Commentary

The Age of Matthew Stafford

In his third year, Stafford makes just his 16th start this week; but he's ahead of pace

Originally Published: September 22, 2011
By Chris Sprow | ESPN Insider
Matthew StaffordKim Klement/US PresswireMatthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions are off to an impressive start in 2011.

After Matthew Stafford's junior year in high school, he made the decision to give up baseball and concentrate on football as his one varsity sport. This came after a year when, in the fall football season, his interception totals leapt and his touchdown passes declined. His senior football season was a success, resulting in an undefeated season and a state title at what is perhaps high school football's highest level -- the top class in Texas. Stafford graduated early, and enrolled early at Georgia.

When he arrived in Athens, he was still just 17.

This is a telling theme of Stafford's career to this point. In baseball scouting terms, Stafford has consistently played up a level. Even if he wasn't dominating, he's been playing at a level his age would imply is well ahead of the normal curve. Consider the track record:

• He was dominating in varsity football at just 15, at a level where the high school coach makes six figures.
• He made his first college start at 18, and had thrown for more than 7,700 yards at Georgia before declaring for the NFL draft at age 20.
• He was drafted at 21, and started his first NFL game not five months later, among the youngest NFL starters ever.

This week, he'll finally make his 16th NFL start, the equivalent of one full season as a starter in the league. Of course for Stafford, it's been a long time coming. Each of his first two seasons has been defined by growth, but also disappointment; both were cut short by injuries. But what's lost is that even amidst the growing pains, because Stafford has so consistently played at a level typically reserved for older players, he's still the age of a typical rookie.

In Week 1, two rookie quarterbacks started NFL games: Andy Dalton, who is only half a year younger than Stafford, and Cam Newton, who is just 14 months younger and who also left college with eligibility remaining.

The more amazing fact is that to this point, Stafford has still put together one of the best starts for a quarterback in the history of the NFL. Consider the context: