O'Hara's Monday Countdown: A look at how analysts are ranking Matthew Stafford

Posted Jan 7, 2013

Columnist Mike O'Hara takes a look at how analysts are ranking Matthew Stafford, the future of Titus Young, the Detroit Lions draft and more.

Seconds thoughts, thoughts about the future - Matthew Stafford's ranking among his peers, strengths and weaknesses of the Lions' roster, Titus Young, Ray Lewis and the draft – in the Monday Countdown a week after the end of the NFL's regular season:
1. Ranking Stafford I: A season ago, it was Cris Carter who riled Motown by not ranking Calvin Johnson in his top five receivers.

This season, Ron Jaworski is catching some heat for his comments about Stafford's mechanics and for where he ranks him.

A reader asked on Twitter the other day if I think it's fair that Jaworski had Stafford at No. 20 in his final rankings after the season.

Yes, I think it was fair - but it's only half the equation.

Stafford ranked 22nd among full-time starters with a passer rating of 79.8. He was tied for 20th with 20 TD passes and near the bottom with 17 interceptions - but with an NFL one-season record of 727 pass attempts, 57 more than Drew Brees, who led the NFL in passing yards (5,177) and interceptions (19).

You can get a brain cramp from mentally massaging stats, but the end result for me is that anywhere around No. 20 ranking is fair for Stafford based on his 2012 performance.
2. Ranking Stafford II: The other half of the equation is this: if Stafford is No. 20, are there 19 other quarterbacks you'd rather have?

I say no way.

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have put up great stats over years and won championships. They deserve to be called elite. Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have won two Super Bowls each, but I'd put both in the next level behind the elite group.

And this year's rookie crop has made its mark - Andrew Luck in Indy, Robert Griffin III in Washington, Russell Wilson in Seattle. Their teams think they have their franchise quarterback.

But look at the rest who are rated ahead of Stafford. Would you rather have Matt Schaub, Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer or Andy Dalton? Or Jay Cutler and Josh Freeman, who are just below?

At a certain level, quarterbacks are good enough to win a championship, but there is no guarantee that they will because of the number in the talent pool.

Stafford is in the pool of quarterbacks who are good enough to win championships.

Obviously, he wasn't as good in 2012 as he was in 2011, when he threw 41 TD passes and led the Lions to a 10-6 record.

"This year was a solid season," Detroit Lions GM Martin Mayhew said in his annual postseason media session. "He played better in 2011 than he played this year.

"The guy's got tremendous skill level. Great arm talent. He's our guy."

And he should be.
3. Ranking Stafford III: This is not especially fair to Dalton, but Matthew Stafford comes out miles ahead in comparing what Dalton has done in two playoff games to what Stafford did in the wild-card round last season.

In the Lions' 45-28 loss to the Saints, Stafford completed 28-of-43 passes (65.1 percent) for 380 yards, three TDs, two interceptions and a passer rating of 97.0.

As a rookie in 2011, Dalton completed 27-of-42 passes (64.3 percent) for 257 yards, no TDs and three picks in a loss to the Texans. His rating was 51.4.

In a playoff rematch with the Texans on Saturday, Dalton completed 14-of-30 passes (46.7 percent), for 127 yards, no TDs and a pick. His rating was 44.7.

His combined rating for two playoff games is 48.6.

Jaworski had Dalton at No. 16 in his final ratings for the regular season, and that's OK. Being the quarterback on a playoff team two straight seasons counts for something, but not everything. In the playoffs, it meant nothing.
4. Ray Lewis intro: Watching the Ravens' iconic linebacker do his inspiring dance in the pre-game introductions Sunday was must-see TV, and he didn't disappoint. It was another memorable moment in a memorable career.

Lewis also finished it off in style. He was sent in to play the deep back in the last kneel-down as the Ravens' ran out the clock in their 24-9 win over the Colts.

When he entered the game, Lewis even remembered to give the signal for being an eligible receiver. A pro all the way.
5. Mayhew's sign of change: When asked about Stafford's mechanics, Mayhew's answer could have pointed to an area on the roster that could undergo change.

The Detroit Lions were fourth in the NFL in sacks allowed per play, but that didn't tell the entire story of the pressure Stafford faced.

"I thought we had a little more interior pressure than we had last year," Mayhew said. "He was throwing around somebody - sidearm."

Four passes were batted down at the line of scrimmage in the last game against Chicago, when Stafford threw three TD passes.

"Interior pressure" means up the middle - at center and guard.

A lot of hard decisions have to be made about the offensive line. Some involve age. Left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola have played 12 seasons. Others involve contracts. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is up for free agency.

And others involve opportunity and performance.

Riley Reiff, last year's first-round draft pick, is going to start somewhere. Tackle is the first option, but guard could be No. 2. Rob Sims and Stephen Peterman are the guards, and Sims seems to be set on the left side.

"Interior pressure" does not bode well for somebody.
6. Titus Young: Based on the lukewarm comments Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz have made about Young makes me think he will never play for the Lions again. He was disciplined three times last season for behavior issues and finished the season on injured reserve.

Schwartz and Mayhew both answered questions about Young last week with some variation of him being on the roster.

But neither said there was a definite plan for Young to be part of the offense.

"He shown he can be a productive teammate," Mayhew said. "He's also shown he can be difficult to work with. We'll figure it out."

One man's opinion:  The draft is April 25-27, and Young will be dealt to another team no later than April 27.
7. Defense/draft: Mayhew said he will stick to his philosophy of drafting the best players available as opposed to reaching for need, but he added that some positions will be excluded. Quarterback, obviously, is one of those exclusions.

What was supposed to be a strength - the pass rush - wasn't. It fizzled, especially from the outside. Cliff Avril led the team with 9.5 sacks, but tackles Ndamukong Suh (8.0) and Nick Fairley (5.5) were second and third.

Kyle Vanden Bosch (3.5) and Lawrence Jackson (2.5) were the only other ends with sacks, and their totals hardly can be considered making an impact. Willie Young was shut out.

Defensive end, linebacker, cornerback and safety all should be targeted early, and often, in the draft.

The Lions can stick to their philosophy while also filling needs.
8. More on the defense: The season was shattered after the Lions got to 4-4 with consecutive victories over Seattle and Jacksonville, and the defense did nothing to help.

After a road loss to the Vikings, three straight home games were lost when the defense had chances to make a stand and failed in all three cases.

Green Bay drove 82 yards to take a 21-20 lead. Houston went 97 yards to tie the game and put it in overtime. The Colts went 85 and 75 yards on consecutive possessions to score two TDs in the last 2:35 and win.

And the next week in Green Bay, the Packers broke a 17-17 tie by going 59 yards on seven straight running plays to score the go-ahead TD.

Four straight games, and the defense failed to make a key stand in all four.

I call that identifying a need.
9. It's pro football: Sometimes, the only answer to things that don't seem right are "it's pro football," and offensive tackle Jason Fox's three seasons with the Lions fall into that category.

He was a fourth-round draft pick in 2010 after a solid, steady career at Miami (Fla.). As a Lion, he's been active for five games in three seasons - four as a rookie, none in 2011 when he spent the season on injured reserve, and one game in 2012.

Because of roster restrictions - 46 active players on game day, and the lack of substitutions at some positions - there is as a Ramon Santiago on the offensive line. Baseball has utility players, such as Santiago's role with the Tigers, who get occasional playing time.

Not so for third-string quarterbacks and backup offensive linemen.

It continues to amaze me how young offensive linemen can spend several seasons on a roster without playing on the offensive line. Not even an occasional series, just to rest a starter.

I know the answer: "It's Chinatown, Jake."

I mean, it's pro football.
10. Draft depth: The Detroit Lions can't count on having the same quality of position player available at No. 5 as last year, when the first two picks were quarterbacks, Luck and Griffin III.

Early reports indicate that no quarterback is worthy of a top five pick.