Fantasy Football: What Went Wrong with Matthew Stafford in 2018?

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As we inch closer to the start of training camps, let’s take another look back to 2018. Coming into last season, Matt Stafford had finished as a QB1 for 3 straight seasons and finished 2017 as the overall QB6. He had thrown for at least 4200 yards and 20 TDs in every season since his injury-shortened 2010. It was easy to see why he was coming off of fantasy draft boards as the QB10 in the 8th Round of drafts.

2018 brought in the start of the Matt Patricia era in Detroit and, even though they retained OC Jim Bob Cooter, the offense faired far differently. Stafford had his worst full season ever and fantasy owners were left wondering what happened and, more importantly, can it be fixed in 2019?

What Went Wrong?

To put it simply, the Lions had a severe lack of firepower. At various points of the season, Stafford’s best players were not on the field. Marvin Jones missed 7 games, Kerryon Johnson missed 6, and Golden Tate was traded away after 7 games. When comparing his stats to previous years, a trend became apparent: Stafford’s success is tied to the talent of his pass-catchers. That sounds ridiculously obvious but it rings very true with Matt Stafford.

In his most successful years, Stafford had at least one of 2 things going for him:

  1. A dominant WR1 a la Calvin Johnson
  2. At least 2 WRs commanding over 100 targets and scoring over 100 fantasy points

Last season, he had neither. Kenny Golladay finished as the fantasy WR21, well ahead of his WR51 ADP, but scored just over 170 fantasy points, the lowest by a Matt Stafford WR1 since 2009. No other Lions WR cracked the century mark in fantasy points. Marvin Jones was only targeted 62 times in 9 games, scoring 98 fantasy points. Golden Tate only played 7 games before being traded, scoring 95 fantasy points as a Lion. With neither Jones nor Tate at his disposal for most of the year, Stafford was forced to rely on Bruce Ellington and other career WR5s to carry him and it just didn’t happen.  What is interesting is that if you look at those first 7 weeks, with Jones and Tate, Stafford performed well. He scored 136 of his 242 fantasy points in the season’s first 7 games. If he had remained on that pace, he would have finished as the overall QB10 and we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

To top matters off, a recent report stated that Stafford may have played the final month of the season with broken bones in his back. As the hosts of the Fantasy Footballers Podcast recently mentioned at the Chicago Live Show, football is a hard enough game as it is, let alone playing with a broken back. These factors culminated to the worst 16 game stat line of Stafford’s career, finishing with just 3777 yards, 21 TDs, and 11 INTs. He was sacked 40 times, 10th most in the NFL, and fumbled the ball away 4 times. Not surprisingly, this also led to his worst fantasy points per game output and a QB20 finish, the worst full season finish of his career as well.

Key Lessons Learned
  1. If Stafford does not have above average options at WR, CUT BAIT IMMEDIATELY!

Normally there are multiple lessons here, but that is not the case with Stafford’s 2018. If Matt Stafford is going to be successful as a fantasy QB and finish in the top 12, he is going to need his WRs to step their game up and stay on the field.

2019 Outlook

This is a relatively simple outlook to write. The Lions will start the year with a clean bill of health. Golladay showed flashes that he is ready to be a fantasy WR1, Marvin Jones should be back to 100%, and the Lions added Danny Amendola to play the slot role vacated by Golden Tate. Kenny G is entering that crucial 3rd year, the season that is usually a breakout year for NFL wideouts. He more than doubled his numbers from year 1 to year 2, so he is showing all of the needed signs that he is ready for a large role in this Lions offense. Jones was the overall WR10 in 2017 and had scored more than 140 fantasy points in 4 straight season leading up to last year. Danny Amendola has flashed the skills to be a better than average slot WR in the NFL and has reeled in almost 70% of the balls thrown his way over his career. If all 3 of these guys can stay upright, Stafford should find very little resistance on his path back to the QB1 ranks.

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It should be noted that the Lions hired Darrell Bevell to be the new OC and that, along with the defensive-minded head coach Patricia, should lead to a more run-oriented offense. A decrease in volume certainly won’t help Stafford’s chances at fixing what was broken in 2018, but the Lions aren’t exactly a good enough team to abandon the pass. They should find themselves behind in many games this year, and that will be mean plenty of passing opportunities for Stafford. The Ballers’ currently have Matthew Stafford ranked as their consensus QB24 and he is basically free in fantasy drafts with a 14th Round ADP. If he returns to form, he could provide some of the best value to be had in drafts this season. If he doesn’t? Well, at least you didn’t have to pay a lot for him.

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