Saving Stafford: Start Him or Sit Him?

Start him? Sit him? Whether or not Matthew Stafford is successful in Detroit might have nothing at all to do with what he does in 2009. As for the debate between him and Daunte Culpepper? Much ado about nothing, writes contributor Mike Mady.

The selection of a highly-touted rookie quarterback usually brings excitement. Visions of touchdown passes, victories and Super Bowls are often associated with the rookie as expectations are always high.

With this year's No. 1 selection, Matthew Stafford, there is no difference. Many see Stafford as the savior for the Detroit Lions, the leader who will finally guide them to glory. Stafford hopes to fulfill those expectations, but is more focused on the current task at hand: Getting better.

"I just want to keep progressing," said Stafford during the team's recent mini-camp. "If I keep with the pace that I'm doing right now I'll be happy. I feel like I'm learning a lot everyday and I'm going out there and trying to execute on the field, so nothing definite right now. I'm just trying to go out there and get better."


Matthew Stafford is facing high expectations entering 2009 (AP Photo)

As Stafford continues to improve and as stories surface about the coaching staff's satisfaction with his progression, the start-Stafford-now mentality will become contagious and spread amongst fans. The success of rookie quarterbacks Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco last season only adds fuel to the fire.

Although the success of Ryan and Flacco prove it is indeed possible to win with a rookie quarterback, they are the exception, not the rule. Last season, the No. 3 and No. 18 picks, respectively, became the fourth and fifth rookie quarterbacks in NFL history to start all 16 games in a season. They were also the only two who registered winning records.

Before Ryan and Flacco, Rick Mirer, Peyton Manning and David Carr combined for a 13-35 record as start-to-finish starters for their teams. Manning seemed unphased by the early struggles and has gone on to have a spectacular career – however, Mirer and Carr are both considered epic busts as top draft picks.

Unlike Mirer and Carr, Stafford does have some guidance in his efforts to shoulder the pressure being placed on him. His teammate and main competition for the starting job, Daunte Culpepper, was the 11th overall pick in 1999. Although Culpepper didn't start a game in his rookie season, he still has some wisdom to lend – something Stafford is taking full advantage of.

"He's been in the league for 10-11 years now and has been a really good player for a long time, so I'm definitely trying to pick up what I can from him" said Stafford.

The question is, will Stafford learn more from watching Culpepper play or by getting advice from the veteran while taking the snaps himself?

Looking at the last 10 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks shows that both approaches can work. Five of 10 played significantly during their rookie seasons while the other five started only two games between them. Of the five who played large roles as a rookie, only Ben Roethlisberger had a winning record.

So, all of the debate regarding how to develop a young quarterback may be meaningless -- it's the player, not the approach, that determines what a quarterback amounts to.

Head coach Jim Schwartz will have to make the decision on who his starting quarterback will be once the preseason is completed. And the only question he needs to ask himself is which of the two gives the ball club its best chance to win. If it's Stafford, he should start, if it's not, he should sit.

If Stafford is going to eventually redeem this floundering franchise, he will become just that -– whether he starts this season or not at all.


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