2011 was everything Stafford's proponents had hoped he could be, 2012 was a strong point in his detractors favor. Despite nearly throwing for 5,000 yards again, Stafford ranked 21st in yards per attempts and 18th in completion percentage.
In fairness to Stafford, outside of Calvin Johnson his weapons in 2012 were average at best. The Lions struggled to find a good second option in the passing game throughout the season. Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles struggled with injuries and Titus Young battled immaturity. Brandon Pettigrew failed to live up to his talent as he continued to struggle with drops at tight end. The running back situation was decent as a committee, and it's the one area the Lions believe they significantly upgraded in the offseason. Mikel LeShoure and Joique Bell will give way to Reggie Bush, who should give Stafford an excellent receiving option out of the backfield.
Bush should be a better receiver than Bell and a better runner than LeShoure between the 20s. If the Lions could find more balance, it would mean fewer attempts for Stafford but likely better efficiency. It would be difficult for any quarterback to be efficient when the other team knows you're going to throw the ball 45 times a game. Especially when they're devoting all of their attention to the only consistent target you have. If Bush gives the team balance and an open field threat out of the backfield, he will make things easier on Stafford.
What would make things even easier is if Ryan Broyles could develop into a legitimate #2 opposite Calvin Johnson. Broyles, who is recovering from his second ACL injury in his many years, first has to beat out Nate Burleson, but for the Lions to be all they can be on offense they really need that to happen. In 10 games last year Broyles showed flashes as a rookie and he's the only other receiver on the roster that has a real chance to be special.
As it usually is, the answer with Stafford is somewhere in the middle. Those saying that Stafford will regress even further because there's no way he'll throw 727 passes again this season are partially correct. So are those saying that Stafford will be better this year because he won't be that inefficient again in 2013. Stafford's likely to see at least a 10% regression in attempts, which will almost certainly lead to a more efficient passing game. He reaches his ceiling again in 2013 if his Ryan Broyles plays a full season and Brandon Pettigrew plays closer to his potential. His floor comes into play if Calvin Johnson begins to decline, or again suffers an injury, or if no one else steps up to help Stafford besides Johnson. While those outcomes are both possible, the more likely scenario involves something in the middle.
- Stafford has the best receiver in the game on his side. Johnson makes plays that most only dream of, and definitely makes a slightly inaccurate quarterback look better.
- Even though his attempts are likely to decline, Stafford will still rank in the top three in that category in 2013.
- Stafford is still just 25 years old. Most quarterbacks are entering their second or third year starting at this age.
- Outside of Reggie Bush, Stafford will still have the same weapons he had in 2012. He's betting on Ryan Broyles' health and Brandon Pettigrew's hands
- A year with Stafford's efficiency from 2012 and the expected regression in attempts would lead to a very pedestrian fantasy QB2
|Heath Cummings Projections||399||654||4708||30||16||75||1|
|David Dodds Projections||388||642||4661||28||18||102||1|
Stafford is absolutely a risk/reward play in 2013. At his best, he's a top five fantasy quarterback capable of putting up huge numbers any week. At his worst he may not even be a starting quarterback in your league. He's currently being drafted as the eighth quarterback off the board, and that represents good value. Reggie Bush should help the Lions formulate a more balanced game plan as well as serve as a security blanket for Stafford. As long as Bush and Calvin Johnson both stay healthy there's no reason to think that Stafford won't be at least a mid-level QB1.
Brandon Funston at Yahoo Sports wrote:
Last season, Matt Stafford threw the ball 727 times. No QB in the history of the NFL has ever chucked it more in a season. Unfortunately, only 20 of those Stafford tosses found their way into the end zone. Considering that he threw 41 TD passes (in fewer attempts) the previous season, and has the most uncoverable receiver in the league (Calvin Johnson) at his disposal, netting just 20 TD passes in '12 was an extreme stroke of bad luck.
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Jamey Eisenberg at Sportsline wrote:
Stafford has Top 5 potential, and he definitely should return this season as a Top 10 Fantasy quarterback. If healthy, there's no way he'll be held to just 20 passing touchdowns like he was in 2012. He has the best receiver in the NFL with Calvin Johnson, who was stopped on the 1-yard line six times last season.
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Doug Farrar at Yahoo Sports wrote:
Stafford's mechanical issues are easy to see on tape, and they mirror some of the same issues that Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears has never been able to consistently overcome. Like Cutler, Stafford will make stick throws when he shouldn't because he has such a great belief in his arm. Like Cutler, Stafford will go through stretches where he throws absolutely flat-footed, and when that happens, he's not using his lower body to drive his throwing action. If you're going to ask a guy to throw as often as Stafford does, especially without the benefit of a cohesive running game, any mechanical glitch will be amplified by the sheer repetition the quarterback must undergo.
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