It’s a question that seems to be debated among Lions fans each season: Is Matthew Stafford an elite quarterback?
ESPN’s answer: No, but he’s close.
That’s with the help of plenty of NFL personnel, who helped ESPN come up with its quarterback tier rankings (pay site). Fifty people had votes, including “nine general managers, six pro personnel directors, five other executives, five head coaches, seven offensive coordinators, six defensive coordinators, five defensive assistants, three analytics directors, two quarterbacks coaches and two national scouts,” according to ESPN.
Stafford is tied for eighth in the rankings, which list 36 quarterbacks divvied up into five tiers, with Tier 1 being the tops. Stafford is in Tier 2, but he seems to be close to moving up. Mike Sando of ESPN, who compiled the rankings, suggests offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has something to do with that.
“Two years ago, some voters thought Stafford was trending the way of Jay Cutler as a talented player unwilling to protect the football,” Sando writes. “But since Jim Bob Cooter took over as the Lions’ offensive coordinator during the 2015 season, Stafford outranks (the Packers’ Aaron) Rodgers in completion percentage, yards per attempt, passer rating, Total QBR and won-lost record.”
Sando’s rundown comes with plenty of feedback from NFL personnel.
“Matt Stafford is close to being a 1, really,” a personnel evaluator from another NFC North team told ESPN. “He has limited some of the boneheaded stuff. If he does not hurt his finger last year, I don’t know if Green Bay wins the division. He can spin the ball now. He has to guard against turning the ball over with some of the throws. I saw that in preseason a little bit this last game.”
An offensive coordinator said, “Stafford is a solid (tier) 2 and I love him,” but also said he needs more “presence.”
“Some guys, they don't light up the room when they walk in,” the offensive coordinator told ESPN. “It is all talent, and Stafford has as much talent as anybody, but you don't feel the control.”
Another offensive coordinator says Stafford “flirts” with the first tier, but “then he just doesn't seem like he can sustain it or he makes some crazy throws.”
A Tier 2 quarterback is described as a quarterback who “can carry his team sometimes, but not as consistently. Can handle pure-pass situations in doses or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. Has a hole or two in his game.”
Leading the Tier 1 quarterbacks was — no surprise — New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the former Michigan signal caller, and Rodgers, who tied for the top spot. Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburg Steelers, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons also landed in Tier 1.
Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, a former Michigan State star, ranks No. 13 (Tier 2), while another former MSU starter, Brian Hoyer of the San Francisco 49ers, checks in at No. 31 (Tier 4).