1. QB Matthew Stafford
No NFL team does well without its starting quarterback for any extended time, but the Lions without Stafford was on a different level in 2019. Over the first eight games, the former No. 1 overall pick was on track to have the best season of his career (2,499 yards, 19 touchdowns, five interceptions,106 passer rating, 8.6 yards per attempt). But he emerged from that Week 9 game again the Raiders with fractured bones in his back, and did not play the rest of the season.
It’s not that Stafford’s production completely covered up other flaws, as the Lions lost three of the last four games he played. But the team was at least competitive, with a 3-4-1 record and three of those four losses by a touchdown or less. With David Blough and Jeff Driskel starting, the Lions went 0-8 as the two combined for 1,669 passing yards, eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Detroit did theoretically upgrade their backup situation this offseason, swapping Driskel for Chase Daniel and his five career starts, but if Stafford misses significant time again any idea of a surprising rise this year will go down with him.
The idea that Stafford is injury-prone is an antiquated misnomer, and frankly a crutch for those who just want to criticize him. Before his back injury last year, he had made every start since Week 1 of the 2011 season.
Stafford’s long-term future in Detroit is up in the air. But this year, there’s no player more important to the team’s fortunes.