Is This Matthew Stafford's Best Season?

Matthew Stafford is a huge bro, but that's not stopping him from posting top-notch NFL numbers.

Somehow, someway, we’ve been ignoring a quarterback who almost always throws the ball more than any other passer in the league.

Matthew Stafford deserves more love. Not from sorority girls, no. I’m talking about bromance-type love; love from football writers and fantasy owners.

We’ve all just seemed to ignore him in 2013, even here at numberFire. Instead of the mechanically-flawed quarterback, it’s been about his weapons. Jeff Miller talked about the Lions’ abilities in PPR leagues, and I wrote about Joique Bell’s potential back in July. But Stafford? Nope. No love.

[In ESPN 30 for 30 voice] But what if I told you he wasn’t just a frat boy? What if I told you he didn’t need a receiver named Megatron?

What if I told you that Matthew Stafford has been one of the best NFL quarterbacks in 2013?

Matthew Stafford, the Detroit Lions Quarterback

Stafford from 2009 - 2012

The number is 102.35. That’s not the number of pass attempts Stafford threw in Detroit’s loss against the Bengals on Sunday – it’s Stafford’s combined passing net expected points total from 2009 to 2012, his four years in the NFL.

If you recall from previous articles, net expected points (NEP) is a metric we use at numberFire to determine how many points a player is contributing to his team’s output. You see, there’s an expected point value for an offense during every game situation on a football field. If a player helps that expected point value with a big play - a run for a first down or a 16-yard pass on 2nd-and-10 - he’s effectively increasing his personal NEP, whether it be passing, rushing or receiving.

NEP valuation works because it ignores the rudimentary numbers used in a lot of analyses. Third downs are more important, and turning the ball over matters more, too. It gives us an idea of how good a player is for his team above or below expectation, something a stat line won’t tell you.

Thus far in Matthew Stafford’s young career, he’s posted fairly mediocre net expected point figures. A chart of these numbers is below:

YearGamesPassing NEPPassing NEP/PassPassing NEP/Pass Rank

Let’s dissect these numbers a bit. Stafford’s only played a full season twice, getting the injury bug often as a young buck in the NFL. So rather than looking at sheer passing NEP (PNEP) metrics and comparing those to the rest of the position, I figured it’d be a better idea to look at his efficiency on a per pass basis (PNEP/P).

Stafford was bad as a rookie, ranking 30th of 34 200-plus attempt passers in terms of efficiency. I’m fine with giving him a pass for that though – he was a rookie. In 2010, Stafford had a decent PNEP/P score, ranking 22nd of 48 90-plus attempt quarterbacks. I used 90 as the baseline for that season for a reason, as Stafford was only able to throw 96 times in his three games played. I’m almost inclined to call that season a wash as well, as three games isn’t nearly enough of a sample to give us any clear understanding of how a player has performed.

That takes us to his prolific 2011 season. If you recall, everyone was effective that year; three of the top five passing NEP quarterbacks seasons since 2000 came in 2011 (Brees, Rodgers, Brady). Stafford threw for 5,038 yards - third-best in the league - and finished tied as the seventh-best 200-plus attempt passer. He did that with 663 attempts, too.

Last year was a little different. Stafford finished as the 18th-best passer in the league on a per pass basis, scoring a .05 PNEP/P. If not for his 727 attempts, Stafford would have been nearly worthless on the stat sheet. The quantity of passes – the most ever thrown by a quarterback in a single NFL season – weren’t there because he was performing at a high level. They were more of a result of the team being behind. Stafford threw just 18 attempts with the Lions leading by 9-16 points (which wasn’t often), and a staggering 458 when the team was trailing.

It’s not easy to achieve high efficiency with a high volume of passes. Stafford did it in 2011, but failed to do so in 2012. The only reason Stafford wasn’t a top passer (top 5) in 2011 was because everyone was a good quarterback in that almost-locked out year.

Stafford in 2013

So what about this year? Well, [Insert ESPN 30 for 30 voice again] what if I told you that Matthew Stafford is actually performing at the same level he did in 2011, while the rest of the quarterback field may not be?

Entering Week 7, here’s a list of the top-10 quarterbacks (min. 150 drop backs) in terms of passing net expected points per pass. For fun (actually, I’m doing this so I can talk about it), let’s compare these top-10 passers to the ones from that 2011 season.

RankingPlayer (2013)Pass NEP/PPlayer (2011)Pass NEP/P
1Peyton Manning0.55Aaron Rodgers0.43
2Drew Brees0.30Drew Brees0.35
3Philip Rivers0.28Tom Brady0.33
4Aaron Rodgers0.22Matt Schaub0.24
5Matt Ryan0.22Tony Romo0.21
6Tony Romo0.17Philip Rivers0.17
7Matthew Stafford0.15Matt Ryan0.16
8Russell Wilson0.12Matthew Stafford0.16
9Terrelle Pryor0.10Eli Manning0.16
10Andrew Luck0.10Ben Roethlisberger0.15

As you can see, Stafford has nearly the exact same PNEP/P average as he did during 2011 (0.15 versus 0.16). However, the difference here is competition. If you look at each row, you can see the disparity between a top quarterback in 2011 compared to one in 2013 within this efficiency metric. It appears that only Peyton Manning is significantly better in 2013, but he’s been a giant outlier this entire season. Otherwise, 2011 quarterbacks are blowing the 2013 ones out of the water.

Although “.02” or “.06” may not seem significant, remember that we’re looking at scores on a per pass basis. Someone like Terrelle Pryor or Russell Wilson aren’t exactly seeing the volume Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan are, so their passing impact isn’t nearly as great. In addition, notice the dip in passing efficiency as you move down the list. The 6 through 10 ranked passers have a .07 PNEP/P difference in 2013, as opposed to just a .02 one in 2011. In other words, the drop off is less gradual this season, creating a potential “elite” quarterback group.

And though this isn’t fantasy football related, think about the classic Opportunity + Talent = Fantasy Value formula that we often use in pretend pigskin. With the quarterbacks above, this formula would essentially translate to Passing Volume + PNEP/P = Team Impact (Which is essentially a metric we call Passing NEP). We know that the top-10 quarterback efficiency is lower this season compared to 2011, and it’s created this pseudo-elite grouping at the top. But what then can separate these elite passers even further is volume. And that’s exactly what Matthew Stafford is giving you this season, along with players like Matt Ryan and Tony Romo.

In essence, Matthew Stafford is performing at the same efficiency level this year compared to 2011, with nearly the exact same attempts per game (41.43 versus 41.44). Compared to his peers, however, he’s actually on pace for a better 2013 campaign than his 2011 one.

Matthew Stafford, the Fantasy Quarterback

The number is 1,390. No, that’s not Matthew Stafford’s SAT score – it’s the number of attempts the Detroit quarterback has thrown over the last two seasons. And it’s the most in the entire NFL.

Volume plays a big role in the fantasy football world. Though Matthew Stafford ranked as just the 18th-best passer from a PNEP/P standpoint last season, he was actually the 10th-best fantasy quarterback at season’s end. Why? He threw the ball 727 times.

As I like to say, when you combine efficiency with volume, you create a fantasy football unicorn. That’s what we saw with Adrian Peterson last season, and you could almost say the same thing about C.J. Spiller too. Aaron Rodgers finished as the best fantasy quarterback in 2011, and did it with only 502 attempts. Imagine what his fantasy totals could’ve been with Stafford-like volume!

Matthew Stafford’s got the two aspects down in 2013. Though he’s yet to have a bye, the Lions quarterback is, once again, leading the NFL in pass attempts. But what’s different this year from last is that he’s been better, as shown by his NEP metrics. And he’s making a huge impact on fantasy squads.

Entering Week 7, Stafford was fantasy’s fifth-best quarterback. Only Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo have totaled more points. Against Cincinnati this week, however, Stafford posted 26.3 standard points, which will now move him (because of Brees’ bye) to the number two spot among fantasy quarterbacks, behind only Manning.

What’s been impressive about Stafford’s fantasy numbers is that he’s done this with an injured Calvin Johnson and a pizza-loving (hurt) Nate Burleson. Stafford’s made Christian Fauria’s nephew relevant in the red zone, and Kris flippin’ Durham a realistic PPR asset.

Even more extraordinary is the fact that Stafford has yet to score fewer than 14.4 standard points in a given contest, and he’s posted a 20-plus point performance in four of his seven games. He’s been a top-12 weekly fantasy option - a QB1 - in five of his seven games this season, and in the two that he wasn’t, he finished as the 14th- and 17th-best fake football signal-caller.

Consistency is the name of the game this season for Stafford, which is a new thing for him.

And like the lyrics from “Let it Snow”, it doesn’t show signs of stopping. Stafford will face Dallas next week, who aside from Week 7, has given up a significant number of fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks. After his bye, the Lions face a beat up Chicago squad, and down the stretch they’ll face average defenses like Green Bay, Philadelphia and the Giants. In fact, his fantasy playoff schedule (Weeks 14 through 16) consists of those two teams (Philly and New York) as well as Baltimore.

Stafford’s here to stay in fantasy, especially with a healthy Calvin Johnson.

The Best Non-Peyton Manning Quarterback in 2013?

Stafford’s start has been overlooked by many because he’s consistently hard to watch. Many have flagged him with flawed mechanics, and he’s not immune to turning the ball over.

However, with Stafford’s current volume rate, upcoming schedule and effectiveness thus far, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see him finish the season with Drew Brees-type numbers. Conversely, of course, it shouldn’t shock fantasy owners to watch Stafford plummet to his 2012-like pace. He’s proven to be inconsistent in the past, after all. And that's why he's just a low-end QB1 over the rest of the year according to the numberFire algorithms.

If you believe in the fratty kid out of Georgia though, it’s time to continue to buy him as a top quarterback option in fantasy. It’s time to give – and show – Matthew Stafford a little more love.