Matthew Stafford was traded to the Rams this offseason and is looking to rejuvenate his career with a playoff-hopeful team. Here, I will tell you why Stafford will be a top 10 Super Flex quarterback.
Matthew Stafford has been one of the most undervalued quarterbacks during his entire career, thanks to the Lions. He was the #1 overall pick in the 2009 draft and was supposed to be the savior of the Lions. Stafford very well could have been, but the Lions failed to provide him with the help he needed to truly succeed.
Stafford never played on a complete team, yet he still consistently put his team in competitive situations. Let’s take a look at why I think Matthew Stafford can and will be a Top 10 Super Flex quarterback.
The No Quit Attitude of Matthew Stafford
One thing that Matthew Stafford does is pour his heart into his performances. Without Stafford, the Lions likely would not have won close to as many games as they did. The Lions won a total of 74 games that Stafford has started since he was drafted in 2009.
Of those 74 wins, 31 of them were comeback wins — a rate of almost 42%. With nearly half of his wins, Stafford has had to fight from behind and will his team to win. He has been one of the best fourth-quarter quarterbacks, not just of his time, but all-time.
With his 31 comeback wins, Stafford is tied for seventh all-time behind the likes of John Elway, Dan Marino, Johnny Unitas, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning. That is some pretty impressive company. Stafford also has 38 game-winning drives in his career, ranking him tied for eighth all-time in that category.
Stafford has shown nerves of steel to pair with his great time management over his career. Even though he was with the Lions, teams were incredibly reluctant to give Stafford the ball back in tight games in the fourth quarter.
It’s Not All Stafford’s Fault
Lack of Protection
Matthew Stafford, to say the least, has not had the greatest protection during his career. During only five of the twelve seasons he has played, he did not rank in the top 10 in sacks taken in the season. Three of those five seasons he played in 10 games or less. To boot, in one of those three seasons, he was on pace to once again be ranked in the top 10 in sacks taken.
Seven seasons into his career, Stafford has taken at least 36 sacks, and yet he has played in 165 of a possible 192 games. The dude is tough as nails. In 2018, Matthew Stafford played through small fractures in his back and did not miss a single game. He threw for 3,777 yards with 21 touchdowns and took 40 sacks that season.
Lack of Wide Receiver Depth
Matthew Stafford was blessed with Calvin Johnson from 2009-2015. He showed great chemistry and a willingness to air it out with disregard and pepper his top target. Calvin Johnson is a Hall of Famer, but the Lions have done an incredibly poor job adding talent other than him. During Stafford’s rookie season, the team was barren at wide receiver outside of Johnson.
The next top receiver was Bryant Johnson, who played every game and tallied 35 receptions for 417 yards and 3 touchdowns. Nate Burleson joined the mix from 2010-2013, though he never eclipsed 757 receiving yards. Golden Tate joined the team in 2014, finally providing some more juice to the lineup. Tate proved to be an excellent WR2 for the team, putting up 1,331 receiving yards in 2014 and 813 yards in 2015.
After Calvin Johnson’s retirement, Tate was the hopeful team leader of the group. Although he produced, he was not a true WR1. In 2016 he put up 1,077 receiving yards and 1,003 receiving yards before being traded in 2017. After Tate was traded in 2017, the Lions put out a duo of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones.
Jones eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark only once for the Lions, though he was a formidable target in the red zone. Golladay came into his own in 2018 and 2019 with two 1,000 yard seasons before injuries hampered his 2020 season. Needless to say, Stafford has not had the most imposing group over his career.
The Front Office
The front office was less than stellar while Stafford had the reigns of the offense in Detroit. In the same draft where Stafford picked first overall, they wasted the 20th overall pick on tight end Brandon Pettigrew. We all know the drop issues that Pettigrew dealt with, which is why he never reached his potential.
In 2010, the Lions did not add a wide receiver until the seventh round, selecting Tim Toone, a player who never ran a route. Titus Young was selected in the second round of 2011, though he only played two seasons. The Lions tried again in 2012, drafting Ryan Broyles in the second round, though he never topped 310 yards in a season.
From 2013-2016, they did not draft a wide receiver earlier than the fourth round, selecting Corey Fuller in 2013, who only played two seasons in the NFL. They wasted another first-round pick, the 10th overall, in 2014 on Eric Ebron who was plagued with drops during his time with the Lions. In 2017, they took Kenny Golladay in the third round. They finally nailed a receiver, a full nine years after Stafford was drafted.
Lack of Running Game
During Stafford’s tenure in Detroit, the Lions’ running game was less than stellar. The highest the Lions ranked as a rushing team with Stafford behind center was in 2013, where they ranked 17th — the bottom half of the league. In 5 of his 12 seasons, the Lions ranked in the bottom three in the league in rushing.
They tried a few times to address this problem by drafting Ameer Abdullah in the second round of the 2015 draft and Kerryon Johnson in the second round in 2018. Neither of these guys panned out and Stafford, like with the rest of his career, was forced to carry the burden.
What Makes Matthew Stafford Great
As mentioned above, Matthew Stafford is as tough as nails. He always extends plays and is willing to stand in the pocket and take a hit while delivering a pinpoint pass. This clip below embodies everything that is Matthew Stafford. Watch how he extends the play, takes a huge hit, comes back in the game, and throws the game-winning touchdown:
The embodiment of leaving everything on the field.
Matthew Stafford had one of the greatest mic’d up moments ever…
— Scott Turken (@Turk0219) January 31, 2021
Stafford has the ability to throw from multiple arm angles, probably the best of any quarterback in the NFL. This allows him to manipulate the pocket and take what is given to him by his offensive line. Stafford also has some style to his game. Patrick Mahomes is known for his no-look passes, but Stafford was doing this before Mahomes. Watch this beautiful no-look pass which he snaps to the endzone for a touchdown:
Since Sean McVay took over in 2017, Jared Goff has averaged 573 attempts per season.
Goff's ranks in Play Action Passing the last two years:
2020 – 1st in PA Atts, 4th in PA Passing Yards
2019 – 1st in PA Atts, 1st in PA Passing Yards
This is a Matthew Stafford tweet. pic.twitter.com/SCwOVc4Ot4
— Drew Davenport (@DrewFBGAuctions) April 27, 2021
Stafford also has one of the better deep balls in the NFL. He has great arm strength and accuracy and a propensity of making big plays downfield, something the Rams have lacked while Goff was their quarterback. Watch this pinpoint deep ball from Stafford:
Jared Goff can't throw deep…
Matthew Stafford… can
16+ air yards last 2 years:
Goff: +0.20 EPA/att, 10.7 YPA
Stafford: +0.58 EPA/att, 13.9 YPA
LOOK AT THIS DIME FROM DECEMBER
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) January 31, 2021
Stafford does a great job of finding his receivers in rhythm, as he showed during his time with Golden Tate, who had his best seasons while teamed up with Stafford. His ability to lead is overlooked far too much. He has been the quarterback on one of the poorest run franchises over the past 10 years, and yet he has never let it affect the way he plays. Every game he plays, he plays his heart out and to the best of his ability — a trait I want from my starting quarterback.
Why Matthew Stafford Will Succeed In L.A.
The WR Group
The Rams are easily the most complete team that Stafford has been a part of. Stafford excelled at hitting his receivers in rhythm during his time in Detroit. Golden Tate was the recipient of Stafford peppering him with targets once Calvin Johnson was gone. During Tate’s tenure with Detroit, he had target totals of 144, 128, 135, 120, and 69 in seven games.
Golden Tate is very similar to the receivers that the Rams currently employ — they excel on the short to intermediate routes with quick separation. Stafford’s ability to throw from multiple arm angles allows him to manipulate throwing windows on the quick hitter routes. He can find receivers open when many others could not.
Though the Rams do not have a receiver that wins huge over the top like a Calvin Johnson, their ability to create separation will allow Stafford to likely set career highs in completion percentage. Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and Van Jefferson all succeed with creating separation and, add the fact that they have Tyler Higbee to run the seam, Stafford is likely to eat.
The Running Game
As I mentioned above, Stafford never had a rushing attack that ranked higher than 17th in the league. The Rams ranked 10th in rushing yards and yards per game in 2020. They also drafted Cam Akers in the second round of the 2020 draft, and he looks like an absolute darling.
Akers started the last five games of the season, including the two playoff games. During that span, he rushed for 489 yards, 97.8 yards per game, with a 4.28 yards per carry average, including three games of 90 yards or more. He also tacked on 13 receptions for 125 yards over that span. Akers proved that he has what it takes to be a bell-cow back and will be the focal point of the best rushing attack Stafford has had at his side.
The Offensive Line
The Rams’ offensive line is much better now than what Matthew Stafford had at his disposal with the Lions. Jared Goff was sacked 29 times in 2020, which was the 15th worst in the NFL. For reference, 29 sacks were the fewest in a 16 game season that Stafford had in his career. Stafford’s ability to stretch plays is far greater than Goff’s, so that number likely goes down.
The offensive line was only to blame for 25 of those sacks, which ranked sixth in the NFL. Though the run blocking was middle of the road, the pass blocking was top of the line. This group is going to run it back in 2021 with solid chemistry and a quarterback they will not have to work so hard to keep clean.
Matthew Stafford was always on the cusp of top 10 superflex quarterbacks. He did all of this with a subpar offensive line, one of whom constantly allowed for Stafford to get tossed around. Stafford is also equipped with a receiver corps that thrives at separation and creating easy throws for their quarterback.
Add in the fact that he has the best running game he has been equipped with, and this offense is ready to take flight. To boot, the Rams have a stellar defense, which should allow the Rams to be either in or ahead in games. The significance of this is that Stafford will no longer need to press to make things happen. We could see the most comfortable and impressive Matthew Stafford yet.