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What would constitute a “breakout season” for Matthew Stafford?

Stafford is no “unknown” but he never met expectations with the Lions

Los Angeles Rams Mandatory Minicamp Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Matthew Stafford was truly an elite prospect when he entered the NFL Draft out of Georgia in 2009. Praised not only for his unique physical tools, Stafford was lauded for his ability to read a defense, and even ESPN’s Mel Kiper had projected him as a future number one overall pick while Stafford was still in high school.

As you know, that prediction came true when the Detroit Lions chose Stafford with the first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. One pick later, the St. Louis Rams chose offensive tackle Jason Smith, and while we can overanalyze that choice as being a “bust,” the reality is that Stafford was the only blue-chipper in 2009. If you weren’t picking first, you might as well be picking 21st.

The only thing the Rams could have done to change the outlook of their 2009 draft was to have done even worse than the 0-16 record that Detroit managed in 2008.

Taking over the worst team in history at that point, Stafford started 10 games as a rookie and went 2-8. He then missed all but three games in 2010, but he threw six touchdowns and only one interception in those starts. When he returned in 2011, Stafford helped a Lions team that had gone 0-16, 2-14, and 6-10 in the previous three years, to a 10-6 record and an appearance in the postseason for the first time since 1999.

That year, Stafford threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. His leading rusher had 390 yards. His non-Calvin Johnson weapons were okay, but usually overrated or underwhelming. He was only 23.

And though there has been so much emphasis on his supposed “fragility,” Stafford played in 131 of a possible 131 games between 2011 and 2018. The only other quarterbacks to not miss a start over those eight seasons were Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers. The only quarterbacks to throw more touchdowns in that period of time were Ryan and Rivers. The only quarterback to be sacked more times than Stafford between 2011 and 2018 were No Quarterbacks. The only players to have more fourth quarter comebacks or game-winning drives between 2011 and 2018 were No Quarterbacks.

Though he may not have lived up to the expectations of being one of the best NFL draft prospects ever, Matthew Stafford also proved to be one of the best draft picks ever. He’s actually one of the best number one overall picks in history and that’s before he ever plays in a game with Sean McVay as his head coach and SoFi Stadium as his home field.

I say all of that to emphasize that Stafford already is a good quarterback. Between 2011 and 2018, Stafford averaged 63.1% completions, 27 TD, 14 INT, 4,465 passing yards, and a 90.5 passer rating, all while playing with sub-average personnel and coaching around him.

Over his last two seasons, probably aided by having Darrell Bevell replace Jim Bob Cooter as offensive coordinator in 2019, Stafford’s posted some of the best stats of his career even though he did miss games for the first time since 2010. Stafford’s passer rating over the last two years has been 99.8, his Y/A has gone up to 8.0, his completion percentage rose to 64.2% and he did this even though number one receiver Kenny Golladay was often injured and inactive.

In 2020, Stafford started all 16 games, threw for 4,084 yards, and had 26 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. The Lions only won five games, but Stafford still had four more game-winning drives.

Now that Stafford is playing for McVay, and alongside names such as Andrew Whitworth, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Cam Akers, and DeSean Jackson, what would constitute a true “breakout” campaign for a quarterback who has only been named to the Pro Bowl one time during his 12-year career? For a quarterback who has already topped 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in a season before? For a quarterback who rarely disappointed as a former number one overall pick, at least not on the level of a:

Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Michael Vick, David Carr, JaMarcus Russell, Sam Bradford, Eric Fisher, Jameis Winston, etc.

If Matthew Stafford is to be called the “breakout player” or “breakout quarterback” of 2021, then what do you think needs to happen?

Here are a few answers I would expect:

Matthew Stafford leads the Rams to an NFC West division title

Matthew Stafford leads the Rams to the number one seed in the NFC

I would think that the Rams winning the most games would be the number one reason that people around the world start referring to Stafford as an elite quarterback. And that would then lead to the other accolades, such as Pro Bowl and all-pro honors, or even MVP.

Matthew Stafford leads the NFL in passing yards and/or passing touchdowns

This is something that I think most people agree that he is capable of with the right offense. What could that look like? In a 17-game season, Stafford is probably capable of throwing for over 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns.

But to win over anyone who has been skeptical of his abilities to this point and whether or not he is nearly as valuable as the number one overall pick — or two future first round picks, a third, and another former number one overall pick quarterback — it’s clear what Matthew Stafford needs to do.

Matthew Stafford leads the Rams to the NFC Championship game and Super Bowl.

That’s probably what would constitute the breakout season that many have been waiting for since 2009’s draft.