In preparing this week for a Q&A with new Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, I talked to some of the people who know him and his position best.
These people did not comment in the Q&A, a Los Angeles Times exclusive — it was with Stafford alone — but their observations and insights are worth noting.
Thought it would be interesting to open the notebook and reveal some of the things they shared.
Documented are quotes from five former NFL quarterbacks: Rich Gannon, Troy Aikman, Archie Manning, as well as onetime Stafford backups Dan Orlovsky and Drew Stanton. Also quoted is Adam Dedeaux, Stafford’s throwing coach.
“I don’t think he gets enough credit for his arm talent. I mean he makes some ridiculous throws, especially out-breaking routes, ball’s outside the number from the far hash. He throws the deep ball really well, he’s very accurate. Can change the launch point, he’s got pretty good pocket presence. He can fly, he can reset, he can shuffle. He can extend plays, maybe not to the extent that you see from like a [Patrick] Mahomes or [Aaron] Rodgers with that explosiveness, but he’s certainly better than average when it comes to that.
“I think part of it with him, and I don’t want to be too critical of the Lions, but you go back and look at the times he’s been sacked in his career, like each season. It’s like in a 35, 40 range every year, you know what I mean? And that takes its toll, so the protection always hasn’t been good. The offensive line has been very inconsistent. They tried to address it in recent years, they go out and get [center Frank] Ragnow, and they try and get a tackle a couple years ago. I mean they’re trying. But then who was the running back, and then who are the receivers? They went out and got a tight end. But I think Stafford has done more with less. And then at defense, it’s been never like they’ve had a dominant defense on that side of the ball. So it’s like you got to go out and score 30 points to be competitive each week.
“I look at his toughness and durability, that’s the other thing. I think he went through a stretch where it’s six or seven seasons where he played every game [eight, actually]. He’s a tough guy, doesn’t miss starts. He’ll sit in the pocket with a tough jaw, very accurate.
“And the knock on him is, when you look at what happened in Detroit, he just didn’t win. In our business, we get judged based on the wins and losses, and unfortunately for him, there’s been more losses than wins in his career. And so there’s a certain negativity that comes with that, but anyone who really looks and evaluates the position. … When I saw the Rams make that move, I’m like, they just got better, like a lot better.”
On the combination of Stafford and Rams coach Sean McVay:
“Matthew’s got someone that he can grow with, someone that’s going to help him, someone who’s going to put together a really good game plan, someone who’s going to support him with a good running game. They’re a good screen team. They get the ball out quick. I think it’s an offense that’ll fit his skill set. I think he’s going to have more weapons, more firepower, he’s going to have a better offensive line.
“You look at Sean and you look at Matthew. … I see some similarities to when I went to Oakland with Jon Gruden. I was at a point where I had bounced around a little bit and no one ever really. … I mean it’s different; he was the No. 1 draft pick and I kind of had to find my way. But he’s going to a situation where he’s a got a young head coach who’s a really good play caller, very innovative, really involved in coaching that position. And that’s where Jon was with me, and we just hit it off. We never looked back.
“I think Matthew is going to buy in and be all invested and be there and be that leader. It’s not going to take Matthew Stafford a season to take ownership of that team. The minute he walks in the building, that’s going to happen.”
On a fresh start for Stafford and the Rams:
“So I think it’s a really good situation. I think it’s a win-win situation for the Rams, I think it’s a win for Matthew. I think it was time for a change. At some point you get beaten down so long in a city where it’s almost like playing in Cleveland all those years or playing in Detroit and in Jacksonville, where he just … it’s hard to win eight games.
“And it’s hard to be competitive. Then you look at that division and you got the Vikings and you’ve got the Packers, and the Packers went from [Brett] Favre to Rodgers. If you’re Matthew Stafford, that’s who you’re competing against every couple weeks. And you got some good defenses in that division: Chicago and Minnesota. So I give the guy a lot of credit for surviving and for overcoming what was not an easy situation.”
On the first time he’d heard of Stafford:
“When he was going into his senior year at Highland Park, I happened to be at Starbucks here in Highland Park Village right where I live and where he grew up. Someone said to me, ‘Hey, have you seen Matthew Stafford? Have you seen him play?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t. Who’s Matthew Stafford?’ I had just kind of moved down to this area, and they said, ‘Well, he’s the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 1 recruit out of high school. He’s a senior at Highland Park.’ And I said, ‘Really? I haven’t heard of him. I need to let UCLA know.’ And they said, ‘Oh, he’s already committed to Georgia.’ I said, “Georgia?’ and thought, ‘Wow.’ ”
On a meal with him before the draft:
“I was having dinner and I asked him, ‘So how do you feel about going to Detroit? I mean, if Detroit takes you with the No. 1 pick, which in all likelihood, that’s what’s going to happen, how do you feel about that?’ It’s always something I’ve remembered because he really wanted to go to Detroit. It wasn’t one of those things where he was thinking, ‘I mean, not ideal, but they have the No. 1 pick.’ I know they’ve had their problems because they weren’t very good and they hadn’t been very good, and it’d been such a long time. But he was just totally locked in that he wanted to go to Detroit and really create, I don’t want to say a legacy, but he wanted to be a big reason as to why that franchise got good again.
“He went there for all the right reasons. He gave it everything he had. And I’m disappointed for him that with all the success that he did enjoy personally, that the team didn’t enjoy more success around him, because I know it was really important to him.”
Does scar tissue build up after all that losing?:
“Yeah. I certainly lost my share in Dallas on the front end and the back end, but I didn’t go through it for an extremely long stretch like he has. I can only imagine how difficult it would become as you get older, to be optimistic and positive going into each season. And so I would say yes.
“This will be a different experience for him. I mean, I think there has been years where there have been expectations for Detroit, but by and large, there hasn’t been. By and large, the Lions have not been a factor in our league. I mean, it’s just what it is. And there’s been a lot of coaching changes as we know, and it hasn’t gone as well as Matthew would like, or that anyone would like. And that’s why there has been so much turnover.
“Now you’re going to an organization that it’s not about being a winning football team, it’s about winning a Super Bowl. This will be the first time Matthew’s felt that. I mean, he hasn’t been on a team that’s gone into the season expecting to be in the Super Bowl or to be a contender in the Super Bowl. He won’t cower to that.”
On his expectations for Stafford and the Rams this season:
“I know Matthew well. I love the guy. I think he’s terrific. And I think he’s going to play his best football this year. I really do. I think for him to get to work with Sean McVay and that offense, I really expect Matthew to have his best season of his career. Wouldn’t shock me at all if he’s the MVP of the league.
“But with that being said, there are expectations … and he knows it. And that’s what he wants. I mean, that’s what he’s been dreaming of. That’s what he’s wanted the whole time he’s been in Detroit: he’s wanted to be on a contender. And at the end of the day, that’s how you make your mark. And so I’m excited for him and this opportunity that he has.”
“In my conversations with him, there’s no doubt that he is an intellect. I think he enjoys being challenged in that way and challenged with thought process, and he never makes anything seem too difficult when it comes to that stuff. I think he has a way of simplifying things. I think that’s his Texas brain, being very bright, but being able to look at things and just seeing it in its simplest form. I don’t think he gets overwhelmed easily.
“He’s able to break things down pretty quickly. He’s had multiple coordinators over the years. I’ve watched him take on new challenges of, we changed this footwork a couple of years ago before the ’19 season, and that was a fun challenge for him. And it was like, within a day or two, he was already making it look comfortable as if he had been doing it forever, and that’s not normal. Sometimes, it takes guys longer, but he’s able to be like, ‘All right. Feel it. Got it. I understand it. Give me the why’s, and I’m in.’ ”
“Matthew has this ability in every single room that he enters, every situation that he’s in, he’s completely aware that he’s the guy, he is the man in that room, that airplane, that hotel. But then he’s got this great ability to be just a guy, one of the crew. That’s a very unique perspective to have, the ability to be two people at once.”
“He has this quiet confidence about him, that he doesn’t need to tell people how good he is, he doesn’t need to tweet out anything, he doesn’t need to be on Instagram, he doesn’t need to do any of that. He’s very confident and comfortable in his own skin and people sometimes misconstrue that confidence and comfort as being complacent or too laid back or not a leader or all these things. And I think strategically he is so good.
“That’s one thing that I’ve always tried to take away from people and watch people how they operate are like, okay, you only lead if people follow you. In the truest definition, the most important part about leadership is ‘followship.’ If nobody’s following you, you’re not a leader even if you think you are. You can beat your chest all you want, but people follow Matthew into the fire.”
On how Stafford compares to another No. 1 pick, Carson Palmer, backed up by Stanton in Arizona:
“He is very much like Carson. You know Carson. Carson doesn’t care what other people say about him. He’s going to operate how he operates. There’s a little bit different dynamic and components, but they are guys that you want leading your organization because they’re leading from within. They’ll step out front, they take the blame when they need to, they’re not going to give you any soundbites that you’re going to be sitting up there writing about doing anything. There’s a sense of professionalism that goes along with both of them, without a doubt.”
On Manning Passing Academy:
People ask me about the college quarterbacks I bring in. They’re coaching mostly, but they work out. They’re not throwing against coverage, they’re just throw it to receivers, throw it around. To me, Matthew had the most impressive arm of anybody we’ve ever had.
“Yep. I thought so. I mean, he just, he can really sling it. JaMarcus Russell threw some, well he kind of stood out. It looked like a Jugs machine when he’d throw a deep ball, coming out of there.
“We have a little quarterback challenge every year where they’re throwing it at targets and throwing some deep stuff. We get some rain during a camp where they usually had lightning, so I have to get them off the field. Well it’s raining like crazy before the quarterback challenge, but it wasn’t lightning, and they all said, that’s when Mahomes was there. It was a good class up, and they said, ‘Oh, Mr. Manning, let’s go. It’s raining, it’s not lightning’ So it was, `OK, go.’
“And Josh Allen threw to the deep, a wet ball, better than anybody I’ve ever seen. Threw a wet ball 75 yards. But anyway, Matthew was the most impressive. He’s a great kid.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.