Detroit Lions fans have patiently waited for Matthew Stafford to become more than a mid-tier quarterback, and Hall of Famer Steve Young feels the same way.
According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Young said he’s concerned about the Lions gunslinger because Stafford’s production has yet to consistently match his potential.
“I’m worried about Matthew because he’s a very good football player and needs to move up. He needs to go to the next place. You don’t want to sit at that spot right there, maybe a top-10 or top-12 guy. He’s good enough and needs to be in that top five.”
The physical tools are undeniable. Stafford’s arm strength is matched by few — if any — quarterbacks in the league, and he’s not limited by a 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame.
As Young later added, though, the Detroit quarterback has “April work” he needs to improve and must do it this time without Calvin Johnson, who is contemplating and reportedly leaning toward retirement.
Stafford racked up 41 touchdowns compared to just 16 interceptions during his first year as a full-time starter, but fans slowly grew weary of the Georgia product. He tossed 71 scores and 50 picks throughout the next three seasons, reaching the playoffs just once and losing immediately.
Then, the 2015 campaign began in ugly fashion. Detroit started 1-7 while Stafford managed just 13 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, which was partially his problem and otherwise a product of predictable play-calling.
After offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi received a pink slip, however, the 2011 version of Stafford returned. He notched 19 touchdowns and only threw two picks.
Stafford, who will be 28, must show that late-season progression was not an aberration. For good reason, he’s regularly grouped with Jay Cutler, Matt Ryan and other deserving-starter-but-playoff-berth-and-nothing-more quarterbacks.
Leaving that category and reaching Young’s top-five goal won’t be easy for Stafford, but doing it without Calvin Johnson running routes would make the feat even more impressive.