Scott McMahon

Is Matthew Stafford On Pace For Canton?

Created on Aug. 03, 2014 5:00 AM EST

With Hall of Fame inductions and the annual Hall of Fame Game set to kick off the NFL preseason, fans of all 32 teams frequently take the time to evaluate their favorite team’s roster and try to decide who -- if anyone -- is worthy of enshrinement in Canton. With the Detroit Lions, the obvious choice is WR Calvin Johnson. A more debatable option lies with the man throwing Megatron the football -- QB Matthew Stafford.

Stafford has been in the league for five seasons thus far, having played through most of four of them. He has made a name for himself throughout the NFL for his propensity to throw the ball (and throw it often), much like several Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks and future Hall of Famers (Brett Favre, Peyton Manning, etc.). So with the Hall of Fame class of 2014 induction ceremonies this weekend, the question can be asked: is Matthew Stafford Hall of Fame worthy?

To evaluate this loaded question, I thought that the best methodology would be by comparing Stafford’s first five years to the first five years of all 23 Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks from the modern era, looking at concrete statistics such as yards, touchdowns, touchdowns per interception and completion percentage. Ideally, each quarterback would have started all 14-16 games for his team, but that was not the case for many of them, including Stafford himself, who only suited up for three games during the 2010 season. As a result, I chose to count the first four seasons that each QB started at least half or played in at least 75 percent of his team’s games, in order to account for Stafford’s injury-filled 2010 campaign.

No Hall of Fame discussion would be complete without also factoring in winning statistics, so I also included overall winning percentage, playoff appearances, wins and championships in the comparison as well. Obviously, some members of the Hall hit their primes later than their first five seasons, but that was by no means a negative -- in 20 years, we could be saying the same thing about Stafford.

The Statistics

After four seasons at my pre-established criteria, Stafford’s numbers are rather impressive by themselves, and even more so when compared to the Hall of Famers he is up against.

Yards Passing Touchdowns Touchdowns per Interception Completion Percentage
Matthew Stafford 16,922 103 1.43 56.28%

Considering on-field statistics by themselves, Stafford looks like a lock to join the elites in Canton, assuming he would keep up his pace. No one in the Hall of Fame -- not even Dan Marino -- threw for more yards through four seasons at the helm than Stafford, and only Len Dawson (106) and Marino (142) threw for more scores than Stafford’s 103. Only six quarterbacks can top Stafford’s touchdowns per interception rate, and Stafford (56.28 percent) ranks ahead of the likes of Terry Bradshaw (47.40 percent), John Elway (53.35 percent) and Johnny Unitas (54.25 percent) in completion percentage.

Yards Passing
Matthew Stafford 16,922
Dan Marino 16,177
Jim Kelly 12,901
Joe Namath 12,753
Warren Moon 12,342
Dan Marino 142
Len Dawson 106
Matthew Stafford 103
George Blanda 89
Sonny Jurgensen 89

However, there is so much more to football than yards and touchdowns -- the elite know how to win. Winning is a substantial part of the argument about being Hall of Fame worthy or not, and sadly, that’s where Stafford’s case begins to fall apart.

Stafford’s placement on the Lions did not help his overall winning percentage, as it sat at .397, excluding his short-lived 2010 season. That .397 mark places his ahead of just four other quarterbacks and is far below the average mark of .558. Warren Moon (38) has the distinction of being the only quarterback to have lost more games after four seasons as his team’s starter than Stafford’s 35.

Winning Percentage
Matthew Stafford .397
Y. A. Tittle .378
Bart Starr .371
Fran Tarkenton .343
Warren Moon .333

Most important, though, are the playoffs. Stafford’s one playoff appearance put him par for the course, as only 12 Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks had made the playoffs in more than one of their first four seasons as the starter. However, the Lions signal caller joins just five others who had not claimed a playoff victory in that timespan. The average Hall-of-Fame quarterback had notched nearly two postseason wins by the time they reached Stafford’s experience level.

Hall of Fame QBs Without a Playoff Win Through Four Seasons
Dan Fouts
Bob Griese
Sonny Jurgensen
Matthew Stafford
Fran Tarkenton
Y. A. Tittle

Of the 23 modern era quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame today, 13 had already won either a Super Bowl or a league championship (including Otto Graham with four in his first four years). Stafford is certainly not alone with his ring-less fingers, and while never winning it all would be a significant blow against his Hall of Fame case, Stafford would at least join seven others who have never won a title.

Let’s go back to the original question: given his pace, is Stafford en route to enshrinement in Canton?

Taking just statistics into account in comparison to those already inducted, absolutely. That said, the NFL is an extremely different game in 2014 than it was in the days of Joe Namath and Bart Starr, and today’s quarterbacks have both the physical ability and the creative playbooks to consistently throw for over 4,000 yards per season. Much less reliance is also put on running backs in today's game as compared to 50 years ago, which further contributes to inflated numbers for Stafford in comparison to his predecessors.

Stafford’s case also depends heavily on whether he can lead Detroit to the playoffs on a regular basis, and possibly win a Super Bowl. Given the caliber of quarterbacks in the league since 2000 -- Favre, Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, etc. -- it would be hard to justify giving a Hall of Fame plaque to a guy who led his team to just a couple of playoff appearances and no Super Bowl titles. Taking the Lions to the playoffs just three seasons after the team went winless is an incredible accomplishment though, and would definitely be taken into consideration.

The bottom line here is that with the immense talent level of today’s quarterbacks, simply putting up strong numbers may not be enough to warrant a spot in Canton. Championship rings and playoff appearances are the most highly-coveted rewards in the NFL, so reaching the Hall of Fame would require Stafford to rank among the all-time greats in several key statistics -- a goal that is certainly achievable given his current pace, but one that would be difficult to reach. If Stafford put up 10 more years of these kinds of numbers and brought a championship to Detroit, there is no doubt that he would be a Hall of Famer. Otherwise, he would need several more playoff appearances, an MVP trophy or two, a few playoff wins and a significantly better record against winning teams if he would want to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Obviously, it’s impossible to tell if Stafford will end up being enshrined in Canton, but there’s no question that he has a good statistical start. The Lions front office is clearly dedicated to improving their quarterback’s win-loss record, so the hope is that Stafford will also have the wins and playoff appearances to complement the stellar numbers he has put up thus far.

Whether or not Stafford’s resume ends up being Canton-worthy will be decided years down the road, but Lions fans can appreciate the fact that their team finally has a quarterback worthy of Hall of Fame conversation.

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