A Look At Matthew Stafford’s Rookie Season And The Importance Of Not Giving Up On Rookie Quarterbacks

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How Some Of The Worst Rookie Seasons Produced Some Of The Best Quarterbacks.


Matthew Stafford‘s 2009 Season

Matthew Stafford could not have had a much worse start to his NFL career. “Some of those balls I was throwing, I was just trying to get rid of it and not take a sack. I’m fine. I’ve thrown three picks in a game before. Obviously, I don’t like to lose. I wish I could play better, but I’ve got to learn from it,” said Stafford after his first career start against the Saints in New Orleans. He finished the game completing just 16 of 37 passes with three interceptions and no touchdown passes.

And it was only downhill from there.

In week eight, the Lions took on the then 0-7 Rams at Ford Field. Stafford only managed to complete 14 of his 31 passing attempts for 168 yards. He also threw an interception along with zero passing touchdowns. The Rams won that game, and it was their only win of the 2009 season.

In week nine, Matthew Stafford would throw five interceptions against the Seahawks, all of which came after the Lions stormed out to a 17-0 first quarter lead. Detroit ended up losing the game 32-20.

On Thanksgiving day in 2009, Matthew Stafford completed just 20 of 42 passes for only 213 yards against the Packers. He threw four interceptions, which the Packers scored 17 points off of, in a 34-12 domination of the Lions.

Stafford did not have a strong finish to his rookie season either. In his last game of that year, he completed just 11 of his 26 passes against the Bengals and threw another two interceptions. He would leave the game with injury and not play again in 2009.

Matthew Stafford’s final stat line from his rookie season was 201 of 377 passes completed (53.3%), 2267 yards, 13 touchdown passes, 20 interceptions and a quarterback rating of just 61 in 10 games. These are abysmal statistics, not just by today’s standards, but for any period of the Superbowl era of the NFL.

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And, besides his poor on-field performance, questions about Stafford’s durability were raised during his rookie season. He suffered two separate injuries that caused him to miss time during the 2009 season, and missed a total of six games.

If these were the only things you knew about Matthew Stafford, you would say that he was unquestionably a draft bust for the Lions. You would probably be shocked to find out that he’s even still in the NFL.

Fast forward to today, where Stafford holds every major passing record in the history of the Detroit Lions franchise. He’s thrown for at least 4,000 yards in each of the last seven seasons. He has had a quarterback rating above 90 in four of those seven, including the most recent three. He has led the Lions to the playoffs three times, including a historic 2011 season where he threw for 5038 yards and 41 touchdowns.

Stafford has been the only thing consistently dragging the Lions towards success in that time period, and he has been anything but a bust for Detroit.

Rookie Seasons For Other Quarterbacks

It may seem surprising that Matthew Stafford has gone on to have such a successful career after an abysmal start, but maybe it shouldn’t be. He is far from the first quarterback to experience this type of turnaround. Peyton Manning notoriously led the league with 28 interceptions in his rookie year. John Elway completed only 47.5% of his passes with just seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions in his rookie season. In Steve Young’s five game rookie campaign, he completed just 52.2% of his throws with a three to eight touchdown to interception ratio.

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Peyton Manning went on to play in four Superbowls (winning two), Elway played in five (winning two) and Young went on to win a Superbowl and two NFL MVP awards. All three players are in the NFL Hall of Fame.

In recent history, Eli Manning only completed 48.2% of his passes as a rookie, with six touchdowns and nine interceptions. Alex Smith completed a slightly better 50.9%, but threw just one touchdowns pass against 11 interceptions. Jared Goff had an extremely dismal rookie year just last season, sporting an 0-7 win-loss record and throwing 155.6 yards per game, five touchdowns passes and seven interceptions while completing only 54.6% of his passes.

Eli Manning has led two game winning drives in the Superbowl since then. Alex Smith has a strong case for MVP this season, and has been recognized as an extremely solid quarterback for years. Jared Goff has thrown for 3804 yards, 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions so far this season, while boosting his completion percentage to 62.1% and his quarterback rating to 100.5.

What It Means

So, what is the point in all of this? The conclusion I am left to draw from these statistics is that just because a quarterback has a bad, abysmal or even historically awful rookie season, it doesn’t really tell you anything about their future.

So, yes, while we have seen rookie quarterbacks DeShone Kizer, Mitchell Trubisky, C.J. Beathard and Nathan Peterman struggle this season, the jury is far from out on them. The same can be said for other young (but not rookie) quarterback who are struggling this season, such as Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Jacoby Brissett, Dak Prescott, Derek Carr, Trevor Siemian, Brett Hundley and others.

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While not every quarterback will bounce back from early career struggles, some do take the next step later in their careers, and when the do, the growing pains are more than worth it. If there is one take away from the information in this article, it is that plenty of franchise quarterbacks do not look like franchise quarterbacks at first.

So, when I hear about teams potentially giving up on young quarterbacks (for example, DeShone Kizer/Cody Kessler in Cleveland, Jared Goff last season), I think one thing: it’s far better to give a young quarterback with all of the potential in the world too many chances to be great rather than too few.

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