Matthew Stafford – On The Cusp of Greatness?

Matthew Stafford – On The Cusp of Greatness?

If I’m playing in a Superflex or 2QB league, I usually elect to go by what has been deemed the “Studs and Streaming” style in a startup draft.

In the first two rounds I’ll grab a premiere wide receiver or running back and follow it up with one of the top quarterback options in the second round. From there I’ll load up on skill position players, while my opponents take their second and third quarterbacks and wait until much later to grab my other quarterbacks.

In one of my favorite superflex leagues from last year, I took Aaron Rodgers in the second round at QB4, then waited until the 11th/12th round turn to select Sam Bradford (QB27) and Blaine Gabbert (QB29). This rag-tag trio provided me consistent points from the quarterback position and led to me to scoring the second-most points out of the 480 teams in 2016’s Scott Fish Bowl.

While I have found success in this manner, it often leaves me without players like Matthew Stafford. The Studs and Streaming approach leaves these low QB1 and high QB2 types out of contention for your roster and it led me desiring to find what kind of range of outcomes we can expect for Stafford in 2017.

If you haven’t dug too far into Stafford’s splits this offseason quite yet, it’s hard to believe he’s entering his ninth season in the league and will be just 29 years old. Over the last year and a half — since offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter took over play calling responsibilities — Stafford has turned into a remarkable fantasy quarterback.

The Jim Bob Cooter Era

Under Jim Bob Cooter’s tutelage, Stafford has drastically increased his completion percentage, decreased his interception rate, and improved his overall efficiency as measured by Quarterback Rating and Adjusted Yards per Attempt. Stafford has retained a near-50 percent hit rate on top-12 quarterback weeks, but he’s drastically reduced his “floor” weeks that finished outside the top-24.

Essentially, the biggest takeaway here is that under the JBC era, Stafford has developed into a more accurate, less turnover-prone quarterback that has fewer bust weeks.

A major reason for this is likely due to the play calling of Cooter, who emphasized short, high-percentage completions and relied on his receivers to do most of the work after the catch.

Stafford’s low Average Depth of Target (aDOT) of just 7.9 yards ranked 30th out of the 36 qualifying quarterbacks tracked by ProFootballFocus last year. He had the tenth-lowest Air Yards per Attempt (3.53) among last year’s starters. However, Stafford had the third-highest percentage of his passing yards coming from his receiver’s YAC (51.5%), trailing only Alex Smith (54.9%) and Sam Bradford (52.5%).

Short crossing routes to Anquan Boldin and Golden Tate kept the ball moving and the offense on schedule for first downs. Eric Ebron set a career-high with 60.7 percent of his receptions going for a first down or touchdown. Detroit had the tenth-most targets going to their running backs last year. Besides peppering in a few deep shots to Marvin Jones down the sideline, a large majority of Stafford’s success relied on his receivers being able to pick up additional yardage after the catch.

That YAC was huge for a team like Detroit. The Lions ranked third in pass play percentage (64.6%), as they essentially utilized a short passing game as an extension of the run. I found it interesting that the Lions led the league in the amount of time they were tied with their opponent in a game. They didn’t face particularly negative game scripts (ninth-lowest), nor were they leading a ton (14th-most). That leads me to believe that JBC intends to keep the passing attack a priority in this offense once again heading into 2017.

Stafford’s Strong Supporting Cast

Part of what makes Stafford such an appealing fantasy quarterback is his strong supporting cast.

Golden Tate has picked up 90+ receptions in each of his first three seasons with Detroit. In games where Stafford and Tate are able to hook up regularly, the two have combined for some quality fantasy goodness:

Last year’s free agent acquisition of Marvin Jones started off hot, but faced some inconsistency down the stretch of the season. He still finished with 55 receptions, 930 yards, and four touchdowns en route to a WR43 finish, right above Jordan Matthews. Perhaps with another full offseason to work together, Jones and Stafford can develop their rapport even further. Jones finished with one of the highest Air Yards per Target in the league, at 14.1. While the connection needed work, the intended yards were there for Jones (and Stafford) to flourish.

If the team elects to move on from Anquan Boldin (67/584/8), we could potentially see Eric Ebron split out wide more often. Ebron led all tight ends in routes run per game and has a strong chance to gain those targets Boldin was seeing last year. Boldin’s absence opens up 23 Red Zone targets and Ebron has the size (6′-4″, 245 pounds) to capitalize and turn in a breakout performance. Detroit signed Darren Fells last week as an inline blocking tight end, which should allow Ebron to run free as a matchup nightmare.

Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are two backs with plus receiving skills. They make for great checkdown and screen options with the quickness to evade most linebackers. Both running backs graded out among PFF’s top-24 pass blocking running backs last year, another plus for Stafford.

This past week the Lions also added two massive pieces for their offensive line. Right guard T.J. Lang not only provides some much needed help in the interior, but also weakens their divisional rival, the Green Bay Packers, in the process. Right tackle Ricky Wagner will also provide some much needed help outside. Both Lang and Wagner ranked in the top-10 in pass protection grades by PFF at their respective positions. That should go a long way to keeping Stafford upright and allowing plenty of time for him to make his progressions and reads.

The additions of Lang and Wagner form a solid mixture of veterans and youth across the offensive line. It certainly appears on paper to be an upgrade over last year’s unit and should help the passing game tremendously. Stafford has a terrific blend of proven veterans and potential breakout players to make this offense in Detroit one of the most fantasy-friendly units heading into 2017.

Matthew Stafford in 2017 and Beyond

Stafford is currently going as the QB14 in MFL10s and is the consensus QB10 according to DynastyLeagueFootball‘s rankings. Both of these rankings make perfect sense in my mind.

Stafford is a capable starter in redraft with the ability to garner top-six and top-12 weeks as a stable fantasy producer. In our recent polls at TwoQBs, Stafford’s ranking fell right between Dak Prescott and Philip Rivers, finishing QB15 in the polls:

You’ll notice that I personally voted for Rivers in this situation. Joshua Lake penned how he believes Rivers is a terrific quarterback value in 2017 and I’m inclined to agree. However, after performing this study, I’ve reassessed my belief that I’d be quite comfortable with starting either one of them and will likely just take whoever of the two falls further. Josh Hornsby‘s recent MFL10 ADP tracker suggests that opportunity will present itself often:

Stafford’s high floor — remember, he has fallen outside of the top-24 just four percent of the time under the JBC era — makes him a dependable fantasy asset that you can rely on weekly. His high completion percentage in an offense that favors the pass has turned him into a target for redraft leagues and someone worth inquiring about in dynasty.

Stafford is just 29 years old and considering he’s often jumbled in the dynasty rankings of elder signal callers like Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Eli Manning, he could make for a solid upgrade at the QB2 position if you went “Studs and Streaming” in a startup. He makes for a great target in a package trade to slide up and grab a consistent quarterback in your QB2/superflex position.

Stafford has youth, a strong mentor in Jim Bob Cooter, and dependability on his side. He hasn’t missed a game in six years and we’ve seen him improve remarkably under JBC’s tutelage. Given his QB14/QB15 price tag, he makes for an outstanding buy in 2017 leagues and one worth inquiring about in dynasty. His range of outcomes could quite easily find him fall right around the QB1 cusp at a QB2 price.

Tyler Buecher

Tyler is a graduate from Drexel University who grew up in Central Pennsylvania and is an avid fan of all Philadelphia sports teams. He's heavily involved with DFS, Dynasty, MFL10s, and Redraft fantasy football content. In his free time, Tyler enjoys going to sports games, beerfests, country concerts, and long walks on the beach. You can find Tyler on Twitter @TylerBuecher‬

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