Burleson has been witness to Stafford's ascension to elite status

Posted May 17, 2012

Lions receiver Nate Burleson has been a bit spoiled throughout the course of his nine-year NFL career. Burleson has caught touchdown passes from Daunte Culpepper (in his prime), Matt Hasselbeck, and now Matthew Stafford.

Culpepper and Hasselbeck have six Pro Bowls between them, while Stafford, 24, has emerged as one of the league's best young talents at the position.

In his third season in the NFL in 2011, Stafford threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns, becoming just the fourth quarterback in league history to record 5,000 yards passing in a single season. Some say Stafford’s ascension to elite status last year was simply a factor of him staying healthy. Stafford played in all 17 games for the Lions last season after missing 19 games due to injury his first two years.

Burleson agrees that staying healthy was obviously a key component to Stafford’s season last year, but the nine-year veteran said the biggest key to his success was the fact that he became a quarterback, instead of a gunslinger.

"Stafford is one of those young gunslingers types,” Burleson said in a recent Sirius NFL Radio interview . “When I first got there I remember people telling me how fast that ball comes out of his hands and how much of a rocket he has. Then, I actually got on the field with him and realized they were telling the truth."

“The one thing I noticed about him last season was he really came into his own. I remember playing with Daunte (Culpepper) and the one thing I could say about him when he was on the top of his game was that he could throw a bullet as fast as anyone in the league, but he knew how to place balls with finesse when he needed to."

“That’s what Matt was able to do last year. For him to make the transition from a gunslinger - throw it as hard as you can every time I get the ball - to a guy who knows how to pick and choose how to utilize his strengths, that kind of took him to the elite status of quarterbacks.”

Stafford has improved his completion percentage from 53.3 percent as a rookie (10 games) to 59.4 percent in 2010 (three games) to 63.5 percent last season. He ranked fifth in the NFL in that category last year and set the team record.

“In my opinion, he’s one of the top five quarterbacks in the league right now.” Burleson said of Stafford's transformation.