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Matthew Stafford Hype with Rams Is Getting Out of Hand

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJuly 13, 2021

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford throws during NFL football camp Thursday, June 10, 2021, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

The blockbuster trade that sent quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams might wind up being the most impactful NFL personnel move of the offseason. While they paid a high price to pull it off—they sent Jared Goff, first-round picks in 2022 and 2023 and a third-rounder in 2021 to the Detroit Lions—there's no disputing that they're better off under center than they were last year. 

But the hype surrounding Stafford's arrival in La-La Land has grown to the point where enthusiasm gets the better of intellect and expectations become unrealistic. If that hype train continues to barrel along, a win in Super Bowl LVI may be the only thing that makes his first year with the Rams a success. 

The latest stop on the Matthew Stafford 2021 Hype Tour came from ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, who conducted a survey of more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players to slot the league's top 10 players at a number of positions. Stafford checked in at No. 6 among quarterbacks, four spots higher than he was a year ago.

Per Fowler, one veteran quarterback credited Stafford's change of scenery with his move up the list in 2021.

"Him going to L.A. with Sean and that offense will be great for his already massive abilities," the quarterback said. "This will be the deciding factor on who he is."

In his 12 years as the Lions' starting quarterback, Stafford completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 45,109 yards, 282 touchdowns and 144 interceptions. He eclipsed 4,000 passing yards eight times, surpassed 5,000 passing yards once (in 2011), threw for 30 or more touchdowns twice and was named to one Pro Bowl. He also made three postseason appearances, and he did so with mostly unimpressive offensive lines and supporting casts.

Now, Stafford has arguably the best array of passing-game talent he has ever had around him and a top-10 offensive line (per Pro Football Focus) in front of him. And according to Stu Jackson of the team's website, he has already made a favorable impression on veteran wide receiver Robert Woods:

"Just his attention to listen to receivers, wanting to still get better at his level and at his year (in the NFL) is super big. I think from a receiver standpoint, your quarterback asking you, 'What do you want from this? Or what do you see in this route?' is super big, because he's coming into our offense with some receivers who made plays, but really just trying to make us feel comfortable in year (13)."

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Stafford has everything he needs to make the postseason for the fourth time in his career. And by throwing for 4,084 yards last year with 26 scores, 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 96.3, the 33-year-old showed he still has plenty left in the tank.

Stafford is many things. But the sixth-best quarterback in the NFL isn't one of them.

Stafford is ranked higher than Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, who has as many postseason appearances in three years as Stafford has in a dozen. Jackson already set the NFL record for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback and became the first signal-caller to gain over 1,000 yards on the ground in consecutive campaigns. He was also the league's Most Valuable Player in 2019.

Stafford is also ranked higher than Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys. Whether it's completion percentage, touchdown-to-interception ratio or passer rating, Prescott's career numbers are better than Stafford's in far more categories than not.

Prescott was averaging a staggering 371.2 passing yards per game last year before he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5. At that pace, the 27-year-old would have shattered the NFL's single-season record for passing yards.

Stafford is ranked higher than Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons, who has an MVP award and Super Bowl trip on his resume. And Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who has twice hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

This isn't to say that Stafford isn't an excellent signal-caller. But his record in big games isn't great.

He has lost all three of his postseason starts and mustered only four touchdowns and three picks in those games. He's 7-13 in 20 career starts against the rival Green Bay Packers and 8-13 against the Minnesota Vikings, which isn't ideal considering the gauntlet of a division he just landed in.

In case you were wondering, Stafford is 7-13-1 against teams from the NFC West.

Say what you will about Goff, but he's done something Stafford never has: won a playoff game.

Pro Football Focus ranked Stafford 11th at his position, behind Prescott, Jackson and Ryan but well ahead of Goff. Here's what PFF's Bruce Gradkowski wrote about Stafford: 

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

"Stafford offers the same steady stream of passing on intermediate-level throws, but he will excel on passing plays of 20 or more yards downfield. But let’s not take for granted what Tom Brady accomplished in a first-year offense; it does take some time to get new terminology down. That will be the biggest hurdle for Stafford, but if the transition is smooth, the Rams could be taking another trip to the Super Bowl."

That's a realistic assessment and ranking of Stafford.

While Stafford may not be elite, he isn't that far off. He's certainly an improvement over Goff. If he plays at a similar level to how he did last year, the Rams will be in the mix in the NFL's toughest division.

But when the Rams acquired Stafford, realistic went out the window, in part because of the staggering cost they paid to obtain him. He's expected to post gaudy numbers in 2021. He's expected to be an MVP candidate. He's expected to lead the Rams to the Super Bowl.

Is it possible that Stafford will accomplish those goals? Yes. But it hasn't happened yet, and it's far from certain that it will. As Gradkowski said, it could take time for Stafford to become comfortable in McVay's offense. It could also take time to develop a rapport with Woods, fellow wideout Cooper Kupp and tight end Tyler Higbee.

Time is a luxury the Rams may not have. Los Angeles begins the season with an absolutely brutal stretch of games. The team's first three opponents (and four of the first five) made the playoffs in 2020—including a Week 3 home date with the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Rams don't play a game against a team that sported a losing record last season until they travel to New York to face the Giants on October 17.

It's quite the gauntlet. Welcome to the NFC West, Matt.

Could Stafford be great in 2021? Sure. But let's tap the brakes on the expectation he will be, before the hype train becomes a runaway that culminates in a derailment of disappointment.