Matthew Stafford: A QB1 Still?
The howitzer of an arm that Matthew Stafford possesses has long tantalized fantasy football owners looking for an upper tier version of Jay Cutler. Stafford showcased himself early with a crazy 2011 season but has steadily fallen off until last year thanks to the resurgence under promoted offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Thanks in part due to the “late round QB” belief in fantasy circles, quarterbacks of Stafford’s caliber have routinely been taken in the middle rounds and mostly paid out. Last year, Stafford paid off for patient fantasy owners and has been a relatively reliable fantasy option but obviously, this year has cast him in far murkier waters rendering the beliefs about his fantasy potential all over the place. The effusers point to Stafford’s physical ability and his consistency while detractors point to the loss of central figures that helped propel Stafford’s numbers up.
- 398 Completions
- 592 Attempts
- 67.2% Completion Rate
- 4262 Passing Yards
- 32 Touchdowns
- 13 Interceptions
- 44 Sacks
- 159 Rushing Yards
- 1 Rushing Touchdown
- QB 8
Some Career Highs, Some Signs of Concern
While Stafford’s 67.2% completion rate looks very impressive on the surface, there is some concern that it came at the expense of his downfield passing prowess as he completed a career low 10.7 yards per completion while seeing his number of pass attempts steadily drop since a high of 727 in 2012. Despite the very low pass attempt totals, the offensive line remained a concern with Stafford getting sacked 44 times averaging out to 1 sack every 13 pass attempts that Stafford dropped back to throw. Pressure is expected to be ramped up even more now that Stafford will not be able to target receivers and has to try and spread the ball around to compensate.
The Effect of Jim Bob Cooter
Detroit started out an abysmal 1-6 through the first 7 weeks of the season prior to the promotion of Jim Bob Cooter to offensive coordinator, a position that he’ll be carrying over to start the 2016 NFL season. Stafford struggled despite completing 65% of his passes as he threw just 12 touchdowns to 9 interceptions largely buoyed by a 405 yard, 4 touchdown outing in a win over the Chicago Bears in week six. Not only did wins start coming but Stafford himself just went berserk in the latter half of the year completing 69% of his passes while throwing for 2,396 yards and 20 touchdowns to 4 interceptions. Those are not nearly sustainable over an entire season but would project to 4,260 yards and 36 touchdowns to 7 interceptions which are MVP Caliber numbers and unlikely to be seen with Stafford this year.
A Ground Game Is Afoot?
One thing to watch for is the desire to run the ball more that Cooter showed. Despite the 6-2 record, the Lions had 5 straight games over 100 yards rushing as a team despite injuries and a taped together RBBC of rookie Ameer Abdullah, big power back Joique Bell, and pass catcher Theo Riddick. Everything from the start of this offseason has shown that the Detroit Lions plan to continue to further develop that running game with draft picks of offensive linemen: Joe Dahl, Taylor Decker, and Graham Glasgow. Detroit have a talented, albeit young group including Travis Swanson, Laken Tomlinson, Larry Warford, Riley Reiff, and Corey Robinson but also signed Geoff Schwartz from the New York Giants.
Joique Bell left but the RB Stable remains filled with Ameer Abdullah entering his 2nd season. Theo Riddick remains a pass receiving weapon while newly signed Stevan Ridley will battle with a healthy Zach Zenner and talented but unproven George Winn to help fill in the big back role that Bell left as a void. The Lions should see their running numbers uptick from 30th, 32nd, and 24th in rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns. This should keep Stafford more efficient but will hinder his overall numbers especially if his passing attempts continue to fall.
Can Stafford Spread the Ball Around?
Calvin Johnson retired in the offseason leaving a massive hole in the Detroit Lions receiving corps and is the biggest concern regarding Matthew Stafford and his potential as a QB1 this year. He accounted for 88 catches, 1214 yards, 9 touchdowns, but more importantly he was targeted a team-high 149 times. Golden Tate was second with 128 targets and RB Theo Riddick was third with just 99 targets.
Detroit does carry over TEs Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew with Ebron expected to take on a much larger role after accumulating 47 catches over 14 games. It remains to be seen if the Lions view Pettigrew as more of an in-line blocker to help support the run game and serve to further protect Stafford in the pocket. The Lions did go out and get a number of fresh, new weapons for Stafford including WRs Marvin Jones, Jeremy Kerley, and Andre Roberts while drafting Jay Lee, an explosive player out of Baylor. The presumed pecking order has been Marvin Jones as WR1, Golden Tate as WR2, Andre Roberts in the slot, and Jeremy Kerley/Jay Lee/Andre Caldwell/TJ Jones/Corey Fuller/Ryan Spadola competing for probably 3 roster spots for the 53 man roster.
Despite some of the talent, there is no overwhelming number one receiver, which Stafford has said should work in his/Detroit’s favor: “It’s gonna, I think, be tougher for defenses in a certain way that they don’t know who we’re going to. There’s no guy to key in on. We’re probably just going to spread the ball around a bunch. A bunch of guys are gonna get a ton of catches and we’re gonna be alright,” although it remains to be seen whether the reality will match Stafford’s beliefs.
- More weapons at his disposal than at any other time in his career.
- Another year of experience with Jim Bob Cooter’s system. Acclimdated well under it in a short period of time last year.
- Entering his prime years and a stable running game could invite bigger opportunities down the field.
- Loss of Calvin Johnson is massive and it remains to be seen whether Stafford trusts his new receivers.
- An improved running game could take away chances for Stafford to deliver gaudy stats especially at the goal line. Possible ceiling to totals.
- Offensive Line remains a question and Stafford has seen 45 and 44 sacks the last 2 seasons. More hits could take physical toll on his body.