A curious thing is happening: Matthew Stafford’s stock is actually rising. The word on the street is that Stafford is having a great offseason and looks good throwing the ball. I have even started to see concerns about Stafford being overdrafted, which is really code for being dismayed that you might not be able to snag him as a high-value pick in later rounds. Some here at PFF Fantasy have been banging the drum for Stafford, to a degree, so his recent ascent comes as little surprise.
For now I am going to disregard injury concerns for Stafford – after all, injuries are unpredictable, and he has been reportedly healthy and fully recovered from surgery for some time. Yes, I am aware that his injuries are no small matter considering they involve his throwing arm. Is the Glass Shoulder a risky pick? Yes. What kind of season will he have if he stays healthy, though? That is the rub.
Even though Stafford has only played 13 of a possible 32 games over the past two seasons, he is going full steam into his third season in the NFL. Third seasons are good leap years for good quarterbacks, especially in recent years. I took a look at some quarterbacks over the past thirty years and found these interesting results:
* Fantasy points calculated on passing statistics only
** Improvement percentage based on fantasy points scored in previous season.
A couple of notes about the data:
- There were several quarterbacks that I looked at that did not fit the hypothesis. Dan Marino, for example, had an insane sophomore season, breaking the touchdown record with 48. Carson Palmer similarly had a great second season. Others, like Rick Mirer, washed out for a variety of reasons. Besides, I very well cannot include data that will contradict my argument, can I?
- The names came off the top of my head. I am not making a comparison between Joe Flacco and Joe Montana, or anything like that. The quarterbacks in the data set simply fit the profile.
While by no means a scientific list, this shows that the third year can be a significant jump for NFL quarterbacks. More recently, quarterbacks not named JaMarcus Russell who have been starters since their rookie seasons seem to flourish in their third year. I think Stafford is poised to do the same. Of course, in some cases like Flacco, that does not necessarily translate to great fantasy seasons. That is where Stafford will excel – he will be a great fantasy quarterback if he stays on the field.
Just looking at Stafford’s first two seasons, there is already a positive trend in his numbers, even if his sophomore campaign was cut severely short by his shoulder woes. Stafford was dead last in the league with a -11.8 overall PFF rating as a rookie, but his prorated 2010 rating is +42.1, a massive jump. Matt Ryan led the league with a +61.3 rating in his third season, so forecasting a good year for Stafford is not far-fetched. Mike Clay gave me a quick retro-projection of 4,318 yards, 29 TDs and 21 INTs if Stafford had played all 16 games last season. Here is a look at his career numbers if we plug those projections in:
* Fantasy points calculated on passing statistics only
** 2010 ratings are prorated over 16 games; 2010 statistics are retroactively projected by Mike Clay
Those 2010 statistics would have put Stafford in top-10 fantasy QB territory, and would have represented over double his fantasy output from his rookie season. It is interesting to note that if we simply prorated Stafford’s numbers he would have ended up with 2854 yards, 32 TDs, and 5 INTs. I felt that would be far less realistic than Clay’s projection, but either way we see a positive trend. Combine that with historical evidence that good third-year quarterbacks make significant statistical leaps and Stafford starts to look like an elite quarterback! Of course, all that must be taken with a big grain of salt; three games is a poor sample size from which to prorate or guess at any player’s numbers.
At any rate, history alone cannot be an accurate predictor of fantasy success, so we delve deeper. What does Stafford’s offense look like? For one, the Lions offense runs a lot of plays — more plays means more opportunities to score fantasy points. Scott Linehan is widely regarded to be one of the better offensive coordinators in the game, and it showed last season in a much-improved attack. Personnel-wise, much like Matt Ryan’s situation in Atlanta, Stafford is surrounded by a bevy of young and talented offensive players. There is already a comprehensive review of the Lions’ offensive depth chart on this site, but here is a quick look at his weaponry:
|2010 PFF Data|
* Rookie numbers are based on averages found in The Rookie
I left off Bryant Johnson because, well, he stinks and is likely to be cut by the Lions this offseason. Beyond the depth chart review I will say I like the addition of Leshoure and Young – the explosive receiver and complementary back will round out the already-good offense. There is obviously room for improvement in a lot of these young players, but Stafford has a lot to work with, and having an uber-talented receiver like Megatron is a major advantage. Stafford also plays behind a decent offensive line – it rated -9.6 in pass blocking, which was ranked smack dab in the middle of the league. The bottom line is that Stafford has a great pair of receivers, tight ends and running backs (potentially) at his disposal, and he plays behind a decent offensive line, which is a lot better than most other quarterbacks can say.
So where does Stafford rank going into 2011? I will put my money where my keyboard is and say that he will be a top-7 quarterback. That may not be so bold considering there is a lot of volatility after the Big 6 – Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers – and that Mike Clay currently projects him to be the 10th-best QB next season. Still, injury concerns put a ceiling on his stock, so he will be a great value pick anywhere past the sixth round in your drafts, and should come relatively cheap in auction drafts. Just be sure you draft a good backup quarterback just in case the Glass Shoulder cracks again.
Questions and comments are always welcome via Twitter – @PFF_Alex