Matthew Stafford is no stranger to skepticism or criticism.
Heading into the 2009 NFL draft, his accuracy came under fire and some well-publicized analysts placed quarterback Mark Sanchez ahead of him in their rankings.
After suffering through injuries and throwing 20 interceptions in 10 games during his rookie season, many maintained their reservations about the Georgia product.
The numbers of skeptics seemed to multiply with every missed game after two significant injuries in 2010 limited Stafford to only three starts.
2011 was a year of revelation for many of the doubters. Stafford proved he was capable of withstanding the beating of a 16-game season while leading his team to a playoff berth and putting up gaudy statistics in the process.
Heading into 2012, Stafford is widely considered a top 10 quarterback, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment for someone only 24 years of age.
Still, not everyone has bought into the hype.
Former NFL running back and NFL Network analyst Marshall Faulk left Stafford off of his most recent top 10 list (which he revealed last week) citing a lack of “timing routes” as one of the factors for Stafford’s absence from the list.
One of Stafford’s top targets, wide receiver Nate Burleson, doesn’t agree.
“I don’t really get that, there’s a big part of our offense that is based strictly off of timing,” he said. “You might chalk it up to the freakishly strong arm Matt has or chalk it up to Calvin being a talent but timing is a big part of our offense, plain and simple. I’m pretty sure he’s (Faulk) familiar with our playbook, I’m not going to sit here and tell him what routes we run but the majority of Calvin’s throws, my throws, are strictly timing.”
The tape doesn’t lie, and there is no doubt that Stafford regularly makes timing throws, often releasing the ball before the receiver has made their break.
This situation is eerily similar to last year’s now-famous snub of Calvin Johnson by Chris Carter. Johnson responded with 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Stafford is already coming off a season where he posted video-game numbers (5,038 yards and 41 touchdown tosses) and even if he statistically fall shorts of last season’s accomplishment, his status amongst the league’s elite quarterbacks shouldn’t be threatened.
With that said, Stafford has not yet hit his prime and should continue to improve. His development is already evident this offseason, even in areas he already excels.
“Matthew is whipping that ball around, you can hear it in the air,” said Burleson. “A couple weeks ago, somebody said that it looks like he’s stronger. For Matt to throw the way he did last season and now somebody to notice he’s gotten stronger, that’s trouble for defenses.”
Trouble for defenses and doubters alike.