noun: elite; plural noun: elites
1. a select part of a group that is superior to the rest in terms of ability or qualities.
Before you start telling me how ridiculous I am, take a look at Stafford’s stats through his first 100 games. He ranks number one (all-time) in completions and and passing yards through 100 career games and is fifth in TDs through that time frame. Statistically, he is on track to being a top 10 quarterback all-time. By no means do I think that he is a top 10 quarterback of all-time nor do I think he will end there. But statistically, he has been one of the best.
The definition of elite is above, it refers to someone that is superior to a group in terms of ability and qualities. That is Stafford. Stafford can make throws that no one in the NFL can make. He has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and can change his throwing angle better than anyone. He has such a great arm talent that he can fit the ball into windows that other QBs would never dare. Watch any Lions game over the past 7 years and you will see a throw in the game that only Stafford and maybe Rodgers or Brees could make. Watch the highlights of last weeks win and you will see two throws that separate him from 95% of quarterbacks in this league. The first play of the drive where he was running to his left, rifling a pass to Jones going to his right over the middle. The second is the game winning TD below.
And this one last year to win the game in the final minute against Miami.
In addition, Stafford is one of the toughest QBs there is. He has started 88 consecutive games including playoffs. That is 15th longest in NFL history. In those 88 games, Stafford has been sacked 195 times alone, that doesn’t include quarterback hits or knockdowns. Playing behind the Lions’ o-line has not helped the streak. And let’s not forget when he led the Lions down the field in the final minute against Cleveland his rookie year and threw the game winning TD with a injured shoulder. The man can play and he has just as much grit as anyone in the NFL. You don’t see just any QB doing this…
Lastly, Stafford has been one of the most clutch QBs in the league since he came out of Georgia. He has orchestrated 24 game winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime and has 5 game winning TD’s in the final 30 seconds, most of any QB in history. If my team were down 6 with a minute left, I don’t know if I would want anyone else. Matt can make any throw on the field and can do so from the pocket or on the run. The combination of his arm, toughness and ability to be clutch separate Stafford from others and propel him to the top tier of QB’s in the league.
The only thing holding him back is winning. Stafford has just 46 wins in 100 regular season games and has lead the Lions to two playoff appearances since 2009, losing in the Wild Card round both times. Obviously winning matters, it matters a lot, but that is not all on the QB. The Lions have had abysmal teams the past decade. Their defense has been below average for the majority of Stafford’s tenure and the offense line has been even worse. You can not place all the blame solely on Stafford.. Outside of Calvin Johnson, the Lion’s best receiver over the last decade is either Golden Tate or Nate Burleson. He simply hasn’t had the pieces in the past to be successful yet he has been able to put up the numbers he has had. He hasn’t been able to win the amount of games that a lot of the other QB have, but I think there are only a select few who could have won the amount of games Stafford has if they were put in his situation. He did inherited the 2008 Lions after all, arguably the worst season from a major sports franchise in history.
The definition of elite says nothing about being able to win games or about how many championships a team or player has won. It refers to the ability to stand out against one’s peer group and Matt Stafford has done that. But the way fans, people in sports and media judge eliteness is not on talent, ability, qualities or even stats, it is on how many games you win and how many banners your team hangs while you are there. Frankly, its because of this Stafford will never get the recognition he deserves as being one of the games best and most talented QB’s, at least not until he brings Detroit a Super Bowl.
I am a Lion’s fan so there is some clear bias here, but I firmly believe he is at an elite level, if not for his career, at least the last calendar year. I would love to hear opinions on Stafford from other fans, so what do you think? Could he be considered elite? What about if he brings the Lions to the playoffs? Or a Super Bowl? Comment below or tweet at us @N2KSports.
Cover Photo via Pro Football Focus
GIF’s via SB Nation