Is Matthew Stafford a Buy-Low Candidate in Fantasy Football?

With Megatron coming back, should we look to buy, sell, or hold his quarterback in fantasy?

Before the regular season started, fantasy footballers were almost unanimous on who the Tier 1 fantasy quarterbacks were: Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. After that it got a little hazy, but many times, Matthew Stafford was taken fourth at the position.

If you drafted Stafford as the top Tier 2 quarterback or anywhere in the top 6, you’re likely to be very disappointed right now, as he’s currently ranked as the 15th overall quarterback in fantasy. He's spent the last three to five weeks struggling without a healthy Calvin Johnson, but now that the best wide receiver in football is all rested up after his team's bye, what can we expect from Stafford going forward?

The 2014 Season

Matthew Stafford has always been a solid fantasy quarterback. He set the record two years ago for most passing attempts in a single year, and he's one of only five quarterbacks to ever throw for a 5,000-yard season. In his first three full seasons in the NFL, he finished 5th (2011), 10th (2012), and 4th (2013) among quarterbacks in fantasy points scored. He’s only 26 years old, and is now throwing behind the best receiving corps he's ever had.

Looking at his past three years, even while knowing his value was entirely tied to Calvin Johnson's health, it was hard not to take him among the top-six fantasy quarterbacks this summer.

For his career, Stafford’s average without Calvin Johnson is about 13.75 fantasy points per game. However, with Calvin Johnson, he's almost a full touchdown per game better, with a 17.5 fantasy points per game average. And before 2014, in three games, Stafford’s line without Calvin Johnson was an abysmal 647 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, good for about an 11 fantasy point per game average. 2014 has been considerably better, with his last two games being his highest yardage and touchdown totals without the star receiver.

Without Megatron this year, as a whole, Stafford's been good for about a 16.5 fantasy point per game average. This could be cause for some of that optimism we saw this summer; that once Megatron comes back, with a good receiver opposite him (finally), Stafford might be even better than before.

Megatron Is Back

Calvin Johnson practiced on Monday, and has had almost an entire month to rest his ankle. He should be good to go this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, but it will be important to watch the practice reports to make sure there are no setbacks this week.

There are other injury concerns as well with the Lions passing game, as Reggie Bush sat out against the Saints in Week 8. However, Theo Riddick served amicably as his replacement, and Reggie practiced this Monday as well - he, too, should be out on the field this Sunday.

Unfortunately, tight ends Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria, and Eric Ebron all sat out Week 8, and their statuses for this week are currently less certain. The good news for Matthew Stafford owners/potential buyers is, that doesn't really matter as long as Calvin Johnson is playing.

Over the last three years, Stafford's number two and number three receivers outside of running backs were Kris Durham and Nate Burleson (2013), Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler (2012), and Brandon Pettigrew and Nate Burleson (2011). Stafford isn't really a spread-the-ball-around guy - as long as Calvin Johnson is healthy and on the field, both will put up points.

Even without all three tight ends, the Lions still also have Golden Tate, who has averaged an impressive 8 receptions for 116 yards and .66 scores per game over the last three games Johnson's been absent. Having him and Calvin Johnson on the field at the same time could lead to one of Stafford's best second-half performances yet.

So, starting this week, we should expect Stafford's value to go up. But to what heights can we expect him to soar? Well, let's take a look at his upcoming schedule.

Strength of Schedule

Here are the Lions' final opponents in 2014 and their Adjusted Defensive Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per play scores and ranks through Week 9:

TeamWeekAdj. Def Pass NEP/PlayRank
New England12-0.012
Tampa Bay140.3132
Green Bay170.1220

Unfortunately, his schedule isn't a cakewalk. He'll face four passing defenses in the top 12 before he reaches the championship. Next week they're facing the number-one ranked pass defense, then the 12th and 2nd. That doesn't bode well for Stafford's buy-now appeal. However, you will get the worst pass defense in the league in Week 14 (likely the first round of playoffs in your league).

There's chance for upside with Stafford given Megatron's return, but it'd be nice to see a more favorable schedule. Trading for quarterbacks isn't always necessary in fantasy football, but if you can find someone who's willing to part ways with Stafford on the cheap, go ahead despite the schedule - Calvin Johnson will surely turn his season around.