NFL AM: Welcoming Detroit Lions Quarterback Matt Stafford To The Elite Club


When you’re a quarterback who’s the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, there are certain expectations.

The learning curve for the position is lessened, while you’re expected to lead your team to wins, despite the roster around you, which is normally pretty bad, hence the team selecting first.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matt Stafford won a grand total of 17 games in his first four years while showing inconsistency as a passer.  He was never really considered a bust, but to say that he was one of the best in the league was a laughable statement….until this year.

Stafford was facing a make or break season and had to do so without one of the greatest security blankets in NFL history, wide receiver Calvin Johnson who retired earlier in the offseason.

The confident Texas native claimed that the Lions offense would be fine without Megatron.

“I think we’re going to do it a little bit differently than we have the in the past,” Stafford said during an offseason interview with SiriusXM Radio. “Obviously we used to feature Calvin, and everybody kind of got theirs after that. It’s going to be, I think, tougher for defenses in a certain way in that they don’t know who we’re going to. There’s no guy to key in on.

“We’re probably just going to spread the ball around a bunch, and a bunch of guys will get a ton of catches and we’ll be all right.”

As we fast forward and are now in Week 13, the Lions find themselves in first place with an 8-4 record and Stafford has been sensational.  He’s done it by spreading the football around….just like he said.

“I think we’re just trying to get the ball to the guy with the best matchup that’s getting open,” Stafford said. “That’s kind of what this offense is based on, spreading the field out and trying to find matchups and go attack them.”

The Lions have trailed in the fourth quarter in seven of their eight victories and Stafford has come through with huge plays consistently.  The former Georgia Bulldog has completed nearly 67 percent of his throws, for over 3,200 yards with 21 touchdowns and just five interceptions through 12 games.

He’s not only elevated his own play, but he’s picked up the team around him, just as a No. 1 pick is supposed to do.

What is the difference between the Stafford of today and that of the first six years of his career?  A man that goes by the name of Jim Bob Cooter, the Lions offensive coordinator.  Since becoming the OC, Stafford has thrown 41 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions.

“He’s just been good. I think we see the game the same way. We have a good working relationship,” Stafford said of Cooter. “I can come to him with things, he can come to me with things. We just have good communication and we have good players around us.”

His name may lead one to immediately think of a Beverly Hillbilly, but he’s an offensive guru in his own right.

“As far as he goes, he’s a really smart guy. I knew that really from the first time I met him and I talked to him about football,” Stafford explained. “He’s worked really hard, I’ve worked really hard to try and make this thing work and by no means are we perfect. We’ve got a lot of areas for improvement, but it’s heading in the right direction.”

It’s undoubtedly headed in the right direction for the Lions.  They currently hold a two-game lead with four to play in the NFC North.  Stafford has made it to the postseason twice but had to go on the road to raucous environments where his Lions came up short each time.  If he can lead them to a division title, Motown’s version of “Matty Ice” will most certainly have his best opportunity to take another step of being an elite quarterback, winning in the postseason.

Lions head coach Jim Caldwell has full confidence in his signal caller and even suggested a few weeks ago that he could eventually be enshrined in Canton.

“I’m just talking about he’s on his way to really having a prolific career,” Caldwell explained. “There’s no question about it. We’ll see what happens down the road, but just look at his numbers, look at what he’s doing. He’s, like I said, well on his way. What the end of that is, that’s up to him.”

It’s doubtful that there are any quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame without a playoff victory, so Stafford does need to continue to work on his resume.  At 28 years old, he’s barely scratching the surface of his enormous potential and the playoff wins will inevitably come if he maintains his current level of play.

In the somewhat fictional “Elite Quarterback Club,” there’s no membership jacket (because that would be somewhat permanent).  There’s basically a secret handshake, that apparently changes on a monthly, if not weekly basis.

Right now Stafford knows the handshake and he’s a real member.  Will he remain “elite?”  A three-interception postseason performance might keep him out, but at this point, he’s showed excellence over two years and has elevated his franchise.

Just like a No. 1 pick is supposed to do.

About Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein

Charlie Bernstein is the managing football editor for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade.  Charlie has hosted drive time radio for NBC and ESPN affiliates in different markets around the country, along with being an NFL correspondent for ESPN Radio and WFAN.  He has been featured on the NFL Network as well as Sirius/XM NFL Radio and has been published on Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN as well as numerous other publications.