2016 NFL Value Plays: Matthew Stafford

To be sure, the Detroit Lions offense will look different this year... but that's not all bad news for Matthew Stafford (Photo: Mark Cunningham / Getty Images).

To be sure, the Detroit Lions offense will look different this year… but that’s not all bad news for Matthew Stafford (Photo: Mark Cunningham / Getty Images).

Heading into 2016 Matthew Stafford stands alone as the face of the Detroit Lions offense. After spending his entire career in a battery with Calvin Johnson, the star receiver’s retirement has many asking questions about the Leo’s offensive prospects… and has many overlooking a potential bargain on draft day in Matthew Stafford.

I rank Stafford three spots ahead of his current Fantasy Pros ADP and as draft day approaches, I may be compelled to go higher and my reasons are fairly simple: bad press and bad vibes (no more Megatron) often present the best buying opportunity on draft day; Stafford had an up and down season last year and still finished as the 9th best scorer at his position (bonus discussion, Jim Bob Cooter) and Johnson’s departure may actually turn out to be a good thing for the team’s offensive prospects.

On the whole, Stafford had a great season in 2015 by his own standards. His 67.2% completion percentage was the best of his career by a wide margin, while his 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions were the 2nd best marks of his career. Those marks are overlooked by the impression of an uneven offense, and the team’s 7-9 record after finishing as a 2014 playoff team… but we’re just paying for raw numbers in fantasy.

And yet, he’s being overlooked. Last year’s QB9 is being drafted by ADP as this year’s QB17. Largely that’s given concern over Calvin Johnson‘s departure… after all, he’s taking 88 receptions and 1214 yards (with 9 scores) with him into the sunset… but, the 2015 version of Johnson wasn’t as big of an asset as his name suggests. Johnson played in 16 games a year ago, but was an infrequent practice participant and a regular game time decision. For a player of his talent, there was no question he was going to be in the lineup if ready to go… but in terms of a QB’s practice reps and preparedness, that type of indecision could not have helped – particularly as the team struggled to find its offensive identity in the early going. When on the field, Johnson demands attention of opposing defenses (and admittedly, there isn’t anyone who will draw certain double coverage this year).

Moreover, he demands attention from his QB. Stafford threw 149 balls in Johnson’s direction last year, making him the 9th most targeted receiver in the league, however, he completed just 62% of the passes he threw in his direction. A solid total for a tandem that averaged 13.8 yards per completion, but it’s far shy of his connection rate with Golden Tate (70.3%) and the rest of his Lions’ teammates. Be it for reasons of his own decline/injury, extra defensive attention or any combination of factors there is some reason to believe that those 150 targets distributed among the rest of the team may wind up as more efficient.

After all, talent remains. While the combination of Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin (with T.J. Jones expected as a 4th option and the team hopeful that Eric Ebron can come into his own this year) operating as the team’s top-three threats at receiver there is a player available for every route and each can create opportunities in the right matchups.

If you’re not buying that argument, I’ll understand. After all, it’s hard to argue for growth when a QB loses an all time great at receiver… All I’m trying to say is that it won’t be as much worse as current ADP suggests, and that 1,200 yards and nine scores isn’t all that hard to replace on 150 pass attempts. Here’s an argument you can’t ignore: Stafford and his Detroit teammates were an excellent offense after the switch to Jim Bob Cooter at Offensive Coordinator. Stafford threw 20 TDs against just four picks from Week 8 onwards, completing 69% of his passes during that span. On a per game basis, he was fantasy’s 6th best QB during that span, averaging 20.2 FPPG. Johnson (71 YPG and six scores) certainly contributed during that nine game stretch, but he wasn’t the whole story.

For his part, Stafford is looking forward to working with Cooter again this season, per the Detroit news:

“We just see (football) the same way, talk about it the same way and that’s not to say we like the same stuff all the time,” Stafford said of Cooter. “He likes some stuff that I’m not comfortable with, and I’m comfortable with some stuff that he doesn’t like, and that’s the way it goes. You pick your battles and go from there.”

For Stafford, being comfortable in the offense could help offset the loss of wide receiver Calvin Johnson in 2016.

Stafford lauded Cooter and the other offensive coaches for how they implemented the new offense last year, avoiding a massive overhaul in one week. The quarterback also said his teammates did well to learn the new plays, which was clear as the team went 6-2 in the second half of the season after a 1-7 start.

While it was a focus in 2015, efficiency won’t necessarily be the name of the game in Cooter’s 2016 offense. In fact, it seems that the team is willing to expand its offensive approach as he enters his first full season at the helm. With Stafford, that isn’t necessarily a good thing as the completion percentage and interceptions could take an about-face turn in a hurry. That said, the willingness to take shots shouldn’t hurt his fantasy profile.

In any event, Stafford’s improved play under Cooter’s tutelage was no coincidence in 2015 and at his current 12th/13th round ADP it won’t cost you very much to take a chance.

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