April 26, 2009

Adam Krohn: Stafford set up for failure in Detroit

It’s a given — Matthew Stafford will fail in the NFL.

Just look his starting position in the league. The first pick of the 2009 draft will now play quarterback for the league’s worst franchise, the Detroit Lions.

The Lions are coming off the NFL’s first-ever 0-16 season. They’ve never been to a Super Bowl and have one playoff win in 52 years. Their best player in franchise history, Barry Sanders, retired about five years early after the 1998 season because, as he would later admit, he couldn’t stand playing for a losing organization. And, of course, there’s the Matt Millen Era, which was basically a series of horrible draft day decisions that worked to keep the Lions reputation for being losers well intact.

Does anyone really expect Stafford, a three-year starting quarterback at Georgia, to change the losing culture in Detroit? A hot-headed, overconfident 21-year-old kid with a rocket arm can’t take a team with no defense, no offensive line, no running game and an inexperienced coaching staff to higher levels.

Or, at least that’s never been done before.

Even if the pieces were in place on the field for Stafford personnel-wise, he’s not mentally prepared to lead a pro football team. For instance, look at how Stafford handled the 49ers psychological interview during the draft process. His true colors showed as he grew angry with the questioning. Instead of giving answers he asked the psychologist how much he was being paid.

With that attitude, Stafford doesn’t come across as someone that would do a good job handling questions from the Detroit media after a loss, or someone who could shake off boos from the crowd during a game.

Stafford’s temper separates him from his more even-keel peers in the league, young quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and fellow newcomer Mark Sanchez from Southern California, the fifth-overall pick by the Jets. Stafford comes across more as a Jeff George or Ryan Leaf type — arm-strong but not head-strong.

Not to mention, when has a quarterback from Georgia ever done anything worthwhile in the NFL? Buck Belue, quarterback of the Dawgs’ last national championship in 1980, never made it to the league and spent his final days as a professional athlete playing baseball in the Montreal Expos’ minor league organization. Eric Zier was a five-year journeyman with a career QB rating of 74.4. David Greene has already retired after three years as a backup in Seattle. And D.J. Shockley is currently Matt Ryan’s first-string clipboard holder in Atlanta.

Of course, if you go all the way back nearly 40 years ago, there was one Georgia quarterback who managed to make a name for himself in the NFL. Fran Tarkenton lasted 17 years in the league, was selected to the Pro Bowl nine times and appeared in three Super Bowls with the Minnesota Vikings. However, he did horrible in each of the Super Bowls — all losses — and, like Stafford, is notorious for not winning the big game and for having a bad temper.

It will be entertaining to watch Stafford adapt to losing in the NFL. And the adjustment should be painful. As if playing in Detroit wasn’t bad enough, Stafford’s best offensive weapon on the team, Calvin Johnson, is a receiver from Georgia Tech, the program that beat him on his own field in his final game in Athens.

So will Stafford embrace his new career, or will he fold early like Sanders? Although he has the word “bust” all but tattooed on his forehead, he’ll stick around for at least six years. You see, in the NFL you don’t have to be good to make $41.7 million in guaranteed money.

Stafford’s not even the best quarterback of the 2009 draft class. That honor goes to Sanchez. Not only is Sanchez smarter and more athletic that Stafford, he’s also set up to succeed. The Jets have several offensive and defensive pieces in place and are far enough along that Sanchez won’t be asked to save the team.

Stafford, on the other hand, will be expected to lead the team — possibly from as early as Week 1 of the 2009 season — and we all know how well he handles expectations. Six years from now when Stafford’s rookie contract is up and his career is all but over, you’ll see his name next to Joey Harrington’s on the long list of Lions players to never pan out.

And that’s the way things will be in Detroit until someone in the front office gets a clue.

Adam Krohn is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen.