Does Matthew Stafford Deserve to Keep His Job?

The Detroit Lions' former first overall draft pick has grown more erratic with each year. Is it time he's benched?

Some things we take for granted, assuming that they’ll always be there no matter what. I’ve seen many relationships -- some of my own included -- fall apart because the people involved assumed they didn’t have to work at it. An adage my father taught me when I was young still rings true to me: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.”

Needless to say, I’m still disturbed by the lack of responsibility that Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford showed last offseason when he shot down the idea of working with a quarterback “guru”, saying, “It's not something that I feel would be my style or beneficial to me.”

The National Football League isn’t something to be taken lightly, however; even Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler -- a former first-round pick like Stafford -- seemed to be a surefire starter before getting benched late last season.

If Stafford’s woes continue, could we see him ride the pine in Detroit? Or has he already started to turn around his value?

Put the Past Behind You

That I’m suggesting that a player drafted as highly as Matthew Stafford -- and who has filled the box score like he does -- could see a benching in the near future may sound like total heresy. In the “Not For Long” NFL, though, if you aren’t progressing, you are regressing. Let’s take a look at Stafford first through conventional statistics. How has the Motor City’s messiah delivered on the surface thus far?

YearAtt.Comp. %Pass Yds.Pass TDInt.

I think it’s fair at this point to toss out Stafford’s injury-shortened 2009 and 2010 seasons because we have four complete years of production on his resumé to assess. If we look at his volume of production first, we can see that his four complete seasons in the league have all had more than 4,000 yards passing. Stafford has also surpassed 4,500 yards three out of those four years. Production is more than totals, however; we also have to account for patterns in the data. His passing attempts -- and subsequently his yards and touchdowns -- have decreased steadily with each year. His interceptions have also dropped, but not nearly as steadily as his positive production.

He also has failed to surpass a 60.0% completion rate twice in his time in the league, a poor mark for a supposed franchise passer. In fact, his rate stats tell a somewhat off-putting story. His 2011 touchdown rate was a stellar 6.2%, but he’s hovered around a paltry 3.6% over the past three years. We know touchdowns are somewhat fluky, but it is important to note that he is not as prolific or “elite” as many think. Interception rate is actually a much more consistent trait among quarterbacks, and Stafford -- while decreasing his interceptions overall -- still hasn’t done much to his rate in general. His rates each year were: 2.4%, 2.3%, 3.0%, and 2.0%. He is becoming a slightly safer passer, but this is reducing his volume upside and touchdown potential as well.

Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates

What if we assess Stafford through our advanced metrics here at numberFire, specifically our signature Net Expected Points (NEP)? NEP helps us take the numbers we get from the box score and assign them contextual value so they relate even closer to the game on the field. By adding down-and-distance value, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

The table below shows Stafford’s production since 2011 via Passing NEP and per-drop back Passing NEP, as well as his ranks in each metric. How does he measure up?

YearDrop BacksPassing NEPPassing NEP/Drop Back
2011699 (1st)112.26 (5th)0.16 (8th)
2012756 (1st)40.24 (15th)0.16 (18th)
2013658 (6th)60.18 (12th)0.16 (12th)
2014647 (3rd)65.38 (11th)0.10 (13th)

Stafford has never had a season outside the top-10 in the league in passing attempts, and that high-volume aerial assault is what gives the perception that he is a great passer in the league. Only once has Stafford been top-10 in raw Passing NEP, let alone an “elite” top-five ranking, and his per-play efficiency has been worse than that. His value -- both real and perceived -- is solely derived from his high-flying offense. If we took away his exceptional 2011 -- increasingly a statistical outlier -- and reduced his drop backs even to 600, he would have had a Passing NEP score of 48.27, good for only the 15th spot among quarterbacks in 2014 (and just ahead of Carson Palmer but behind Mark Sanchez).

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

By traditional statistics, or by advanced metrics, Matthew Stafford has not been the exceptional passer that we all have in our minds. His breakout 2011 is the image burned into our collective consciousness, and that one 40-touchdown and 5,000-yard year is what we know his upside can be. The fact of the matter is that he isn’t realizing his full upside and might be ignoring ways to actually better himself.

But that’s speculation.

What we do know is that Stafford doesn’t deserve to hit the bench yet. There may come a time when his erratic play degrades to the point that Cutler’s has, but for now Stafford is just a middling, average-producing quarterback who happens to get a lot of volume.

What does this mean for us in fantasy? Stafford will still have at least 600 drop backs this next season, even if head coach Jim Caldwell turns more to the run, like he says he will. Stafford has hovered around 250 to 285 fantasy points in standard leagues for the last three years now, and I see no reason why that would change much. I think his floor might be a little lower -- perhaps 225 points this year -- but his upside is still in the 285- to 300-point range.

Remember, though: 250 points ranked as just the 16th-best fantasy quarterback last year. If he falls off a little bit, he’s at best an upside waiver wire option, even in deep leagues.