Lions 2019 draft preview: Stafford a stalwart, but quarterback of future a possibility
Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the NFL Draft, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster and evaluating how the team might address each position. Today: Quarterbacks.
► Current roster: Matthew Stafford, Tom Savage, Connor Cook
► Short-term need: Three out of 10
► Long-term need: Six out of 10
► Top prospects: Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Locke
► Mid-round options: Clayton Thorson, Tyree Jackson, Gardner Minshew
► Late-round fits: Manny Wilkins, Kyle Shurmur, Brett Rypien
The Detroit Lions haven't had much to worry about at the quarterback position since taking Matthew Stafford No. 1 overall in 2009.
Sure, Stafford dealt with some durability issues early in his career, but there's been little doubt he has been the franchise's best option the past decade. And those durability concerns are so far in the past they can no longer be seen in the rear-view mirror. He's started 128 consecutive games, one of the longest streaks for a quarterback in NFL history.
But Stafford's status as the clear-cut solution isn't on the solid ground it was two or three years ago. While he continues to have the full, public support of franchise leadership, including general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia, a growing portion of the fan base has cooled on Stafford following one of his worst seasons. He threw for 3,777 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in 2018.
Stafford's contract, a five-year extension he signed prior to the 2017 season, makes any talk of moving on cost prohibitive. At least for another year. But after other franchises have successfully drafted their heir apparent in recent years, including last year's MVP Patrick Mahomes, one has to at least wonder if the Lions will consider a similar path in the near future.
Quinn already has said the team won't dismiss taking a quarterback with the No. 8 pick, but there's no reason to believe that will become reality, even if Kyler Murray or Dwayne Haskins are still on the board at the spot. And anything less than a first-round choice isn't likely going to be a threat to Stafford's long-term security.
The team's backup situation is more up in the air, but became less of a concern when the Lions inked Tom Savage earlier this month. His experience with new quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan gives him an initial leg up in the competition with Detroit's other offseason addition, Michigan State product Connor Cook.
But Quinn has shown a preference for drafting and developing a young quarterback. He's taken two in his three years, Jake Rudock and Brad Kaaya, although neither remain with the franchise.
Could that lead Quinn to spend a earlier pick on the position, targeting someone like Northwestern's Clayton Thorson, West Virginia's Will Grier or Buffalo's Tyree Jackson?
Or will Quinn wait for another value option on Day 3? There are a couple of legacy options who carry appeal. Kyle Shurmur, the son of New York Giants coach Pat Shurmur and Brett Rypien, nephew of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Mark Rypien, each bring a strong football IQ to the table.
Another candidate who has seen his profile rise in the past year, in part to his strong arm and deep-ball accuracy, is Arizona State's Manny Wilkins.
If the Lions do draft a quarterback, a late-round choice still seems the most likely avenue to address the position. Stafford figures to remain unchallenged for his starting job, at least for another year or two, when his contract becomes more movable.