32 for 32: Matt Stafford is 2018’s most overlooked quarterback
Editor’s Note: This is a part of our 32 for 32 QB Profiles series.
Oh, so you’re going to wait to draft a quarterback this year? Great idea! You know who I was just talking to the other day that has the same plan? Everyone. Well, not your old roommate who still tends bar in the same town you went to college and is only in the league for the group chat. He didn’t get the memo. But you can assume that the majority of your league isn’t going to force the issue at quarterback this year because it’s common knowledge that the position is deeper than ever before. How deep exactly? With Alex Smith, last year’s QB6, currently going off the board as the QB22, a case can be made for as many as 22 guys to begin the season in your starting lineup. So if you’d prefer to avoid paying a premium for an elite quarterback and use high picks to address other positions, the big question becomes which quarterback value do you like the most? There are many options, but the guy I keep going back to is veteran Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford.
Stafford often finds himself grouped in quarterback tiers with Jimmy Garoppolo, Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, and Patrick Mahomes. When compared to the others, Stafford gets overlooked because he isn’t throwing to Antonio Brown or JuJu Smith-Schuster, doesn’t have the intrigue that Luck offers, and lacks the sex appeal that led to the creation of the Garoppolo and Mahomes Hype Trains. It’s not uncommon — people regularly look past known, consistent options for unknown shiny objects. There are examples everywhere but nowhere more prevalent than in romantic comedies from the 80s. Some Kind of Wonderful. Better Off Dead. Just One Of the Guys. Each movie focuses on a central character being completely oblivious to a great option they have right in front of them. Even friggin’ Teen Wolf was duped by a pretty face when a better, more reliable alternative could be found right next door. In that same spirit, I feel like Stafford is this year’s fantasy football version of Terri from Just One Of The Guys — inexplicably overlooked by some idiot named Rick because of the presence of a new, riskier option. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why Stafford should be targeted in upcoming fantasy drafts.
New head coaches often like to bring in their own coordinators to create a completely new atmosphere, but rookie coach Matt Patricia didn’t do that. He retained offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter after the Lions offense finished seventh in scoring last season, with Stafford throwing for 4,446 yards, third-most in the league. The knock on Cooter is that the running game has been abysmal under his leadership, bottoming out last season with the fewest amount of rushing yards per game in the league after finishing 30th in 2016. But that has nothing to do with Stafford. He has flourished under Cooter (phrasing! (Archer voice)) and should continue to increase his efficiency like he did across last season, where he went from a 6.3 yards-per-attempt (YPA) average in his first six games before the bye to 8.9 YPA in the last 10 games without increasing his interception percentage.
Underrated Receiving Weapons
Veteran starting receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones return as Stafford’s primary targets. Prior to 2017, the two had previously been almost interchangeable, but last season was Jones’ coming out party. After a slow start, Jones was consistently great, finishing with at least 80 receiving yards in eight of his last 11 games. He showed an especially strong rapport with Stafford on deep balls where he caught almost 52 percent of his targets that went over 20 yards downfield, according to Pro Football Focus. Jones also established himself as one of the best “jump ball” receivers in the league, shining in contested catch situations. Of the 29 players to receive 25 or more contested targets, Jones ranks first in yards, first in yards per reception, and third in WR rating, per Pro Football Focus. Look at a few of the absurd catches he pulled down in traffic last year.
— NFL (@NFL) December 16, 2017
Marvin Jones Jr. is a stud. Amazing catch for a TD. pic.twitter.com/k0X3IPH8LA
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) November 23, 2017
The elusive Golden Tate will serve as the possession receiver and explosive second-year receiver Kenny Golladay rounds out the receiver corps. Golladay flashed as a rookie, and with no strong options to replace tight end Eric Ebron after he departed this offseason to Indianapolis, Golladay is the prime candidate to receive some of the 86 targets Ebron saw last season. Out of the backfield, Theo Riddick stays on brand as the skilled receiving back who is likely to end the year as a low-end RB2/Flex option in PPR and remain useless in standard scoring leagues.
Favorable Early Schedule
There are obviously dangers in predicting defensive performances year over year due to changes in scheme and personnel, but there is still value in comparing the collective 2017 defensive stats of the teams a quarterback is scheduled to face in 2018. And Stafford compares favorably to other quarterbacks commonly found in his tier. Stafford has an especially easy start to the season, according to strength of schedule analysis by Connor Allen in the TwoQBs Draft Guide. The only team he will face in the first half of the year who finished in the top half of the league against quarterbacks is Seattle, and they are likely to regress as they move on from the Legion of Boom. Furthermore, his first three weeks are incredibly favorable, as the Lions face the Jets (28th), 49ers (31st), and Patriots (27th). His schedule gets significantly more difficult in the second half of the season, so look for Stafford to come out of the gates hot.
Detroit Lions’ 2018 First Half Schedule
|WEEK||OPPONENT||2017 RANK VS. QBS|
|1||New York (Jets)||28th|
One of the biggest drawbacks to drafting Stafford is dealing with inconsistent performances on a week-to-week basis. Last year he finished as a QB1 in just 44 percent of the games he started. On the flip side, one of Stafford’s greatest strengths is his yearly consistency. While there are dangers to using yearly performance as an evaluation tool in a weekly game, there is comfort in knowing that at the end of the year, it’s very likely Stafford will return value on his selection. Stafford is traditionally drafted as a low-end QB1 and in six of the last seven seasons, that’s exactly what he has been, finishing in the QB5-QB11 range.
At his current ninth- or 10th-round price tag, Stafford offers great value along with a high floor. It would not be surprising to see his ADP slip further with Andrew Luck’s return to health and when the new, shinier quarterbacks like Garappolo and Mahomes inevitably move up draft boards during training camp. Everyone takes risks when assembling a fantasy roster, but I prefer to be as safe as possible with the position that significantly outscores all others. Don’t be like that moron Rick from Just One Of The Guys. Give me the reliable Stafford, and if he doesn’t finish as a low-end QB1 yet again, I’ll feel like more of a jackass than Rick when Terri finally reveals herself to be a very attractive woman and not a cheap, Ralph Macchio knockoff. Come on Rick, lock it up man.
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