One of the toughest positions to transition to from the college level to the NFL is quarterback. It is not unusual for a quarterback to take three years to develop into a quality starter. The speed of NFL defenses and the complexity of NFL offenses are often too much to grasp in one season.
A quarterback that faced high expectations coming out of college was University of Georgia QB Matthew Stafford. He was selected by the Detroit Lions with the first overall pick in the 2009 draft, and the result was a rookie contract worth $72 million (over $40 million guaranteed).
Like most rookies, Stafford struggled his first year. He completed only 201 passes in 377 attempts for 2,267 yards, 13 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and a QB rating of 61.0. His completion percentage was a dismal 53.3 percent, and he missed six starts with injuries.
Hopes were still high in 2010, and Stafford did improve.
The problem is that he started only three games, suffering two different shoulder injuries. His completion percentage rose to 59.4 percent, and he threw six touchdowns to one interception. His QB rating in those games was 91.3.
However, starting quarterbacks have to be on the field to help their team, and Stafford has missed more games (19) than he has started (13) in his first two seasons. That is a troubling trend for Lions fans and fantasy owners.
Stafford has a lot going for him in Detroit.
WR Calvin Johnson is one of the most physically dominant receivers in the NFL. He is an imposing 6’5” and weighs 239 lbs. He can leap out of the dome and is impossible to cover with just one cornerback. Despite playing with three starting quarterbacks last year, he still tallied 77 receptions for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The Lions have been slowly adding pieces around Johnson. TE Brandon Pettigrew had a very solid second season with 71 receptions for 722 yards and four touchdowns. WR Nate Burleson was serviceable as a second receiver last year with 55 receptions for 625 yards and six touchdowns.
RB Jahvid Best showed signs of brilliance as a rookie, but was limited to 555 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns in only nine starts. His biggest asset is his ability to catch the ball; he added 58 receptions for 487 yards and two touchdowns. If he can stay healthy, he could be one of the most versatile backs in the NFL.
The Lions also added two more offensive weapons in the 2011 draft. They selected Boise State WR Titus Young in the second round to compete with Burleson for the second receiver spot. They also wanted to add a power running game and selected Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure.
Furthermore, this is no longer a Lions team that can score points, they are last in the NFL in defense. The Lions added DT Ndamukong Suh in the draft last year, who was an All-Pro defensive tackle as a rookie. This year they added Auburn DT Nick Fairley with the 13th pick in the draft, which should give them one of the most imposing defensive tackle duos in the NFL.
As this defense gives the Lions offense leads and takeaways, the potential for the offense to produce high touchdown totals goes up.
I believe that Stafford has the arm and mechanics to succeed at the NFL level. He did not have the weapons to succeed as a rookie, but the Lions are adding a lot of pieces that are going to help him succeed.
Now the pressure is on Stafford to stay healthy so that he can realize the potential that made him the first pick in the draft. If Stafford can start 16 games this year, I expect him to finish in the top 15 in 2011. If things go right, he could possibly make a push for the top 10.
It is finally a good time to be a Detroit fan; the 2008 season when they finished 0-16 is becoming a distant memory. The playoffs could become a reality in 2011.
We also suggest: