It’s the time of the offseason where several sites are ranking players in different positions. The one positions group that always catches everyone’s attention is the quarterback rankings. A common theme this season is Joe Burrow ranking ahead of Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford in a majority of these rankings.
Chris Simms ranked Joe Burrow at four and Matthew Stafford at six heading into the 2022 season. In ESPN’s quarterback rankings that’s put together via a poll from players, coaches, and executives, Burrow came in fifth while Stafford was right behind him again at sixth.
Of Stafford, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler said, “The one real issue with Stafford is he sometimes trusts his arm too much, resulting in careless turnovers. He tied Trevor Lawrence for the league lead with 17 interceptions, and his two interceptions in the Super Bowl were sloppy.”
Other rankings will certainly release between now and the beginning of the season. However, these are two of the notable lists that everyone waits for every offseason.
After a rookie season that left Burrow with a torn ACL, he skyrocketed in 2021. There’s no doubt that the major reason for the Bengals having as successful of a season as they did was because of Joe Burrow. However, Burrow isn’t without his faults. There’s a reason that the Bengals were 5-4 after nine weeks. Burrow’s EPA/play through nine weeks ranked 22nd in the NFL.
Breaking down ESPN’s evaluation of Stafford for the Los Angeles Rams, there’s no question that the interceptions were an issue. Some of them were sloppy. Stafford’s 25 turnover worthy plays last season ranked fifth.
With that said, the two in the Super Bowl were not that. The first interception was an arm punt that came on 3rd-and-long at midfield. You could argue that Van Jefferson could have made a better play on the football. The second interception went off of Ben Skowronek’s hands. Stafford had some sloppy moments specifically in the Minnesota Vikings game and against the Baltimore Ravens. The interceptions in the Super Bowl don’t fall into that category though.
Let’s dive into this though. I don’t want to take anything away from Burrow because he had a great season. A sixth overall ranking from Stafford is also hard to complain about. It’s a fair ranking. However, there is a very solid argument to be made that Stafford should be ranked ahead of Burrow.
For starters, during the regular season last year, Stafford’s 0.227 adjusted EPA/play ranked fifth in the NFL. This was higher than Burrow’s 0.218 which ranked seventh. Both are similar, but Stafford’s was marginally better.
Football Outsiders has a measurement called DYAR which gives the value of the quarterback’s performance compared to replacement level, adjusted for situation and opponent and then translated into yardage. It’s a great way to measure quarterbacks and how much they impacted games. In this measurement, Stafford ranked sixth in the NFL last season with a DYAR of 1100. Meanwhile, Burrow didn’t crack the top-10 and ranked 13th with a DYAR of 609.
Taking DVOA which represents value, per play, over an average quarterback in the same game situations, Stafford also performed better. Stafford’s DVOA of 14.6% ranked ninth in the NFL compared to Burrow’s 5.1% which ranked 14th. Analytically speaking, Stafford simply was better.
For those that don’t like analytics and prefer raw numbers, last season Stafford threw for more yards than Burrow with 4,886 and also threw seven more touchdown passes for the Los Angeles Rams. Despite throwing more interceptions, Stafford and Burrow’s interception percentage is actually basically the same. Stafford had an interception percentage of 2.8% compared to Burrow’s 2.7%.
The Los Angeles Rams quarterback also led the Bengals passer in QBR. Stafford’s 63.8 QBR ranked fourth in the NFL while Burrow’s 54.3 QBR ranked outside the top-10.
This doesn’t even mention that Stafford outperformed Burrow in the Super Bowl. While QB wins are meaningless as a stat, performing in that moment is notable.
Again, this isn’t to take away from Burrow. The Bengals quarterback outperformed Stafford in completion percentage and completion percentage above expectation, yards per attempt, and raw passer rating. Not much separates these two quarterbacks. Putting Burrow above Stafford isn’t necessarily wrong.
However, a solid argument can be made for Stafford at five. The two are pretty interchangeable. Still, when you look at the level of throws that Stafford was making – he led the league with 47 big time throws – Stafford should get the advantage. He should also get credit for the three game-winning drives and fourth comebacks in the postseason, the third coming in the Super Bowl without his top two wide receivers.
Both quarterbacks are only going to continue to get better. As Stafford said, “At this point in the year last season, I think to myself what I knew about this team and this offense, and it’s just so small in comparison to what I know and understand now,” Stafford said, via the team’s website’s Stu Jackson. “So that gives me great comfort in the fact that we can go above and beyond what we did last year.”
Again, this isn’t a slight on Burrow. He was very good last season and could be placed in the top-5. However, the argument here is that the fifth spot SHOULD go to Matthew Stafford. In some of the most important quarterback stats, the Los Angeles Rams passer was simply better.