Stafford has his championship and 49,995 passing yards, just shy of the other eight quarterbacks in NFL history with 50,000 passing yards and at least one Super Bowl win: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and John Elway. Peyton Manning, Favre and Elway are already enshrined in Canton while Brady, Brees and Rodgers are locks. The consensus is Roethlisberger and Eli Manning will get in, too, giving Stafford a solid litmus test against which to judge his bona fides. But let’s pull back some layers and see why Stafford’s career to date doesn’t yet add up to the Hall of Fame career.
According to Pro Football Reference’s hall of fame monitor, which uses weighted approximate value as a starting point with bonuses added for end-of-season awards and adjustments for position, Stafford scores a 58.4, leaving him 41st among qualified quarterbacks. An average hall-of-fame quarterback has a monitor score of 104.1. There are some notable exceptions in the Hall of Fame near Stafford’s score (the Bills’ Jim Kelly checks in with a 59.1, while the Cowboys’ Troy Aikman sits at 64.28), but both of them enjoyed much more postseason success. Kelly took the Bills to four consecutive Super Bowls and Aikman won three with the Cowboys. Meanwhile the Rams went to the Super Bowl just two years ago, with Jared Goff under center.
Why such a disparity? For starters, his passing yards total is inflated due to the timing of his career. During Stafford’s tenure as a pro quarterback, the league’s average passer threw for 233 yards per game, just slightly lower than Stafford’s career average of 269 passing yards per game. His career average yards per pass attempt was just four percent above the league average.
For comparison, Dan Marino’s career passing yards per attempt was nine percent higher than the league average and he played during a time when the average passing yards per game was 204 yards per game. See the difference? Stafford’s counting stats are very much a product of the timing of his career, not a special talent to accumulate yards while playing quarterback. In fact, among the elite eight quarterbacks mentioned earlier, only Eli Manning’s career passing yards per attempt was lower than Stafford’s after factoring in league averages.
Plus, Stafford’s teams trailed in the game during 4,053 of his 7,582 regular season drop backs, a situation that fosters more passing attempts than rushing attempts. For Stafford specifically, his teams passed the ball 66 percent of the time while trailing, compared to a 50/50 split when leading. That, too, helps move you up the leader board for career passing yards. And before you bring up Detroit’s woes as a franchise in defense of Stafford, consider his passer rating in losses for the team (79.7 vs 103.2 in wins). While not a perfect measure of quarterback success, it is worth noting he ranked in the bottom half of the league in this regard in five seasons, including a three-year stretch between 2013 to 2015. He might not have been able to pull his team out of the mire but it is clear he was at least partly responsible for the organization’s struggles too, loosening his grip on a spot in the Hall of Fame.
The newly-minted Super Bowl champion also won’t fare well with the Keltner list, a list of 15 subjective questions created by noted baseball sabrematician Bill James to help clarify a player’s standing in the league at-large. For example, here are some of the questions:
• Was Stafford ever regarded as the best player in football? No, he was named to one Pro Bowl as an alternate and never won any other major award.
• Was he the best player on his team? Not always. Stafford had hall of fame wide out Calvin Johnson to throw to for seven seasons.
• Was Stafford the best quarterback in football? No. ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating had him in the Top 10 just three times before he joined the Rams with the rest of his season-long campaigns earning him finishes of 13th or worse. The game charters at Pro Football Focus, a group that focuses on performance rather than the actual outcome, ranked Stafford in the Top 10 three times, with just one of those as a Top 5 quarterback (2013). This year he finished as the eighth-best passer under center for the Rams.
• Did he have an impact on a number of playoff games? No, up until this season he played in three postseason games, all losses with each of his playoff performances getting progressively worse. He also had two interceptions in the Super Bowl.
The forensics exercise seeks to uncover if a player was regarded as the best in their sport, the best player on his team or the very best player in football history who is not in the Hall of Fame. If you get more negatives than affirmatives, it is clear the player is not as deserving as you might think. And you can see several notable negatives above.
Quarterbacks, especially those coming off a Super Bowl win, are always going to be at the forefront of these discussions, yet while Stafford does a lot of good things on the football field, most of them fall short of what should be expected of a hall of fame player.