In ESPN's recent NFL quarterback rankings, the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford came in at No. 13 overall. This put him in the second tier of NFL quarterbacks with Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Russell Wilson, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick and Nick Foles.
ESPN's first tier of quarterbacks includes five players: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck. Based on the rankings, Stafford may not seem all that close to the top five, but as Mike Sando wrote in the piece, "There's a feeling among evaluators that Stafford, more than any other QB outside the top five, has the talent to ascend into the first tier."
So, what exactly does Stafford need to do to become a "Tier 1" QB? In a follow-up piece, Sando took a more in-depth look at Stafford and what aspects of his game need to improve going forward. The theme from what Sando heard from NFL people is that Stafford has all of the physical tools to become an elite quarterback, but his mechanics and "decision-making mindset" are big question marks.
"Mechanically, he is flawed," a different offensive coach said. "He has not been coached very well. Peyton and those guys have worked hard on their footwork. San Diego did it with Rivers and he had not done that." [...]
"If he finds someone to force him to be disciplined, and they run the ball, he can be any of those guys," this coach said. "That guy is way above average physically, really competitive, really quick with the ball -- way faster than people give him credit for, especially his quickness to avoid. He has the whole deal if he is not too far gone with the, 'I just have to make a play and do it my way.' You need someone willing to coach him on a daily basis. He was raised by wolves over there."
The concerns presented above are basically why the Lions hired Jim Caldwell as their head coach, Joe Lombardi as their offensive coordinator and Jim Bob Cooter as their quarterbacks coach. The old coaching staff simply did not do enough to push Stafford in the right direction when it came to his mechanics and decision-making, and the Lions paid for that dearly in 2012 and 2013. Yes, Stafford looked great at times, but there was far too much inconsistency over the course of the last two seasons.
This offseason, the focus of the Lions' coaching change was to surround Stafford with people who have coached some of the game's best quarterbacks. Both Caldwell and Cooter have worked with Peyton Manning, for example, and Lombardi coached Brees in New Orleans. The hope is that with the help of those three coaches, Stafford will elevate his game and live up to his potential on a consistent basis. We've seen flashes of brilliance from Stafford in the past, but for the Lions to become a perennial contender, those flashes need to become the norm. If Stafford can make that happen, he absolutely could become a "Tier 1" QB.