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Detroit Lions quarterback depth chart 4th-best in NFL, per ESPN

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Matthew Stafford is entering the top-tier conversation and is starting to be considered, dare I say... elite.

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Since as long as I can remember the Detroit Lions had a quarterback problem. Obviously, the Lions are a team that have had a multitude of problems dating decades and decades back, but quarterback has been the biggest and longest standing issue for the downtrodden franchise. In the history of the entire organization, the Lions have only had one first team all-pro quarterback: Bobby Layne. Layne’s reign atop the Lions quarterback depth chart ended over 60 years ago and culminated with a spiteful curse against Detroit. Lions quarterbacks, this is your history.

So when ESPN’s Dan Graziano looked at all 32 teams’ quarterback depth chart and ranked the Lions as the fourth-best crew in the league, forgive me if I was taken aback. It’s not that I disagree with him, it’s just that seeing a Lions quarterback depth chart that basically just consists of Matthew Stafford and two young, unproven commodities being considered in the top tier in the league is staggering.

Here’s Graziano’s rationalization:

Matthew Stafford hasn't missed a game since 2010. Although he doesn't chuck it as much as he used to, people around the Lions rave about the way he and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter have connected. Stafford is enjoying his role at the helm of Cooter's offense, which relies more on shorter, quicker throws than the offenses Stafford used to operate. It would be a big drop-off to backup Jake Rudock, but sixth-round pick Brad Kaaya offers interesting possibilities if he can develop quickly into the No. 2.

Here is Matthew Stafford, a quarterback even Pride Of Detroit writers were hesitant to rank among the top 10 as recent as last year, now being listed above the likes of Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger. Let that sink in for a moment, because we’re not done here.

This isn’t simply a list of best quarterbacks in the league, but it is obviously heavily weighed by each team’s starter. The three teams above the Lions—the Patriots, Packers and Falcons—all have objectively the best quarterbacks in the league. But here’s the thing: Matthew Stafford is younger than all of them... a lot younger. Stafford (29) could be around for a few extra seasons once Matt Ryan (32), Aaron Rodgers (33) or Tom Brady (∞) finally call it quits. He could, theoretically, be the best quarterback in the league in the not-so-distant future.

Of course, Stafford still has his doubters, and there are plenty even in Detroit. With a contract extension looming this summer, some still point to his winless record in the postseason and poor performance against top-tier teams as enough reason to not hand him the keys to the franchise for the next five or six years.

But Stafford is slowly chipping away at this narrative. He’s already destroyed nearly every quarterback record in franchise history, but being atop the list of Lions quarterbacks in no great feat. To gain near-unanimous adoration from a naturally cynical Lions fanbase you have to start making your mark on the NFL record books, and that’s exactly what Stafford did last year. His record-breaking eight comeback wins in 2016 was finally enough to get some national praise and win over a lot of stubborn fans in the motor city.

This won’t be the only list Stafford will don this offseason. He’ll rank somewhere among the top 60 in NFL Network’s Top 100 Players for 2017 list. When the time comes, his contract will rank among the top two quarterbacks in league history. And you can guarantee he’ll make several (hopefully all) PODcast Top 10 quarterbacks lists when it’s time to listcast later in the summer.