ALLEN PARK -- The city of Detroit has been burned in the past by quarterbacks.
Over the years the team has brought in heralded free agents (such as Scott Mitchell) or high end prospects (such as Joey Harrington). Still, no matter the signal caller, none materialized into the elite passer the origination so desperately needed.
When the Lions acquired Matthew Stafford with the first overall selection in the 2009 draft, the selection was met with cynicism from many in a fan base that had developed a callus to optimism.
Stafford flashed potential and – on the strength of his rocket arm and charismatic demeanor – he won over the city of Detroit.
Stafford overcame early career injuries and – at the agent of 23 – joined the elite club of Dan Marino and Drew Bees last year as the only players to pass for over 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns in the same season.
From a young age, Stafford seemed special. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kipper even predicted the quarterback to be an eventual number one selection before he started a college game.
Stafford may have caught the league off guard with his outstanding performance in 2011 but anyone that has spent time with 24-year-old signal caller is not surprised by his achievements.
“Just watching him and knowing him since we were 16 or 17 years old, I’ve been able to see the progression,” said former Georgia receiver and current Lions wide out Kris Durham. “Honestly I did not realize how good or special of a quarterback he is until he left Georgia. We have had some good quarterbacks come after him, but I realized how special he was. Because I came in with him, it’s what I expected all college quarterbacks to be like. Then I realized this was a special kid.”
Durham was a member of the same signing class as Stafford and both became Georgia Bulldogs in 2006. The two developed chemistry together on and off the field and – even prior to Durham signing to the Lions practice squad – still frequently worked out together.
Durham has had an intimate perspective of Stafford’s maturation from post-high school wonder kid to collegiate superstar as well as his growth at the games top level.
“It’s night and day,” said Durham. “He was knowledgeable in college, just his timing, his accuracy, his leadership, everything is completely different – for the better. It’s crazy how quick he’s developed.”
Stafford seems to instantly impress anyone that is newly introduced to his talents.
The Lions recently acquired veteran receiver and special team ace Kassim Osgood. After a decade of experience in the NFL, Osgood has been exposed to a lot of talent at the quarterback position, most recently San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Osgood’s exposure to some of the league’s best didn’t taint his perspective of Stafford.
“That dude is awesome,” said Osgood. “His ball placement, his knowledge of the game. He’s going to be something famous around here for a long time. As I’m lining up, he’s double checking to make sure I know what I’m doing while he’s making his reads and progressions. He’s something to watch.”
There are still some – although the number seems to decrease by the day – that don’t believe Stafford is an elite quarterback. Some who don’t believe he will be able to repeat last year’s success.
This year will go a long way in Stafford proving his critics wrong and his teammates right.
The city of Detroit finally has its superstar signal caller.