Move Over Matty Ice! Matthew Stafford is the QB Primed for a Hot 2020 Season

(Photo Credit: Mike Morbeck)

Malcolm McMillan (@McLateralFF)
The Lateral Writer

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: THIS PIECE WAS WRITTEN PRIOR TO MATTHEW STAFFORD BEING PLACED ON AND SUBSEQUENTLY REMOVED FROM THE COVID-IR LIST DUE TO A FALSE POSITIVE. UNLESS HE GETS THE BUBONIC PLAGUE, THERE ARE NO PLANS TO REVISE THIS PIECE.]

21.45 points per game in 2019; good enough for FOURTH IN THE NFL at the Quarterback position! Say it with me, people: 

Matthew Stafford is legit.

Now to all the people surely screaming at their phones, "HE MISSED EIGHT GAMES LAST SEASON!"

Sure. But so what?

Seriously though, let's look at the facts regarding that injury. It was a back tailbone fracture in Week 9 vs the Oakland Raiders. Basically, a freak accident that does not affect his throwing mechanics in any way, and once healed, he should be good to go. 

Or was it? Maybe it was tied to his 2018 back injury? Back in Week 14 of the 2018 NFL season, Stafford made an appearance on the injury report with a back issue. Then by Week 17, he appears to be off the injury report according to FOX Sports. Then in Week 4 of 2019, it appears that he had another flare-up, though sources contradict whether it was his hip or his back. This contradiction continued as the injury continued, with the Week 9 injury against the Raiders being listed as both a hip injury and a back injury by the NFL. The back injury was confirmed by ESPN's Adam Schefter, who reported it first as a 1-3 week injury, and later a 6-week injury. Sources further told Schefter that Stafford's injuries could be chronic, though no current reports show that any chronic injury has been confirmed.

Is it normal to still be concerned about a chronic injury? Sure. After all, the evidence above, while not flawless, is also not nothing. While sources are conflicting, they are also reputable. But the big issue with his injury last year was expectation; we thought he would be back quickly, but in reality, if it was a back tailbone fracture, it was an injury that can take 8-12 weeks to heal. How long did he miss? Eight weeks. There is a real chance he missed as many games as he was supposed to, which could suggest that there will be no lingering issues.

Now let's take a look at his durability before that back tailbone fracture: 136 straight consecutive starts. Good for the second-longest active streak in the NFL at that time. Every season from 2011 to 2018: 16 games played, 16 games started.

In short, it is no wonder that he is only expected to miss 0.1 games in 2020.

"Ok, ok," you say, no doubt rolling your eyes so hard that you become a bigger injury risk than Matthew Stafford, "the guy can stay on the field. But can he actually do anything once he's got the ball?"

The arguments already have formulated in your head: he was not particularly good in his last full season, he can't run the ball, Detroit isn't exactly an Air Raid offense, etc. 
All fair points, but even taking those into account...

Matthew Stafford will finish the 2020 season as a Top 5 QB in fantasy.

Argument Number 1: Matthew Stafford was not particularly good in 2018, his last full season

This is a fair argument, mostly because the above statement is 100% true. Here are some of the QBs who started at least 10 games in 2018, and finished ahead of Matthew Stafford on a PPG basis:
  • Andy Dalton
  • Alex Smith
  • Baker Mayfield
  • Blake Bortles
  • Case Keenum
  • Derek Carr
Not exactly a murder's row.

However, 2018, where Stafford finished QB20, is the aberration, rather than 2019, where he was QB6 at the end of Week 9, at which point his season ended against the Raiders. Here are Stafford's fantasy points rankings so far in his career (courtesy of Pro Football Reference):

YearAgeGFantPosFantPtVBDPosRankOvRank
20092110QB12726
2010223QB5340
20112316QB34711959
20122416QB276251151
20132516QB28524751
20142616QB25415
20152716QB2927967
20162816QB28214751
20172916QB27418752
20183016QB21220
2019318QB16729
2569

1 Top 5 finish, 4 additional Top 10 finishes, 1 additional Top 12 finish, and Top 5 in PPG last year. That means since he fully took control of the offense in Detroit, he has been a fantasy starter all but twice. His two off years 2014 and 2018? Both the final full seasons of the Offensive Coordinator at the time (Joe Lombardi and Jim Bob Cooter respectively). Not an ironclad explanation for those outliers, but a possible one. Either way, there is a pattern here: Matthew Stafford is a Top 10 QB more often than not.

But, the claim was that he will finish Top 5! So let's dive into the 2nd argument:

Argument Number 2: Matthew Stafford cannot run the ball

Much like Argument Number 1, the issue here is this is also 100% accurate: Matthew Stafford absolutely cannot run the ball.

But does he need to?

To be a Top 1 fantasy QB, a player absolutely needs to run the ball. There is just no way around it; mobility has become a prime asset in QBs in the NFL, and fantasy is no different. You have to go all the way back to 2013 to find a QB 1 who was not a "mobile QB," when Peyton Manning finished top of the class. Since then? Rodgers, Newton, Rodgers, Wilson, Mahomes, Jackson. All mobile QBs.

Yes, even Aaron Rodgers is "mobile," especially in comparison to Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford. Rodgers at least can scramble and averages 17.2 yards per game in his career, so he is considered around the floor for a mobile QB. In comparison, Matthew Stafford averages 7.3 YPG, and (just for fun) Peyton Manning averaged a paltry 2.5 YPG (-0.9 YPG in his last 4 years in Denver!).

However, when looking at Top 5 QBs, the reliance on rushing is not as important. Since 2013, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Kirk Cousins, all had Top 5 seasons without providing any rushing value; most recently Matt Ryan finished QB 2 in 2018 with no running game.

Last year, the trend seems to have been bucked, with Jameis Winston having the least rushing yards of any of the Top 5 QBs, but still finishing with more than 10 YPG on the ground. However, based on PPG, the trend could have definitely continued had Matthew Stafford been healthy, given that he was on pace for QB5/QB6 when his season ended.

No doubt the lack of any ground game is a huge blow to Stafford's Top 5 hopes, but it is not a death blow. Combine the historical precedent of there usually being at least 1 Top 5 QB who is not "mobile" and that last year Stafford was on pace to be THAT QB, it shows a clear viable path forward. Especially after analyzing Argument Number 3...

Argument Number 3: Detroit does not have a pass-heavy offensive scheme

I like to think of myself as a glass half full kind of guy. Like, the fantasy owner who looks at Jameis Winston and sees the TD machine that he has for an arm, rather than the fact that even in college he could not read a defense if his life depended on it.

So when Detroit finished last season in the bottom half of the NFL in pass attempts, that shows room to grow, rather than a ceiling. Especially since despite not throwing the ball a ton, Detroit still finished Top 10 in Passing Yards and TDs. Pretty impressive considering that their starting QB was out for half the season.

The other major factor to consider with the Detroit Lions offense; it was not exactly a smash-mouth run offense either. Despite being in the bottom half of the NFL in pass attempts, they were only slightly better when it came to rushing attempts:
  • Detroit Lions Pass Attempts Rank: 17th of 32
  • Detroit Lions Rush Attempts Rank: 16th of 32
Looking further into the rushing stats for the team, it only gets worse. The Detroit Lions were 21st or worse in yards, TDs, and YPG. The lone bright spot? The team fumbled the ball less than almost everyone else in the league. 

In short, it is not logical to expect the Detroit Lions to be the next Baltimore Ravens, who ran the ball in 2019 more than anyone else and also passed it less than anyone else. Comparatively, Detroit was simply a balanced bad offense, who passed the ball better and more often than they ran it. It also probably did not help the team by losing Kerryon Johnson just before Stafford, who despite only playing a little under half the season still finished top of the team in yards, attempts, and rushing TDs.

2019 had been primed for a bounce-back year for Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford going off to start last year should not be a major shock in retrospect. The nagging injury from the year before had healed up, he still had a pair of talented receivers in Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones and added some shiny new toys in the form of Danny Amendola, Jesse James, and TJ Hockenson (ok, so shiny is a stretch). The rushing game was still unreliable, so Matt Patricia would eventually have to rely on Stafford despite wanting to run the ball.

So what does Matthew Stafford do with this setup?

He goes off at a blistering Top 5 pace for the first half of the season, reducing his starting RB to basically a flex, and elevating his top receivers to WR1/WR2 territory. Seriously, look at the stats: Matthew Stafford was QB6 at Week 9, Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones were WR11 and WR14 respectively in PPR, TJ Hockenson was TE15, and the Lions RBs were led by already injured Kerryon Johnson at RB39. The offense may have been balanced in its play-calling, but only the air attack was getting it done.

Now look at the situation for 2020:
  • Plenty of time to recover from an injury
  • Going into his second year under Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell
  • Still has a great WR corp in Golladay, Jones, Amendola, and new additon Geronimo Allison
  • Still has a questionable RB corp with the addition of D'Andre Swift, furthering the RBBC mess that is the Detroit backfield
  • Had the 5th toughest Strength-of -Schedule in 2019; has the 8th easiest going into 2020
Say it with me again people: MATTHEW. STAFFORD. IS. LEGIT.



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