Since Matthew Stafford has entered the league, he has consistently outperformed his average draft position. Yet, he is still underrated. A popular strategy these days in fantasy football is the late-round quarterback. Stafford is the exact reason why you can wait to draft a quarterback and not miss a beat.
Probably the most widely embraced strategy in fantasy football is the late-round quarterback. This is because, according to late-round quarterback guru JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB), quarterbacks are more replaceable than other positions like running back and wide receiver. The graphs below demonstrate this principle. You see that there is a linear drop off in the number of quarterbacks with an increasing number of usable and elite weeks. However, for running backs and wide receivers, the drop off is much steeper. What this means is that there isn’t a large difference between elite quarterbacks and those in the tiers below them. On the other hand, elite running backs and wide receivers are much more valuable. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is underrated and is a perfect example of why you can wait at quarterback.
Drafted by the Lions in 2009, Stafford struggled with injuries in his first two NFL seasons, resulting in only 13 games played. Since 2011, however, he hasn’t missed a game, even playing through a broken finger and torn ligaments. Stafford has also been one of the best quarterbacks in the league in that time. In that 2011 season, Stafford produced only the fifth ever, at the time, 5,000 passing yards season and was the fourth quarterback in NFL history to achieve this feat. Since then, his lowest passing yards in a season was 4,257 yards in 2014, ironically his only Pro Bowl season. In 2017, Stafford broke the record for most passing yards before the age of 30. This all while he has been among the league leaders in passing yards lost due to drops. Ironically, this increase in efficiency coincides with wide receiver Calvin Johnson’s retirement.
Most passing yards lost due to drops since 2011:
1. Matthew Stafford 1,779
2. Tom Brady 1,527
3. Joe Flacco 1,331
4. Aaron Rodgers 1,267
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) August 4, 2015
Stafford also seems to be getting better with age. Once thought to be a gunslinger, Stafford has become an accurate passer. Completing less than 60% of his passes in his first six seasons, Stafford has completed 66% of his passes in the last three. Adjusted completion percentage is a metric further demonstrates this improvement. Stafford’s was tops in the league in 2017, according to PFF. Stafford has also produced the best two QBR seasons of his career in the last two seasons.
Top adjusted completion percentages in 2017 so far pic.twitter.com/TArYIGi4y2
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 18, 2017
Breaking the passing yards record for quarterbacks under the age of 30 wasn’t the only accomplishment for Stafford in 2017. He also surpassed 200 touchdowns, becoming the sixth fastest to accomplish the feat and the fourth ever to achieve it before the age of 3o. Among his touchdowns is the 41 he threw in 2011, one of only 12 40 touchdown seasons. Since 2011, Stafford has averaged 28 touchdowns per season versus just under 14 interceptions.
Despite Stafford’s prolific production, fantasy owners still underrate him. Since 2011, Stafford’s fantasy quarterback finishes in order are QB5, QB11, QB7, QB15, QB8, QB7, and QB8. So, he has finished as a QB1 in six of the last seven seasons in 12 team leagues and as a top-10 quarterback in five of the last seven. Despite this, Stafford’s positional average draft position (ADP) prior to those same years was QB15, QB5, QB8, QB5, QB10, QB15, QB13. Looking at his fantasy finishes, Stafford finished higher than his ADP five of the seven seasons.
|Season||Average Positional ADP||Position Rank|
Some will argue that Stafford isn’t consistent enough, that he has burned them before in big games. The consistency data shows differently. According to ffstatistics.com, Stafford’s rate of weekly finishes as a top-12, 13-24, and 25 or worse since 2011 are nearly identical to Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. Wilson and Newton are consistently drafted and ranked higher than Stafford.
After the 2017 season, the Lions fired head coach Jim Caldwell and hired former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Patricia is Stafford’s third head coach in his career. Stafford has also had three offensive coordinators in his career. Despite the changeover in the coaching staff, the Lions retained offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Cooter was hired as the Lions quarterback coach in 2014 and promoted to offensive coordinator in 2015. Stafford’s improvement as a quarterback over the past three seasons has largely been attributed to Cooter. This continuity is a good sign for Stafford in 2018.
The Lions have long associated with a pass-first offense. The Lions offense has finished first or second in the league in percentage of pass plays in each of the last three seasons. The Lions running backs averaged the worst yards per carry in the league last year. This is in part due to the offensive line, with the running backs averaging the second worst yards before contact. The Lions haven’t had a running back rush for 100 yards since Reggie Bush did it on Thanksgiving of 2013. Bush was also the last 1,000-yard rusher for the Lions. Before that, Kevin Jones had done it in 2004. Suffice it to say, the Lions haven’t been a run first team for a long time.
In the 2018 offseason, the Lions made moves to rectify their run game. In the 2018 NFL draft, the Lions selected former Arkansas Razorbacks Frank Ragnow in the first round. Ragnow has PFF’s two highest grades for a college center in their history. While he graded out with the second highest pass blocking efficiency among centers in the 2018 draft, Ragnow is no slouch in run blocking. Ragnow had the lowest percentage of run blocking grades in college last season and the sixth best positive grades. Ragnow will play left guard for the Lions. With the addition of Ragnow along with the 2017 signings of right guard TJ Lang and right tackle Rick Wagner, PFF ranks the Lions offensive line the eighth-best going into the 2018 season.
They followed that pick up with former Auburn Tigers running back Kerryon Johnson in the second round. With 1,376 yards and 18 touchdowns, Johnson ranked first and second in the SEC in those respective categories. In a conference that contained the Cleveland Browns Nick Chubb and New England Patriots Sony Michel. Johnson was also ranked fifth among running backs in the draft by PFF. Along with Johnson, the Lions also added running back LeGarrette Blount. Blount was one of the most elusive running back in 2017 according to PFF. The additions of Blount and Johnson should help improve arguably the NFL’s worst rushing attack in 2017.
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 27, 2018
Key stats from LeGarrette Blount's first season in Philadelphia pic.twitter.com/KxmkQH2ssz
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) January 9, 2018
So what does this all mean for Stafford? You can view the Lions’ offensive additions in two ways. First, Stafford won’t have as good of a year because he won’t need to throw it as often with an improved running game. Second, he will have an equivalent or better year because defenses have to worry about the run along with the pass. I choose to believe the latter. With defenses having to worry about the run game, they won’t be able to play nearly as much in sub packages designed to stop the pass. This means that Stafford will face less pressure and will have a clean pocket more often to throw from. Ultimately this can result in an increase in efficiency and better decision making overall.
Stafford also has his two best wide receivers returning and arguably a better corp of pass catcher all around. Along with wide receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate returning, the hyped Kenny Golladay enters his second season. Golladay showed flashes in his injury-riddled freshman season, including a two-touchdown performance in his first game. Stafford did lose underwhelming tight end, Eric Ebron. One can argue that he isn’t much of a loss and can easily be replaced by Golladay and new tight end Luke Willson. One of the best receiving backs in the league, Theo Riddick, is also returning. The Lions pass catchers are also extremely underrated.
Stafford is currently being drafted as the QB10 in the 8-9th round of PPR drafts. Stafford has exceeded his draft position in five of the last seven seasons and finished as a top-10 quarterback in those same seasons., including the last three. He is about as safe of a quarterback as there is in fantasy football. Waiting on a quarterback and drafting more valuable positions at running back, wide receiver, and tight end is a winning strategy. I highly recommend you draft the ever-underrated Stafford to help you win your leagues.
Thank you for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @FFStompy. Enjoy more redraft articles from The Fantasy Authority here., dynasty articles here, and DFS here. Enjoy and subscribe to the four podcasts hosted by The Fantasy Authority found here. Also, follow The Fantasy Authority (@FF_Authority), the Dynasty Life Podcast (@DynastyLifePod), the Redshirts Fantasy Football Podcast (@RedshirtFFPod), and the DFS DegeNation Podcast (@DegeNationPod) on Twitter.