Back in 2009, University of Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford was the first overall pick in the NFL Draft. Selected by the Detroit Lions, Stafford has been one of the most polarizing figures in the NFL since stepping into the league. Stafford has always been widely recognized as one of the better quarterbacks in the league. However where the conversation gets fun is trying to evaluate just how great the 13-year signal caller is now that he’s won a Super Bowl title with the Los Angeles Rams.
When the Rams traded for Matthew Stafford in January 2021, the narrative was that he could not win meaningful games. The Rams had just given up first round picks and Jared Goff for a quarterback who had never won a playoff game. Since some see wins are a quarterback statistic, surely his 71-90-1 record in Detroit was all his fault, right?
However, using wins as a quarterback stat is extremely misleading. Wins leave out the other 21 players on the field and the context that goes with it. For example, despite having a quarterback rating of over 100 seven times in 2020, the Lions were just 4-3 in those games. The Rams were 9-0 in such games this season.
Stafford was brought in as an upgrade to a quarterback who had already taken this team to a Super Bowl. The expectations were quite clear. The Los Angeles Rams traded for Matthew Stafford to win a Lombardi Trophy.
The goalposts moved all year on Stafford. From he can’t win, to he can’t win big games, to he can’t win a playoff game, to he can’t win it all. Now as a champion of Super Bowl LVI, the argument now is a different one. When it’s all said and done, should Matthew Stafford be a Hall of Famer?
It is worth noting that Stafford is still only 34 years old, but he has built a pretty impressive resume. When looking at Hall of Famers, they all have two things in common. The supporting numbers and statistics, and a legacy defining moment. Let’s take a look at both, shall we?
The Numbers Support Matthew Stafford’s HOF Bid
Matthew Stafford has played in an era with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and even Patrick Mahomes. Still he has held his own, putting up some crazy numbers that even surpass some of his competition.
Earlier this season, Matthew Stafford became the youngest quarterback in NFL History to surpass 50,000 passing yards. Due to how the NFL calculates passing stats, he currently sits 12th in NFL History with 49,995 passing yards. Next season, he will easily pass HOF QB John Elway, who sits at 51,475 yards.
To add to that, Stafford has been the quickest quarterback to 25,000, 30,000, 40,000, and next year he’ll be the quickest to 50,000 career passing yards.
Let’s put this into perspective.
Let’s say Stafford plays five more years, throwing for exactly 4,000 yards in each of them. That will put him at 69,995 career yards, clearing Big Ben for fifth place all time. The other four? Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees. All of which are very clearly Hall of Famers. Considering Stafford’s career averages and his 4,886 yards in 2021, 4,000 yards a season is a safe assumption. All of those quarterbacks also have Super Bowl rings.
Stafford also sits 12th all time in career passing touchdowns, with 323. Ahead of names like Elway, Warren Moon, and Joe Montana. All Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Again, let’s set a below average benchmark for him, saying he plays five more years and throws 20 touchdowns each season. That totals 100 touchdowns which would give him 423 for his career.
He would then pass Fran Tarkenton, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Dan Marino, sitting fifth all time in that category. Noticing a trend? Matthew Stafford is on pace to finish top five in history in every major passing statistic. How could you reasonably keep him out of Canton.
Now, there’s even more backlash when Stafford’s all time numbers are brought up. The argument is that his numbers were inflated because of always playing from behind in Detroit, and any capable quarterback could do that.
Here’s another stat that says otherwise. We all know how hard it is to win from behind in this league, but imagine how hard it is to do in Detroit? Matthew Stafford has tallied 35 fourth quarter comebacks in his career. This currently ranks fifth all time. This is ahead of Hall of Famers Dan Marino and Brett Favre. Stafford leads the king of the comeback John Elway and could very well end his career number one in this category, passing Peyton Manning’s 43.
It’s also worth nothing the effect that Stafford has had when it comes to players that he’s played with.
The top four receiving seasons in NFL History include Cooper Kupp in 2021, Larry Fitzgerald in 2008, Jerry Rice in 1995, and Calvin Johnson in 2012. Matthew Stafford has been the quarterback for two of those seasons. Calvin Johnson was a physical mismatch. However, while good, Kupp likely wouldn’t have reached the heights that he did without Stafford behind center.
The other two QBs of these great receiving seasons were Kurt Warner and Steve Young. Both of those quarterbacks are in the Hall of Fame.
Matthew Stafford Had His Legacy Defining Moment
When looking at the Hall of Fame, players have to have the moments to go with the numbers. After losing to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 18, the Los Angeles Rams backed into the NFL playoffs as the NFC’s fourth seed. Matthew Stafford responded with some of the best play in his career despite many doubting him.
During this postseason, Stafford threw for 1,118 yards this postseason, which ranks second all time to Eli Manning in 2011. He also registered 11 total touchdowns, three interceptions, and a remarkable 70 percent completion percentage.
The numbers were great, but what set this postseason performance aside was that Stafford accomplished a feat that had never been done before. He became the first quarterback in NFL History to deliver three straight game winning drives en route to a Super Bowl Championship.
In the Super Bowl, the Rams got the ball back with six minutes left, trailing 20-16. With how the game was going, Stafford and the Rams offense knew this was their last chance to go win the game. Near midfield facing a 2nd and 7, Stafford made the biggest throw of his career to keep the drive going.
With Cooper Kupp running a dig route across the middle, Matthew Stafford stared down Brycen Hopkins, causing Cincinnati safety Vonn Bell to step down and defend him. In a split second, Stafford whipped a no look pass to Cooper Kupp, getting the first down and keeping their Super Bowl hopes alive.
This might be one of the best throws ever. To pull a no-look with the game on the line takes some stones. pic.twitter.com/hafB3qXtih— Blaine Grisak (@bgrisakDTR) February 14, 2022
Later on in the drive, Stafford delivered what would be the game winning touchdown to Cooper Kupp, propelling his team to a 23-20 victory in Super Bowl LVI.
You think about all of the great Super Bowl moments. The helmet catch delivered by Eli Manning and the Santonio Holmes catch delivered by Ben Roethlisberger. This was Stafford’s Super Bowl moment. This was Stafford’s career defining moment, coming through for his squad when hope was slim and the odds were stacked against him.
That is who Matthew Stafford is. He wants the ball in his hands at the last minute, with a chance to steal the life from the other team. Stafford performs best when he has no choice. He’s a competitor, who battles through even the toughest injuries to be there for his team. He’s also a fighter, who is going to give his all until the clock hits zero.
In the midst of recognizing that there will never be another Brady, Brees, Rodgers or Manning, something else has been lost. There will also never be another Matthew Stafford. That’s why when he decides to hang it up for good, he will do so among football immortality.
What Does History Say?
Earlier this week, Richard Sherman chimed in on the Matthew Stafford Hall of Fame debate.
I’m gonna talk about it on the podcast but the HOF bar is incredibly low now. Like a participation trophy. No all decade team. No All pro. No MVP. 1 Pro bowl. Not even MVP of the SB. Never considered the best in any year he played. At least M. Ryan has an MVP https://t.co/TDQn8sJZfO— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) February 14, 2022
However, for quarterbacks, it’s always been one of the more difficult positions to get in. Roman Gabriel is one of the all-time great quarterbacks and has not made the Hall of Fame. There are 26 quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame. That’s approximately five per decade. That’s a select group and not a participation trophy.
In the 50s Otto Graham, Bobby Layne, Y.A. Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin, and Bob Waterfield represented the field. The 60s have George Blanda, Len Dawson, Sony Jurgenson, Bart Starr, Fran Tarkenton, and Johnny Unitas. Terry Bradshaw, Bob Griese, Joe Namath, Ken Stabler, and Roger Staubach represent the 70s.
Without going through every decade, you get the point. Guys from the 2000s are starting to get in with Kurt Warner, Brett Favre, and Peyton Manning entering the Hall of Fame.
Since 2010, Stafford ranks fifth in yards and sixth in touchdown passes. He now has a Super Bowl ring to go with it along with Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. When Phillip Rivers retired last season, there was a debate on whether or not he was a Hall of Famer. From a poll of ESPN writers, the answer was a resounding yes.
Dan Graziano said, “Yes, of course he should. He’s top five in yards and touchdowns and started 240 games in a row.” The only thing Rivers has over Stafford is eight Pro Bowls. However, Stafford didn’t make the Pro Bowl this year after ranking second in the league in touchdowns and third in yards. He hasn’t made the Pro Bowl in any of his top-5 seasons. Are we using a popularity contest to decide the Hall of Fame?
Stafford may not be a Hall of Famer right now, but there will be a spot in Canton for Matthew Stafford when he does decide to hang up the cleats.