The Lions should be an extremely healthy team for their Thanksgiving game against the Eagles.
Allen Park — Three of the most highly-touted quarterbacks from the 2009 and 2010 draft classes will share the field Thursday when the Lions and Eagles play at Ford Field (12:30 p.m., FOX).
Matthew Stafford was the first pick by the Lions in 2009, and Mark Sanchez went to the Jets at No. 5. A year later, Sam Bradford went to the Rams first overall.
With Bradford and Sanchez now in Philadelphia and Stafford still without a playoff victory to his name, all three quarterbacks represent just how difficult it is to find a franchise quarterback who can excel consistently in the NFL.
All three quarterbacks had the physical traits to merit their high draft selections, but finding a reliable quarterback is about much more than arm talent.
“There’s a lot of factors that go into what is a great quarterback in this league and a lot of it comes down to, I think for any position in the draft, being able to gauge the intelligence and the intangibles,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said on a teleconference Tuesday.
But, as Kelly indicated, finding a successful quarterback with a high draft pick isn’t much different than any other position, even if the quarterback is more important.
“Quarterback is a tough position, but I respect the league too much to not say that every position is tough,” Lions safety Glover Quin said. “You see first-rounders that come in from every single position and don’t make it.”
Out of the trio, Stafford has undeniably had the most individual success with a 5,000-yard, 41-touchdown season in 2011. However, the Lions made the postseason in just two of his first six seasons and likely will miss it again in his seventh.
But Kelly had plenty of praise for Stafford, saying he has one of the strongest arms in the NFL if not the strongest.
“I also think he’s tough,” Kelly said. “Matt gets hit and just stands in there and takes a pounding. I don’t think people appreciate the toughness and what it takes to play quarterback in this league, but when you watch film, you admire how he stands in the pocket and delivers the ball on time despite a rush coming on him. I don’t think he’s a guy you can rattle. I think we’ve got our hands full with Matt.”
Sanchez experienced team success with the Jets as they went to the AFC Championship in his first two seasons, but he was woefully inaccurate as a passer, which led to him leaving New York and signing with Philadelphia as a free agent in 2014.
Bradford remains a bit of a mystery during a career marred by injury, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during 2013 and again before the 2014 season.
With Bradford dealing with a left shoulder injury, it’s unclear whether he or Sanchez will start Sunday against the Lions. Sanchez started last Sunday and threw three interceptions in the Eagles’ blowout loss to the Buccaneers.
Bradford hasn’t been much better in his first season with the Eagles, averaging just 6.9 yards per attempt with 10 interceptions compared to 11 touchdowns. He has a passer rating of 82.4.
But Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said his team is confident in both quarterbacks, and even though Bradford hasn’t played well consistently, Kelly said he’s still excited to have the quarterback for which the Eagles traded Nick Foles — among draft picks for each team.
“I think the only thing that held Sam back is that he got injured,” Kelly said. “But I think he’s got all the talent in the world and processes things very fast, is a quick decision-maker, gets the ball out of his hands (and) is very talented from a physical standpoint.”
Even though Kelly runs a complex, fast-paced scheme, he said the traits he looks for in a quarterback are the same as any coach.
“You want repetitive accuracy, toughness, the intangibles to be able to process things very quickly in terms of your thought process,” he said.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell discussed reasons why Stafford has had success in the NFL and pointed to some of the intangible qualities — toughness and leadership among them — as well as his arm strength.
“It wears on you just in terms of the stress of the game, and he has the right kind of personality,” Caldwell said.
And as he prepares to play two quarterbacks that have been so maligned that they’re on their second team, Stafford expressed appreciation for the chance to stay in Detroit thus far in his career.
“Everybody has their own path and I understand that,” he said. “I’ve been lucky enough to be around some really good players and some great coaches, and I can’t really speak to theirs to tell you the truth. I’m just happy to be where I am and playing for the team I’m playing for.”