Detroit Lions: 3 Reasons Matthew Stafford Is a Top-10 Quarterback Right Now

Eric Vincent@@IAmEricVincentCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2012

Detroit Lions: 3 Reasons Matthew Stafford Is a Top-10 Quarterback Right Now

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    Matthew Stafford continues to fuel a hot debate among the NFL. Last year Stafford was easily one, if not the biggest snub left off the Pro Bowl roster. Marshall Faulk aired his controversial views on Stafford and his 2011-12 season on the NFL Network in February.

    With summer offseason rankings pouring out, Stafford is still receiving the short end of the stick. 

    In the NFL Network's Top 100 players list, Stafford's 2011-12 campaign was rated at No. 41. And now ESPN NFL analyst Rob Jaworski's top-30 quarterback ranking has some scratching their head with Stafford ranking No. 14. 

    Stafford so far in his career has been a one-hit-wonder after only one successful and healthy season as the Detroit Lions' quarterback, but he still belongs in the top 10. Here are three reasons why.

1. Exceeded Expectations

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    Coming into his third season with the Lions, Stafford's No. 1 priority was just to survive and stay healthy. After two injury-plagued seasons, the biggest question of the Lions' franchise quarterback was his durability. 

    17 games later, including a Detroit playoff appearance, Stafford showed he's capable of not only staying healthy, but leading his team down a successful path.

    Stafford delivered a historic Lions performance, throwing for 5038 yards and 41 touchdowns, along with a 10-6 record. With a suspect defense and a nonexistent run game, Stafford led the Lions to their first playoff appearance since 1999, as well as their first winning record since 2000.

    The ability and potential of Stafford was expected to be something special after being selected No. 1 overall by the Lions in 2009. However, nobody expected a season this great this soon. 

2. Weapons

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    An elite quarterback in the NFL should be good enough to take any receivers on his roster and make them better. To Stafford's luck, he has a myriad of young quality targets at his disposal. And to Stafford's credit, he brought out the maximum potential in most of his players last season.

    Calvin Johnson is a prime example of such.

    Since 2007, there was always a little bit more Megatron was capable of doing. In 2008, Johnson finished with over 1300 yards and 13 touchdowns, but wasn't targeted as often as he should've been, only catching 78 passes. In 2009 Johnson again only reeled in 67 catches for only 984 yards and five touchdowns.

    With a healthy Stafford last season, Megatron was finally born and the two created havoc around the NFL. Johnson caught 96 passes for 1681 yards and 16 touchdowns, forming maybe the best quarterback-receiver duo in the entire league.

    Outside of Megatron, Martin Mayhew and the Lions organization continue to spoil Stafford with high-priced weapons.

    The Lions drafted first-round tight end Brandon Pettigrew in 2009, signed Nate Burleson and traded for Tony Scheffler in 2010, drafted 2nd-round receiver Titus Young in 2011 and selected Ryan Broyles in the same round this year.

    Stafford isn't a product of his targets, and his receivers aren't a product of his game. Without Calvin Johnson, Stafford still threw for 3357 yards and 25 touchdowns, which is still better than half the starting quarterbacks from last season.

    Stafford and his receivers complement one another, making the Lions' passing attack one of the best in the NFL. Given their youth, this balanced passing game could be around for many years to come.

3. Meaning to Franchise

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    Matthew Stafford was drafted by the Lions to resurrect the franchise. Before his reign as the Lions' leader, Detroit was playing an everlasting game of musical chairs with quarterbacks like Jon Kitna, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton, Shaun Hill and many others.

    All had their brief shining moments, but none have the talent or value that Stafford possesses. 

    Stafford is easily the most valuable player to his team, and the Lions will go as far as he takes them.

    With a wounded backfield, and a rebuilding a defense, Stafford was forced to carry the load last season. If the Lions' running backs heal and perform to their capabilities, along with an improved defense next year, pressure will be taken off their young quarterback.

    However, the future of this franchise still rests on the arm of Stafford.

    Looking at some of his competition, Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub all ranked higher than Stafford on "Jaws' Top 30 Quarterbacks" list. Schaub placed at No. 13, Flacco at No. 9 and Cutler at No. 8.

    The Houston Texans made the playoffs without Schaub playing for a significant portion of last year. With their third-string rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, Houston didn't skip a beat thanks to their No. 1 defense and strong running game led by Arian Foster.

    Flacco received high praise from Jaworski, who said he had "strongest arm in the NFL." There's no sure test on arm strength in the NFL, but Stafford presents a strong argument against Flacco in that department.

    Cutler is a vital piece to the Chicago Bears' success, but with one of the league's best running backs behind him in Matt Forte, and a fierce defense at his side, is he really the most important or best player on his team?

    Stafford, to his credit, has much better receivers than his listed competition above. However, the NFL is still a team game, and the Lions don't have the run game or defense to complement their young quarterback. 

    Next year is a defining season for Stafford, and he must back up his strong campaign from last year. Another 5000-plus-yard season might be a stretch of a request of the Lions' young quarterback, but he must at the least lead Detroit back to the playoffs to unquestionably be named a top-10 quarterback.