July 2, 2014 at 12:45 pm

Lions' Matthew Stafford ranked 13th among NFL's 32 projected starting QBs

Matthew Stafford had 41 TD passes in 2011, 20 in 2012 and 29 in 2013. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Ranking NFL quarterbacks is a difficult venture because of all of the variables at play.

The ranker can use various statistics, but those are often skewed by surrounding talent. There’s also the question of how to weigh past results with future expectations.

Mike Sando at ESPN.com asked 26 league executives and coaches to rank the 32 projected starting quarterbacks (pay site), and Matthew Stafford finished 13th and in the second tier. The executives and coaches polled were granted anonymity.

The quarterbacks ahead of Stafford are Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck, who all make up Tier 1. Then there’s Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Russell Wilson, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco.

The other Tier 2 quarterbacks behind Stafford are Colin Kaepernick and Nick Foles. Cam Newton, Jay Cutler and Alex Smith rank at the top of Tier 3.

The reasons for Stafford’s placement: “There's a feeling among evaluators that Stafford, more than any other QB outside the top five, has the talent to ascend into the first tier. He is arguably the most intriguing starter in the league. … A head coach said it's critical for Stafford to work on his mechanics the way Brady and Peyton Manning have done over the years.”

Stafford’s arm talent is undeniable as he’s averaged 4,885 passing yards the past three seasons, but his decision-making the past two seasons has been a key reason the Lions missed the playoffs. Since carrying the Lions to the postseason in 2011, Stafford’s completion percentage has declined each of the past two years while his interceptions have increased.

If Stafford is going to prove these league insiders right, this will be the year to do it. The Lions made a priority of hiring coaches with a track record working with the league’s top quarterbacks. Coach Jim Caldwell and quarterback coach Jim Bob Cooter worked extensively with Peyton Manning, and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi spent the past seven seasons with Brees.

The Lions also provided Stafford with two new weapons in receiver Golden Tate and first-round tight end Eric Ebron.

So what do you think of the ranking? Too high? Too low? Just right?