Fantasy News & Analysis

Fantasy Football: Should we buy Matthew Stafford as a QB1?

May 27, 2021; Thousand Oaks, CA, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) during oraganized team activities. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

One of the kickstarters of a rather wild NFL offseason was the Lions' decision to trade longtime franchise QB Matthew Stafford to the Rams for Jared Goff along with 2021 third-, 2022 first- and 2023 first-round picks. Stafford didn’t exactly live up to his status as the 2009 NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick from a win/loss standpoint, although the Lions didn’t exactly help by boasting a top-10 scoring defense on just two occasions over the years. For reference, each of Tom Brady (11 instances), Ben Roethlisberger (8), Russell Wilson (5), Drew Brees (4) and Matt Ryan (3) played with more top-ranked defenses during the same span.

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Don’t believe me when I say that Stafford is an underrated QB who hasn’t gotten enough love over the years? Fine, listen to the league’s reigning MVP on the matter. Either way, the Rams thought enough of Stafford to make him their signal-caller of the present and future, meaning it’s time to project the 33-year-old talent ahead of a season that carries arguably more expectations than ever before.

What follows is a breakdown on just how good Stafford was with the Lions as well as what we should make of his fantasy stock ahead of 2021.

Stafford has been a better fantasy asset than you remember in recent years

Setting aside Stafford's rough rookie season and encore that resulted in just three games: The man has been anyone's idea of a solid fantasy signal-caller over the years. Starting in 2011, Stafford has ripped off fantasy QB5, QB10, QB6, QB17, QB9, QB7, QB6, QB20, QB29 and most-recently QB15 finishes.

Not incredible in recent history, but the two most recent campaigns require some additional explanation. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell consistently pushed Stafford to orchestrate a more downfield-minded passing attack upon signing on as Detroit’s offensive coordinator two years ago. It’s incredibly unfortunate his electric 2019 campaign was cut short after just eight games considering only Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson and Dak Prescott averaged more fantasy points per game on the season. Yes, Stafford didn’t exactly return in 2020 with flying colors. Also yes, it was understandable that life was difficult on this dumpster fire of a team that got just just four and a half games from No. 1 WR Kenny Golladay.

The important thing to realize is that Stafford has been one of the league’s better throwers of the football over the past two seasons by just about any metric:

  • PFF passing grade: 86.7 (No. 9 among 59 qualified QBs)
  • Big-time throw rate: 6.5% (tied for No. 3)
  • Turnover-worthy play rate: 2.4% (No. 5)
  • Yards per attempt: 8 (No. 8)
  • Adjusted completion rate: 72.3% (No. 43)
  • QB rating: 99.8 (No. 13)

Note that Stafford’s adjusted completion rate improves to 89.5% when accounting for open or wide open receivers. It’s been fun watching Golladay and Marvin Jones come down with countless impressive contested catches over the years; it also makes sense that Stafford could improve upon his relatively low adjusted completion rate in an offense that does a better job at scheming players open.

Luckily for Stafford: This offense looks like an awfully perfect situation for him to be dropped into.

Sean McVay knows how to engineer a fantasy-friendly offense

McVay’s Rams have functioned as the league’s No. 1, No. 2, No. 11 and most recently No. 22 ranked scoring offenses since 2017. We’ve consistently seen them feature some truly smart play-calling techniques, especially relative to what Stafford was dealing with in Detroit.

  • Play-action rate: Rams No. 1; Lions No. 27
  • Pressure rate: Rams No. 12; Lions No. 15
  • Screen rate: Rams No. 7; Lions No. 14
  • Drop rate: Rams No. 2; Lions No. 13
  • Shift/motion rate: Rams No. 7; Lions No. 27
  • Targets to open or wide open receivers: Rams No. 4; Lions No. 21

The latter metric reflects the reality that throwing the ball to the likes of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods has been easier than squeezing it into tight windows to Golladay and Jones.

The biggest difference between Goff and Stafford comes down to their ability to deal with pressure. Obviously Stafford won’t be confused with someone like Kyler Murray anytime soon, but he’s at least mobile enough to give his receivers a chance when the play breaks down. He truly impressed in this ability last season, as Deshaun Watson (8.1) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (7.9) were the only QBs to average more yards per attempt when under pressure than Stafford (7.6). Goff? He posted the second-worst differential in yards per attempt when kept clean vs. when under pressure ahead of only Drew Lock.

Stafford was pressured in under 2.5 seconds on 20% of his dropbacks compared to 17% for Goff. The biggest potential issue for this offense is if their middling offensive line manages to hold fort following a season that saw them grade out as PFF’s 10th-best pass-blocking unit. Their lack of high-end resources invested into the group, along with the potential decline of 39-year-old LT Andrew Whitworth, doesn’t make this the same quality of unit that Goff had in 2017 and 2018; just realize Stafford is far more adept at dealing with pressure if things go awry.

We also haven’t even mentioned the field-stretching toys at Stafford’s disposal. DeSean Jackson’s reputation precedes himself. Van Jefferson flashed as a rookie and truly possesses anybody’s idea of top-end speed. Second-round pick Tutu Atwell ran the 40 in 4.32 seconds at his pro day.

Reminder: Stafford has a bazooka for a right arm and has completed a league-high 11 passes thrown at least 50 yards in the air since entering the league.

Only Alex Smith (5.4 yard aDOT), Jimmy Garoppolo (6.5) and Drew Brees (6.6) posted a lower average target depth than Goff (6.7) in 2020. McVay has retooled this offense’s deep passing game with the addition of two extra talents in D-Jax and Atwell and by acquiring a QB with truly elite arm talent. Stafford is objectively entering the best situation of his career.

Add it all together and …

Buy Stafford and this offense being better than ever in 2021

Stafford is firmly in the QB1 conversation and presently rests as my QB12 ahead of guys like Ryan Tannehill, Matt Ryan and Baker Mayfield. He’s in the same “Mix of upside with a demonstrated floor” tier as Joe Burrow and Tom Brady; the only reason he isn’t higher is due to the utter lack of a rushing floor and potential to game manage a bit more than we think if this defense remains absolutely dominant.

I’m right in line with the market on Stafford, as he presently boasts an ADP as the QB12 on Underdog, QB13 on Sleeper and QB13 on Fantasy Football Calculator. He’s especially appealing in best ball considering both Woods and Kupp remain affordable stacking partners with ADPs as the WR19 and WR23. Throw in Tyler Higbee (TE8), and it’s easier to buy a potentially high-end offense in Los Angeles than just about anywhere else.

Stafford objectively is experiencing an upgrade in surrounding talent, scheme and defense. This should accordingly produce a return to QB1 territory in fantasyland; buy the 12-year veteran ahead of a season that has all the ingredients of a potentially special campaign.

Know tomorrow, today. Western Southern Financial Group.
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