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Fantasy Football: Why isn’t Matthew Stafford your quarterback?

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Among fantasy football circles, the Detroit passing game has gotten a lot of publicity this draft season, with the wide receivers, a PPR monster running back and a tight end all getting press and buzz. But what about Matthew Stafford? He has been mostly relegated to an afterthought in a passing offense that everyone wants to get a part of.

Matthew Stafford has a reputation as a gunslinger, who owes most of his career production to having one of the best receivers of all time at the receiving end of his passes. This isn’t entirely incorrect, but times are changing in Detroit, and Stafford will reap the benefits. Last year Jim Bob Cooter took over as OC, and he greatly increased Stafford’s efficiency. He dropped Stafford’s average depth of target by about a half yard, meaning he was going underneath with shorter routes more often and to greater success. Even before the switch to Jim Bob Cooter, he was already dropping off more underneath balls, as his 7.1 before Cooter took over was his lowest by over a yard since he missed most of 2010 (8.7 average depth of target since 2011).

After Jim Bob Cooter had taken over the Lions offense, Matthew Stafford became a completely different player. The shorter, more efficient throws led to an increase in overall productivity for Stafford, as he did not pass the ball with increased frequency, but was able to move the offense at a much more efficient clip. In the games before Cooter took over, Stafford had 260 yards per game and 1.62 touchdowns a game (with 1.38 interceptions/game) with Cooter as his OC, Stafford saw a slight bump in yards but his TD: dumpoffsINT ratio went through the roof (2.38:.25). Utilizing Stafford in a more efficient manner, with more screens,

Utilizing Stafford in a more efficient manner, with more sdump offs, slants and curls, eliminated his need to air it out to Megatron. It made the perfect transition to post-Calvin Johnson life for Matthew Stafford. With his torrid second-half production, Stafford was on a 4300 yard, 38 TD, 4 INT pace. While those numbers can’t be counted on over a full season (especially the four interceptions), you can see that with Cooter as OC the Lions turned Stafford into a rich man’s Alex Smith. He’s a player who isn’t going to be airing it out a lot, but will pass a ton regardless.

You don’t get more fantasy points if Stafford got his yards on bombs or 7-yard pitch-and-catch tosses; you get them on yardage. Cooter turned him into an efficient passing machine which increased his fantasy production considerably. In his first eight games, Stafford averaged a waiver-wire level of output (14.6 fantasy points per game). Under Cooter, he was a set-and-forget starter (21.55 FPPG).

In 2016, the Lions game plan will continue to be throw, throw, throw. This has been their plan ever since the Lions got Stafford, as all five of his seasons from 2011 through 2015 rank in the top 30 for most pass attempts over that span (#1, #3, #12, #26 and #30). The 592 last season was his “worst” and was still seventh in the league.

Last season, however, was also his highest completion percentage of his career by far, which means that he was throwing just as much as before, but he was doing it much more efficiently. The emergence of secondary options like Theo Riddick underlines this point. Looking forward to 2016, there isn’t much to suggest that any of that will change, given that they don’t have a great bruising back option there, so the name of the game is throwing the ball.

The Lions also tipped their hand this offseason, nabbing two sure-handed receivers to replace Calvin Johnson in Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin. Jones, Boldin and incumbent Golden Tate have all gotten varying levels of fantasy football buzz this offseason. Third year Tight End Eric Ebron also got a certain amount of publicity. People want to get a part of the Detroit passing game, just not the man slinging the ball.

Stafford is currently the #18 quarterback off the board in fantasy football drafts by FantasyPros ADP (135 overall). Stafford is essentially free at this point, and he is going behind players with bigger question marks like Kirk Cousins (#14 QB) and Andy Dalton (#15 QB).

A chance in offensive coordinator completely revamped Matthew Stafford into a quality starting fantasy quarterback from an inefficient gunslinger. The offseason moves made by the Lions show that their game plan in 2016 is to continue the same plan as the second half of 2015, which is to create a ton of easy throws for Stafford to make. His productivity should carry over as he now has even more receiving options in 2016, and he’s going as a mid-late QB2, and should be your QB1 as an extreme value pick in your drafts.

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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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