Detroit Lions: In Hindsight, Was Matthew Stafford the Right Pick for Them?
The fate of the Detroit Lions organization for the next five years rests solely on the beaten and battered shoulders of quarterback Matthew Stafford.
If that statement doesn’t send chills down your spine for all the wrong reasons, than I’m not sure what kind of person you are. Let’s be honest: The Lions are in a heap of trouble.
Stafford has gone out with another shoulder injury to that glass wing of his, and the prospects of a season filled with progress and hope seemed to have been shot. The simple fact of the matter is that the Lions have put all their eggs in the basket known as Matthew Stafford. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t realize that said basket is not the most durable basket around, and sadly enough, they are stuck with it for better or for worse.
Now, the marriage between a quarterback and his organization is easily the most precious and fragile relationship in football. They always say that “there is no I in team”, and to a certain extent that is true, but there is no denying the vital role that a quarterback plays on a team. There is no denying that the quarterback is the single most important piece of a good football team. The quarterback touches the ball on every single play, whether he is handing off to the running back, or going through his reads to find an open receiver. Offenses live by a quarterback’s decision making, and die by his execution, or more accurately, lack of execution.
Dynasties are built around great quarterbacks.
We have seen throughout history that a great quarterback can put a team on his back and lead them straight to the Promised Land. Joe Montana, Steve Young, John Elway, Payton Manning, Tom Brady, are all names that come to mind when I think of elite level quarterbacks that have accounted for a great amount of their teams success.
What is it that makes a quarterback successful you may ask? Is it arm strength or accuracy? Is it their decision making or clutch ability? Or are quarterbacks simply a bi-product of the team around them?
I believe that all of these play a factor in the greatness of a quarterback, but there seems to be one thing that we can sometimes overlook: Durability.
Durability is a simple concept actually. If a player cannot play the game due to some type of injury, then his stats and impact on the game dramatically decrease.
Joe Montana could never be the Joe Montana that we know today if he was constantly on the sidelines rehabbing a knee injury. Tom Brady could not have led those last minute Super Bowl winning drives if he was at home watching the game and cradling his crutches. For Pete’s sake think about Brett Favre for a minute! Would he be the same quarterback we know and love (or hate) today without his incredible “Iron Man” consecutive start streak? Plain and simple, durability is a quality that not only all great quarterbacks posses, but all great football players in general.
Matthew Stafford seems to have quite the durability problem at the moment.
Physically he seems to be a very gifted athlete. He is highly regarded as having one of the strongest arms in the NFL, and when he is on the field he does have a knack for making plays. Unfortunately though, getting him on the field seems to be the struggle.
In his two seasons as an NFL quarterback Stafford has only seen the field 13 out of 32 possible regular season games. He missed two games early on in his rookie year due to a knee injury, and was eventually put on the Injured Reserve after suffering a shoulder injury against Cleveland a few games later. In the first game of this 2010 season Stafford was hit by Julius Peppers of the Chicago Bears, and was held out with a shoulder injury until the Washington game in Week 8. Stafford put up good numbers in a win against Washington, and hope seemed to flood back into the desolate and dark cavern known as Ford Field. As it seemed to be the trend though, the very next week in a pressure packed game against the New York Jets, Stafford was hit trying to scramble for a first down. As he went to the ground his shoulder took the brunt of the fall, and he was lost for the remainder of the game.
What looked to be and should have been a turning point in the Detroit Lions ended up being a disastrous overtime loss, and now the Lions are faced with the prospect of going the rest of the year without their starting quarterback, again.
Looking back on the 2009 NFL Draft Matthew Stafford was not the only quarterback that was speculated to go high. Not everybody was sold on Stafford, and even here in Detroit there were calls to go a different route, or even a different position.
Let’s take a look at some of the other Quarterbacks that could have been dawning the Honolulu Blue and Silver had the Detroit Lions chose to go a different route in 2009:
QB #6 Mark Sanchez. College: USC. Drafted By: New York Jets, Pick #5, 2009
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The obvious other choice for the Lions would have been Mark Sanchez coming out of USC. Analysts and nerds alike seemed to have a field day when debating who would be the better pro. Sanchez would get the nod in some circles, while Stafford would have a leg up in others. Obviously the Lions went with Stafford but let’s take a look at Sanchez for a minute.
The Jets apparently put a lot of stock into Sanchez considering that they traded up to the #5 pick to get him. Sanchez was put into a completely different situation than Stafford in that he pretty much inherited a playoff team. In 15 games in 2009 Sanchez threw for 2,444 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he also threw 20 interceptions. Sanchez did lead the Jets to the AFC Championship game, but lost to the Indianapolis Colts.
This year Sanchez has seemed to find a better grip of the offense. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions for 1,692 yards, and has the Jets off to a 6-2 start.
One of the knocks against Sanchez is that he is not overly good, but not overly bad. He seems to be just a decent quarterback at this point of his career.
To me Sanchez is more of a game manager, which to be honest works just fine for the Jets. The Jets rely heavily on their defense and running game for their production, so asking Sanchez to hand it off and occasionally make a big throw fits them well.
He may be just a game manager and not as dynamic as Stafford , but quarterback are judged off of wins and losses, and at this point of the game, Sanchez is leaps and bounds ahead.
QB #5 Josh Freeman. College: Kansas State. Drafted By: Tampa Bay, Pick #17, 2009
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Josh Freeman was regarded as the most athletic quarterback in the 2009 draft.
He started 9 games in 2009. He passed for 1,855 yards and 10 touchdowns, which were all Buccaneer rookie records. He ran the ball 30 times for 161 yards, and had a completion percentage of .545, which was the best for all NFL rookies.
This season he has completed 146 of his 256 passes for 1,722 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has thrown 5 interceptions, but has also rushed for 202 yards in 8 games played.
Freeman may be becoming one of the leagues best young quarterbacks due to his play making ability. He has led the Buccaneers to an improved 5-3 record, and has them a game behind the Falcons and Saints in a very tight and competitive division.
QB #8 Sam Bradford. College: Oklahoma. Drafted By: St. Louis, Pick #1, 2010
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Had the Lions decided to go a completely different route other than quarterback in 2009, than they would be looking at another crop of talented quarterbacks coming out in the 2010 draft. Obviously this is all hypothetical and speculation, but there were some suggestions that the Lions pass on the 2009 quarterback class and shoot for Sam Bradford the next year.
Ironically enough Bradford was in the same position last year that Stafford might be facing this year. Bradford went out in Oklahoma ’s 2009 season opener and had to receive reconstructive shoulder surgery on his right shoulder. He spent the remainder of the year rehabbing and working out, and was still impressive enough to be the number one pick in the 2010 draft.
As a rookie Bradford has impressed early on, leading the Rams to a surprising 4-4 start. In 8 games he has completed 171 out of 292 passes for 1674 yards, 11 touchdowns and 8 interceptions.
With the way that he is playing and leading a sub-par Rams team, many are suggesting that Bradford is an early favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award, and I for one see no reason to disagree.
QB #15 Tim Tebow. College: Florida. Drafted By: Denver, Pick #25, 2010
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Now granted if I was an NFL team I would never even consider Tebow for a starting quarterback position, but let’s not forget he is arguably one of the best college football players of all time. He has a winning touch, and Championship experience. Come'on people this is Tim "Jesus" Tebow that we're talking about!
Tebow was criticized coming out of Florida because of his unconventional throwing motion and how it would not translate well into the pros. Regardless the Denver Broncos took a fly-er on him and drafted him much higher than anyone had predicted.
Having Tim Tebow on the Lions might be just what they would have needed to help start changing that losing culture. The man is a proven winner, and even if he’s not a traditional quarterback he still could be used effectively in the running game.
Tebow has appeared in two games for the Broncos, and has two touchdowns and 26 yards on 10 rushing attempts. He has yet to throw the ball, but hey he’s probably been praying a lot on that sideline because Kyle Orton has been playing pretty good!
QB #12 Colt McCoy. College: Texas. Drafted By: Cleveland, Pick #85, 2010
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Sure he slid all the way down to #85 in the draft, but who wouldn't’t want Colt McCoy!?
If anything McCoy seems to be a natural winner with that “it factor” that the analysts always talk about. He set an NCAA record with 45 career wins at Texas , and always had the Longhorns in the National Title debate.
Since entering the Browns starting lineup a few weeks ago, McCoy showed that they were smart for drafting him. Even though he’s only had one touchdown, one rushing touchdown, and two interceptions in three games, his leadership and football savvy has really been on display.
After losing to Pittsburgh he went on to lead the Browns in two impressive upset wins against the Super Bowl Champion Saints, and a heavily favored New England team. His numbers haven’t been there just yet, but you can bet that McCoy’s presence under center is invaluable to the Browns.
QB #9 Matthew Stafford. College: Georgia. Drafted By: Detroit, Pick #1, 2009
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Obviously the point of this article is speculation and conversation, but it truly is interesting to think where the Lions would be had they gone a different route. Needless to say though, they went with Stafford, and now they have to deal with the situation at hand.
To say that Stafford is a bad quarterback would be completely false.
When he has been on the field he has shown that he has the necessary tools to be an elite quarterback in the NFL. His durability has to be questioned after this last week though, and unfortunately he has left Lions fans with more questions than answers.
The Lions should be able to finish the year off with Shaun “one armed wonder” Hill, and if they get desperate enough they do have Drew “put me in coach” Stanton .
In my eyes the smartest thing to do would be to get Stafford the necessary treatment and or surgery on his shoulder, and start rehabbing him up for an important third year.
One does have to speculate what will happen if he proves to be unable to take the physicality of the NFL though. The Lions have invested tons of money into Stafford , and the progress of this rebuilding team would be severely stunted if he cannot progress as well.
Should the Lions consider drafting a quarterback in the later rounds of next years draft? Should they invest in a veteran free agent, or make a trade? Did they make the right decision when they drafted Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft?
All these questions and more are still left to be unanswered.