For years, Detroit Lions fans screamed into the ether that Matthew Stafford wasn’t getting the attention he deserves. The wins may have not been coming, but that’s because, for the extreme majority of Stafford’s career, he was carrying the entire team on his shoulders. If you look at the relative help he was getting via the run game and his defense, Stafford and the Lions actually had slightly more wins than statistically expected with him under center.
It turns out all that Stafford needed to do to finally garner that respect was move out of Detroit. This offseason, Stafford has been showered with praise, and it’s not just coming from the typical, fickle talking heads in the media. ESPN’s poll of league executives, scouts, and players show that even the professionals inside the league have succumbed to the Stafford Los Angeles bump.
Last year, league employees ranked Stafford as the 10th-best quarterback in the league. This year, he jumped all the way to six, with one voter ranking him as the fourth-best passer in the league.
“Him going to L.A. with Sean (McVay) and that offense will be great for his already massive abilities,” a veteran NFL quarterback said. “This will be the deciding factor on who he is.”
Stafford moving up four spots doesn’t make much sense given his 2020 season. His yards per attempt (7.7) and passer rating (96.3) were both considerably down from the previous season (8.6 and 106.0, respectively). When you looked at Expected Points Added (EPA), the jump in rankings becomes extremely hard to justify.
stafford 2019— Michigan Football Analytics (@mfbanalytics) July 12, 2021
-EPA/play rank: 4th
-ranking on this list: 10th
-EPA/play rank: 14th
-ranking on this list: 6th
after a down year, stafford moves 4 spots up this list just because more people are noticing him more now that he moved away from detroit and to LA... https://t.co/xVV2nvp0WE
Of course, there may be more behind this than simply, “He’s no longer a Lion, now people are actually caring about him” behind this. Not everything has to be #DetroitVsEverybody. Stafford being on the trading block suddenly sent many NFL employees back to the tape to re-evaluate the Lions quarterback. And in the case of San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, he realized the veteran quarterback was much better than he previously thought.
“To know he might be available and to spend two weeks really watching him, Sean, yeah, he’s better than I had realized,” Shanahan told McVay on the Flying Coach podcast. “He was the man, and he’s actually underrated to me.”
This could all simply be a correction—or overcorrection—for previously overlooking Stafford. But this is also a part of a bigger trend. Other Lions players are seeing a post-Lions bump in their career. Just on Monday, NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala named Marvin Jones Jr. as one of the most underrated players in the NFL... only after he landed in Jacksonville following his stint in Detroit.
In the case of Stafford, though, this could also simply be about projection. The national view of Sean McVay is still overwhelmingly positive, so pairing Stafford with a competent coaching staff, a running game that has fared well recently, and a defense that ranked No. 1 in the NFL last year is bound to up his game simply by putting him in better opportunities. Still, it’s interesting to see the narrative around Stafford completely shift—both inside the NFL and around it—in a matter of months. It will be interesting to see how Stafford reacts to the increased pressure and higher expectations.
Oh, and in case you were wondering where Jared Goff was on any of these lists... nowhere to be found. As our own Kellie Rowe pointed out on Monday, he is considered a bottom-tier starter by PFF.