Detroit Lions Quarterbacks: 2020-21 Season Preview for Matthew Stafford

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After a very impressive first half of the 2019-20 season, what’s next for the Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford in 2020-21?

The Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford in his first year under Darrell Bevell was impressive to watch. He consistently made some of the best throws of his career, seemingly week in week out adding to his highlight reel through the first eight games of the regular season. That was before his back was injured and the Detroit Lions fell apart record-wise without him.

Can Stafford come back and carry on that performance over a full 16 game season? While it may be a bit lofty to expect a 5000 yard season out of him again like he hit in 2011, expecting him to be a top quarterback in the league this year is not out of the realm of possibility.

Can Stafford be an MVP candidate for the Detroit Lions in 2020?

Yes, he could. He would need a good number of wins to be one, but if the Lions finish with double digit wins and win the division this year, it is entirely plausible that Stafford is the reason why and should be considered for MVP consideration. However, he also would need to put up good statistics along the way.

MVP voting to some extent is still a popularity contest, and while winning games would likely help the cause in a big way, Stafford would have to impress voters with not just his film and wins, but his volume stats and efficiency as well. Getting 4200 passing yards and a 25-10 TD-INT ratio probably wouldn’t be enough for Stafford to be considered for MVP voting this year.

What kind of numbers would Stafford need to put up for the Detroit Lions to really thrust his name into the MVP conversation? Probably something like 4500+ total yards, 35+ total touchdowns on 65% completion with ideally single digit interceptions would likely put him firmly in contention. Is that something that Stafford could bring to the table in 2020?

Looking back on Stafford’s 2019 Detroit Lions:

To start, Football Outsiders presents a pretty clear picture of what Stafford was able to bring to the table last year in what they called a historic season by Detroit’s standards for Stafford leading the Lions offense. Stafford finished third among all qualified quarterbacks last season in their VOA (Value Over Average) metric. The only two quarterbacks who finished higher were Drew Brees (who also missed some time last season) and the unanimous MVP at season’s end Lamar Jackson.

He also finished 6th in their Total QBR metric last season, which is a metric that is opponent adjusted. Total QBR includes factors such as clutch play among other factors. The quarterbacks who finished ahead of Stafford last year were the previously mentioned Brees and Jackson, as well as Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson.

One reason for Stafford’s resurgence with the Detroit Lions last year was his average depth of target. Average Intended Air Yards, a metric from NFL’s Next Gen Stats tracks how many yards a pass travels in the air from where the ball was released to where the ball hit the ground, was caught, excluding factors such as yards after catch. Stafford ranked first in the NFL last year, averaging 10.7 yards intended in the air. Only Jameis Winston also averaged over 9.6 (at 10.5 in Bruce Arians’ vertical scheme in Tampa).

Despite this, Stafford only minimally dropped his time to throw, from the time of the snap to the time the ball was released, to 2.69 seconds, down only 0.05 seconds from his 2.64 mark in 2018 under Jim Bob Cooter, while his average intended yards in air went up from only seven, an increase of over 3.5 yards per pass attempt.

Additionally, Stafford’s aggressiveness percentage, which measures how often a pass was thrown into coverage in which a defender was within one yard of the receiver, increased dramatically from 16% to a league leading 23.4%. The next highest quarterback excluding rookies (Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones) was Ryan Fitzpatrick at 20.9%. Stafford was a full 2.5% higher, inferring his trust in himself and his receivers to complete tight window throws under Bevell’s system was significantly higher than any quarterback in the league this past season, let alone the average quarterback. The Detroit Lions will count on this continuing in 2020 to be successful.

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Trust will lead Matthew Stafford to a great 2020:

The one thing that Matthew Stafford shouldn’t lose this coming year that he had last season is trust in those catching the ball for him. He has all three receivers returning in Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola. He also has two tight ends returning in TJ Hockenson and Jesse James. He also is adding at least one pass catching back in second round rookie D’Andre Swift and possibly another in the form of Jason Huntley, a day three pick in this year’s draft.

Additionally though, he is returning his offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, as well as his position coach Sean Ryan, who was an unsung hero in the improved development of Matthew Stafford last season as well as a factor in David Blough’s growth over the course of last season.

Stafford doesn’t really have to change much from what worked last year to find success in 2020. While he may look to the tight end and running back positions more, trust in the system will help guide him to another fantastic season in 2020 as the Detroit Lions starting quarterback.

Stafford’s backups include a new, but recognizable name

One area the Detroit Lions made a change this offseason under the guidance of Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia in terms of personnel is in finding Stafford’s backup, however. After losing every game after Stafford got injured last season the Lions elected to go out and find themselves a veteran passer who has started games outside of the Detroit organization.

This led the team to signing Chase Daniel, who is expected to be the team’s primary backup option in 2020. Daniel has not been a Detroit Lion before, however he has played against the Lions before as a member of the divisional rival Chicago Bears.

While Daniel is unlikely to get any time in 2020 barring an injury to Stafford, or a potential extenuating circumstance like a “useless” week 17 game, garbage time minutes, or perhaps to give Stafford a break amidst a struggling game, he will bring experience to the Lions backup position, and bring a more experienced voice than David Blough as the team’s second quarterback following the departure of Jeff Driskel to the Denver Broncos.

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