With fantasy football drafts in full swing (I have two today), it's not the worst time to make projections for the upcoming NFL season. Who will be this year's studs? Duds? Who will be the sleepers? The fantasy players who are well-informed and have awesome foresight usually have a pretty good idea what those answers will be and, in turn, do well in their leagues. As the reigning champ in my keeper league, I'd like to think I have these special powers.
One of the biggest pitfalls in fantasy football is being blinded by bias. Often times you'll see somebody pick their favorite player or a hometown team's guy, rather than picking the best player available. I'm definitely guilty of this in the past, but I am getting better at resisting the temptations.
I bring up that trap because I want to stress that I don't think I'm falling into it when I boldly proclaim that Matthew Stafford will be a stud this (fantasy) season. I'm talking top 10 stud.
Now, before you stop reading, scoff at me for wasting half a minute of your time and X out, I ask that you reconsider and remember I'm one of the millions of 2009 fantasy champs. Hear me out on this one.
As of August 27, Stafford is ranked No. 18 for quarterbacks on the 2010 ESPN Fantasy Football positional cheat sheet. Last season, Stafford finished 26th in fantasy points among all quarterbacks (using ESPN's default scoring system). Most Lions fans would be happy with this kind of improvement. I think most expect this kind of improvement just by having a healthier, more experienced Stafford.
But if you've watched the first three preseason games, you haven't seen a bottom half quarterback. In fact, you've seen an elite quarterback, exactly what the Lions hoped they were getting when they selected the former Georgia quarterback No. 1 overall last year.
Thus far this preseason, Stafford's in the top three in completion percentage (74%!) and amongst the top six in quarterback rating (106.4). Although it is the preseason, he looks like a completely different quarterback from the one that threw 13 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 10 games a year ago.
A big reason for the noticeable improvements are the additions the Lions made in the offseason. The Lions improved their offensive line, drafted Jahvid Best, a potentially game-changing running back, signed a one-time 1,000-yard receiver Nate Burelson and traded for Tony Scheffler, another quality receiving tight end to complement Brandon Pettigrew. Depending on the offensive set, Stafford will have five viable weapons to choose from. As he's shown this preseason, that will make things much easier for him, allowing him to fully take advantage of his powerful arm and above-average football instincts.
Further, the Lions expectedly bad defense will probably force the Lions to throw quite a bit, especially late in games. It's a fantasy player's dream to see his quarterback rack up chunks of otherwise meaningless yards and touchdowns in the final quarter. The Lions schedule features several games in which Stafford could put up silly, video game numbers as a result.
The six quarterbacks who are hard to argue against as tops in the NFL are Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Matt Schaub, and Philip Rivers. After that, there are several names that could compete to round out the top 10 and Stafford has to be included. Of those names (Matt Ryan, Jay Cutler, Brett Favre, Eli Manning, Tony Romo and Kevin Kolb), Stafford has arguably the best wide receiver (if not the best in all of the NFL), Calvin Johnson. That factor alone should significantly raise his stock.
If you're thinking, "gee, Brian, this sounds awfully nice, but I think you're drunk," then let me defer you to at least one of your trusty 'experts.' ESPN's Erik Kuselias recently predicted that Stafford would have 3,700+ yards and a monstrous season for the Leos. He obviously didn't contribute to the ESPN cheat sheet, but 3,700+ yards would have put Stafford in the top 12 last season in passing and two of those names won't be in there again this season (Warner because he retired and Roethlisberger because he got gropey with a girl in a bar bathroom).
So, when Stafford is available in the middle rounds of your upcoming fantasy drafts, don't be afraid to nab him with a sly look on your face that'll make your fellow, misinformed, league members extremely uneasy. Stafford will be a fantastic fantasy option and it's not the hometown kool-aid talking here. Oh, no it's not.