In his first three season as an NFL player, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played 29 regular-season games out of a possible 48, but is he really as injury prone as many of his detractors—and a few supporters—would suggest?
The answer to that question would have been a resounding yes if not for his spectacular 2011 season, which saw him play in all 16 games, plus a playoff game, and throw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns.
It appeared as if Stafford had finally tossed the injury bug and was well on his way to living up to the enormous potential that caused the Lions to draft him No. 1 overall in the 2009 NFL draft.
That hope and potential was put on hold for a brief second this past Saturday when Stafford was forced to leave the Lions' preseason game against the Oakland Raiders due to what turned out to be a broken blood vessel in his left hand.
The good news for Lions fans is that Stafford should be ready to go to open the regular season (h/t ESPN.com), but once again injury concerns, albeit minor ones, are surrounding Detroit's franchise quarterback.
So, once more the question must be asked: Is Matthew Stafford injury prone?
Let's explore both sides of the argument.
There's little doubt that Stafford has taken some very vicious hits in his NFL career, and some would argue that most quarterbacks would have suffered the same fate if they had encountered those exact hits.
Anybody who knows the NFL would tell you that Julius Peppers is one of the more feared defensive ends in the league, and the blindside hit he laid on Stafford's shoulder in 2010 was pretty intense.
You try getting blindsided by Peppers or nailed by a defender while scrambling around the pocket and throwing (2009 miked-up injury), and let's see if you wouldn't get injured, right?
The other side of this argument is definitely the stronger of the two, though.
While Stafford has taken some pretty massive hits during the course of his young NFL career, I dare you to go find a quarterback in the NFL that hasn't gotten his clock cleaned once or twice.
For all the league does to protect its quarterbacks, you would be naive to think that the position still isn't the most dangerous in the game. These guys get hit hard every single time they step onto the field.
The great ones just find ways to keep playing.
Stafford took a huge step in the right direction in 2011, but I don't think anybody would argue with the fact that we need to see the same resiliency again and then some more after that, as well.
His stats spoke for themselves, and he even struggled with and persevered through a finger injury. He's tough, and that's something that not many will dispute, but toughness is only one of many factors that make quarterbacks great in the NFL.
Another of those factors is consistency, and that's something Stafford still needs to prove. Stafford was one of three quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 2009 draft. The Jets' Mark Sanchez has played in 47 games, compared to Stafford's 29, and the Buccaneers' Josh Freeman has played in 41.
Say what you will about the skill of either of those quarterbacks compared to that of Stafford, but the one thing they have on him is consistency. It doesn't matter how good you are if you can't see the field, and this is what Stafford still has to prove as an NFL quarterback.
His preseason injury suffered in Oakland may be minor, but it does serve as a reality check.
Stafford has the potential to be an incredible NFL quarterback, and he looks to be finally on his way, but you'd be lying to yourself if you didn't think he was injury prone.
Here's hoping that he can prove me wrong.
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