Thursday, April 30, 2009
Matthew Stafford, Welcome to the Thunderdome
So, Matthew Stafford. Obviously, it's been a long time since the Lions had a real, live quarterback who didn't have to shield his face with his jacket like some degenerate criminal whenever he left either Ford Field or the Silverdome while people booed and threw trash at him. So, naturally, it's kind of an appealing thought, this strange notion that the Lions might actually have someone behind center who doesn't make Lions fans want to curl up in a ball or throw their remote at the television six or seven times a game or make them recoil in a combination of terror, humiliation and disgust whenever a fan of another team starts talking about the Lions and the parade of retarded shitbirds who have been trotted out there to allegedly play quarterback year after year.
So it should be refreshing, having a bona fide franchise quarterback, someone who can finally tell ol' Bobby Layne to shut the fuck up in his booze soaked grave. The only problem is that we've been down this road before. The names Chuck Long, Andre Ware and Joey Harrington are instantly familiar to any Lions fans and they send a wave of nausea running through the body and a tingly feeling down the spine that may or may not be the body's way of trying to shut itself down so it doesn't have to deal with the horror of it all. All three were top ten picks, all three were franchise saviors and all three ended up being bodies crucified on the side of the long, horrible road that the Detroit Lions have traveled down these many years. I mean, Joey Harrington had by far the best career out of the three of them. Think about THAT.
I wouldn't blame you if you've just said fuck this, torn out your hair and begun speaking in tongues and wandering aimlessly throughout your neighborhood, knuckles dragging, screaming at the children and the elderly like some deranged crackhead werewolf, but as much as I bitch and as much as I moan, I won't judge Stafford by what has come before. I only offer those three names, those three horrible names, as a reason why many Lions fans have an automatic gag reflex whenever Stafford's name is brought up. It's understandable, it really is. We've been beaten and abused like some poor mongrel dog so many times during the lifespan of our Lions fandom that any time someone puts any sort of a hand out towards us, we are completely incapable of judging whether or not that hand is going to pet us or beat us again and so we just snarl like lunatic beasts.
But, we can't wallow in our own sad sack misery forever. It starts to become a parody of itself after a while. It loses all meaning and pretty soon we are just dumb assholes screaming gibberish at other dumb assholes screaming back at us, echoing our raving until it is just a cacophony of stupid fear and dumb rage. Instead, we should take this time to step back and try to rationally assess the situation. After all, we have howled like beasts for years now, and it is possible(some would say incredibly likely)that we will resume that howling within a couple of seasons, and if that time comes, then fine. But for now, it's a new day, with new men in charge, new players to talk about, and new hopes for a future that I really, really want to be brighter than a past whose only light has come in the form of the flashes that accompany the nuclear detonations which have scarred the landscape of Detroit Lions football.
And that brings us back to Matthew Stafford. The future. The hope. The new franchise. Looking at the guy rationally, there are both reasons to be concerned and reasons to be excited. Let's start with the concerns. One of the telltale markers of a potential bomb is a quarterback's completion percentage at the college level. If it's below sixty percent, it usually spells trouble. I mean, if a guy can't hit that number in college, why would he be able to do it in the NFL? Many players picked high in the draft only to flame out have fallen below that mark, including Joey Harrington. How did our boy do? Well, for his career, Stafford had a completion percentage of 57.1 %. Panic time? Well, I don't know. There are a couple of factors which I think skew the numbers. The first is that Stafford started right away as a true freshman, and as a true freshman he played like, well, like a true freshman. He wasn't very good, completing only 52.7% of his passes. His next year was a bit better, as he completed 55.7% of his passes. But keep in mind he was still only a true sophomore. His junior year, his final season with Georgia, Stafford raised his game fairly significantly, completing 61.4% of his passes, playing behind a line which often failed to give him much time. This is a promising trajectory, and if Stafford played his senior year, chances are that his completion percentage would have gotten even better and by the time it was all said and done, he might have snuck above that 60% marker for his career. Is that a fair assumption to make? I think so. Stafford got better and better during his time at Georgia, and the numbers are perhaps unfairly skewed by his starting before he was probably ready. Georgia threw him in there as a freshman for better or worse - mostly worse - and his stats paid the price. I am tentatively not that concerned with this. Don't get me wrong, it is a concern, not just as glaring a one as it might seem upon first glance.
So, those are the numbers, or at least some of them anyway. But numbers don't always tell the whole story. Now, normally, I hate when people say that stuff, as it starts to verge into the whole David Eckstein Scrappy Do True Grit~ kind of nonsense that drives everyone nuts, but when it comes to quarterback, it can't be completely ignored. After all, this is a position in which leadership is a much treasured quality, and if your quarterback is easily rattled, chances are he falls apart in the fourth quarter like a junkie unable to find a fix, throwing up on himself, sweating profusely, shaking like he has Parkinsons and all sorts of other tasteless things.
So how does Stafford measure up on the all important leadership scale? Well, it's tough to say. These things are almost always completely subjective. One man's leader is another man's hobo and all that bullshit, so I'll just give you my opinion. Stafford never won that one big game in college, that career defining win that makes you think okay that guy can get it done. And, he was fairly easily rattled whenever the pressure got to be too much for him. These are not good things. But, then again, the exact same criticisms were leveled against Peyton Manning when he came out of Tennessee, and, well, that's kind of worked out okay for the Colts. Again, this is a concern, but it's been reported that Jim Schwartz, the Lions new head coach, absolutely loved Stafford's makeup and personality and I suppose if his coach thinks he's the man for the job, well, I can give him the chance too.
Physically, there is no doubt that Matthew Stafford is an NFL quarterback. He has an absolute rocket arm - right away, his arm is among the strongest in the league. He can fit balls into tight spaces(I am trying really hard not to turn this into something dirty by the way), and the idea of him throwing deep to Calvin Johnson makes me giddy. His arm strength can get him into trouble, as he tends to think that he can fit any ball into any place at any time, no matter how suffocating the defense(Still trying . . .). But these are good problems to have, all things considered, and after the noodle armed escapades of Dan Orlovsky last year, a guy who can actually get St. Calvin the ball deep on a regular basis is welcome indeed.
The upshot of all this? Well, I think Stafford has a chance to be very, very good. There's also a chance that he could end up flaming out in spectacular fashion. I know, I know, not exactly the toughest stand there on my part. If I had to guess I'd say that Stafford ends up making it. After all, my boy Adrian personally assured me that it was a good choice and I trust Adrian on all matters. But aside from that stamp of approval, everything that has come out of Detroit in the week or so prior to the draft was exceedingly positive when it came to Stafford. Everybody in the organization seems to be in love with him and that unanimity seems to point to the guy having a bright future with everyone in the organization doing everything they can to help the guy succeed. That may not sound like a lot, but it's been a long time since that was the case in Detroit. The Joey Harrington saga is a perfect example of that. The coaches didn't want him, Millen and the Fords did, and no one was ever on the same page. It will be nice to see the coaches actually believe that the guy they're putting out on the field is the same guy they think gives them the best shot to win. I know, it sounds ludicrously simple, and yet, it is something that has managed to elude the Detroit Lions for years now.
What they could have done differently: Well, a lot of people wanted the Lions to take Aaron Curry, the linebacker out of Wake Forrest. I was among them. Curry is someone who will be a starter for years in the NFL, probably on the outside. The Lions would have had to move him to the inside. Would it have worked? Probably. I think Curry is a good enough athlete, and smart enough, that it could have worked out.
The Lions also could have gone for a left tackle like Jason Smith out of Baylor. Obviously, the Lions line has, uh, been not so good over the years, and someone they could plug in there for the next decade and not worry about would have been nice. Then again, you could say that about every position on the field when it comes to the Lions.
What we will see this season: Daunte Culpepper. At least to start out. Culpepper sucks, and he will likely continue to suck as the year progresses. I would be okay with them throwing Stafford into the fire. Look, the Lions are going to be bad again this season. They might as well give Stafford time to learn while there's no real immediate pressure to win. By the time year two gets here, it will be better to have had him struggle through his first season and be ready to go then to have had him standing on the sideline with a clipboard ready to struggle in season two. Of course, there is the argument that getting beat up as a rookie will stunt his development. I don't buy that. If a quarterback can't handle getting tossed around as a rookie, if he gets rattled and falls apart, then chances are good that he's not the guy. Eventually, he would get rattled and fall apart anyway. If it's going to happen, you might as well know earlier rather than later.
Overall Grade for this Pick: B+. This may have been the one spot in the draft where the Lions bowed to conventional wisdom and took the quarterback just because you're supposed to instead of the best player available. That said, they do really seem to like Stafford and it became increasingly likely in the days leading up to the draft that the Lions actually felt he was the number one player on the board. If Stafford is everything they think he can be, then this grade rises to a no-brainer A. But, the specter of grim failure and death is still there, and there are the bodies of the dead and dying still littering the roadside, and as much as I want to throw these images out altogether, it's a little tough to do so. I am just a man after all, and I can only take so much. I have plenty of hope in my heart and my head is starting to come around too, but while I may be a master of talking myself into believing in all of this, the past is never far behind, and the memory of the pain and of the sadness of utter defeat is always there, ready to smile a cruel, evil smile and drag me away again if I dare to turn around and look at it. We have to keep moving, keep running from that horrible past, and hopefully, Matthew Stafford can be the guy who steps in between us and that cruel son of a bitch and allows us to get some distance. I hope. At least for now, and given what has gone on, and especially what happened last season, that really is something.