August 29, 2011
For decades it seems, Detroit, a city brimming with passionate football fans desperate for a winner, has been a town down on its luck. Once a franchise that was at least semi-competitive year-in and year-out, the loathsome Lions have paralleled the surrounding community's depressive state, earning the unflattering 'Hello Kitties' nickname. The Motor City, equally gloomy from a fantasy perspective, has cranked out just two top-30 players since 2000 (Roy Williams (2006) and Calvin Johnson(notes) (2008, 2010)) according to Pro Football Reference.
However, as Bruce Springsteen once declared, "Hard times come, hard times go."
Fanatics are very familiar with the misfortunes of Matthew. When healthy, he's occasionally posted brilliant numbers, indicative in his gutsy, 422-yard, 5-TD carving of Cleveland two years ago. But his constant shoulder displacements has cast the brittle passer in a negative light. As a result, he's slipped well into the middle rounds of Yahoo! drafts this year (89.5 Y! ADP, QB13).
Through three exhibition games Stafford has executed Jim Schwartz's skyward offense perfectly. Literally. In Saturday's dress rehearsal against New England he posted a flawless 153.8 QB rating, going 12-for-14 with 200 yards and two touchdowns in two-plus quarters of action (See highlights here). He's now 24-31 for 356 yards with a 5:0 TD:INT split in preseason play.
This summer, the perennial sleeper has completed passes crisply on just about every type of throw — long outs, short hooks, impromptu Favre-like flips. You name it, he's delivered on the money. Finally, it appears, barring yet another setback, this will be his breakthrough season.
Here are four reasons why Stafford is the most unheralded QB in fantasy drafts:
Pass happy. Many close to the team believed the Lions would exit training camp a more balanced team. But after rookie RB Mikel Leshoure(notes) snapped his achilles early in camp, Jim Schwartz placed the offensive burden completely on Stafford's shoulders.
Last year, with the Lions playing catch-up in many games, Scott Linehan called 'pass' nearly 60-percent of the time. This season, a similar lopsided ratio could occur.
And if Stafford's preseason assault spills over into real games, many of those vertical shots could be of the explosive variety. The signal caller has averaged a ridiculous 11.4 yards per attempt this month.
Power outage. Jahvid Best(notes) is an electric Reggie Bush(notes)-type hybrid who is extremely difficult to wrangle in space. He's quick, elusive, versatile and very injury prone. He would likely break his wrist arm-wrestling a scarecrow. Already felled by a concussion this preseason, it's very likely he'll miss a handful of games at some point during the regular season. Due to his fragility, between-the-tackles touches will be few and far between.
Tag-team partner Jerome Harrison(notes) is a bulldog and has, at times, greatly exceeded expectation. But despite his aggressive attitude, he lacks the power and bulk to be an every-down, every-week workhorse.
Ultimately, because of the Lions' lack of backfield muscle, expect Best and Harrison to net many touches within the passing game. Similar to New England teams of yesteryear, short dump-offs and screens will be the ground game in theory. Coincidentally enough, as seen against the Pats, Linehan showed he's not afraid of leaning on Stafford inside the 10.
Secondary issues. With Ndamukong Suh(notes) ripping heads off young, innocent quarterbacks and devouring rushers whole, Detroit has one of the more lethal defensive lines in the game. But its questionable secondary suggests stopping the pass will again be problematic. Last year, the Lions surrendered 7.3 yards per attempt, the sixth-highest in the league. Corners Chris Houston(notes) and Eric Wright(notes), though respectable, won't intimidate anyone. Expect Stafford to be involved in several shootouts.
Nuclear weapons. Megatron, Nate Burleson(notes), Best and underrated tight end Brandon Pettigrew(notes) are a talented and highly productive group. Johnson, of course, is one of the game's premier targets. His incredible combination of size, speed and athleticism is nearly unstoppable. He's a near lock for 80 catches, 1,200 yards and 11-13 touchdowns.
Burleson, too, is no slouch. He's not the fastest receiver, but his plus size and smooth routes label him a solid No. 2 and terrific red-zone threat.
Best, coming off a turf toe-plagued 58-catch rookie campaign, is ball lightning. His excellent cutting ability and open-field explosiveness is a matchup nightmare for linebackers working underneath. When on the field, he's a great safety valve.
Finally, at 6-foot-5, 265-pounds, Pettigrew is a massive individual who has above average hands and agility. He, like Best, typically dominates one-on-one coverage. Last season, he established new career benchmarks in receptions (71), yards (722) and touchdowns (4).
Bottom line: It's all a matter of health for Stafford. If the injury imp doesn't bear its teeth, the sky's the limit for the third-year signal caller. Based on the evidence above a top-10 QB effort is not only plausible, but likely. Even a top-five tally isn't out of the question.
Scrawl it in blood, this is the year Stafford's golden arm reverses Detroit's fortune.
Fearless Forecast (14 games): 3,593 passing yards, 26 passing touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 123 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
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Image courtesy of US Presswire