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How Stafford Has Grown Through The Eyes Of Those Who Drafted, Coached, and Played With Him

How Stafford Has Grown Through The Eyes Of Those Who Drafted, Coached, and Played With Him

After 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, Matthew Stafford was traded to a Los Angeles Rams team that has pushed all of their chips to the center of the table in hopes of capturing a Super Bowl. 

Stafford had never won a playoff game before this season, but after securing the first three playoff wins of his career consecutively, he’s given the Rams home field advantage in Super Bowl LVI.

To gain a deeper understanding of the man who has brought the Rams to this stage, The 33rd Team spoke with our friends who drafted, coached, and played with Stafford.

Each emphasized that Stafford is a hard worker, an approachable leader, and a risk taker. Jim Bob Cooter – Stafford’s former OC and now the pass game coordinator in Jacksonville – noted that Stafford’s “professionalism, intelligence, and toughness” make him who he is. 

Former Lions President Tom Lewand and Vice President of Pro Personnel Sheldon White each recall a specific story that truly represents Stafford and his character. 

“It is an often told story, but the Cleveland game where he stayed in the game with a separate shoulder to throw the winning score is the most telling of his character,” says Lewand.

“He came back and led us to a touchdown even though he could barely lift his arm,” says White, who currently works as a college scout for the Washington Commanders. “Even in his later years in Detroit, no matter what was going on, he never took plays or games off. He always wanted to be out there playing and competing regardless of the circumstances.” 

In addition to his hard work, Stafford epitomizes the alpha leader that teams look for at the position. 

“In Detroit, [he] had the respect of everyone on that team, everyone in that building – and, from my perspective, the respect of that city. And he earned that,” Cooter says. “It wasn’t something that was given to him just because he was the number one overall pick and threw for a ton of yards. He earned that reputation through the way he handled himself – in the building, in the community, with his family, and on the playing field.”

When Stafford was initially traded to the Rams, Cooter wrote that “Stafford is the perfect person to walk into a new organization – one that’s already had some success – and earn the ability to lead…He’s walking into a great situation, joining a team that already has multiple respected veteran leaders. I expect Matthew to fit in with their other established leaders – earning that respect within the team and authentically enhancing their team culture.”

Through his ability to lead on the field, Stafford has an approachable factor that enhances the team culture in the locker room. 

White compares Stafford to Burrow in this regard: “He’s that cool customer dude. From a distance, it looks like Cincinnati has that same kind of dude. In the locker room with Matthew and around him, he’s that cool customer that guys gravitate towards because he’s steady. He’s even-keeled throughout games and in his off the field stuff.”

“He’s got a rare and unique ability to be ‘the guy’ and he knows he is ‘the guy,’” says Stafford’s former teammate, Dan Orlovsky. “He’s the alpha male absolute superstar franchise quarterback, but he’s also got the ability to just be ‘a guy’ and be just one of the 53. He just wants to be a teammate, just like the third string tight end in the building.”

“Matthew has a tremendous ability to make connections with people across the organization, but especially with his teammate,” adds Lewand.

From the outset, Cooter was confident that the Rams made the right decision in acquiring Stafford: “One thing I know: The Rams haven’t just acquired a franchise QB, they’ve acquired a true team leader. Stafford is someone who interacts with everybody in the building. The video staff? Stafford knows all those guys. He knows their names, he knows their stories. He’s got a joke to tell with each one of them – or a nickname, or a question about their alma mater. Same with the equipment guys, cafeteria staff, maintenance, every one of them.”

While Stafford has always been touted as a physical phenomenon with elite tools for the position, his former teammate Orlovsky suggests that Stafford’s fundamental and mechanical growth since the beginning of his time in Detroit cannot be understated.

“Something that I appreciate and admire about him the most is that he is this super talented cat who in the back half of his career really started to attack it and realized that physical talent wasn’t going to be enough anymore so to speak.

“He had to get more mechanically sound and more efficient. His throwing motion had to become more consistent and better. And his feet had to be tied to those things. That’s probably been the most impressive part of his growth.”

“He is a super smart dude with a great level of both everyday intelligence and football intelligence. That’s something that I didn’t anticipate when I went to work with him at first. For a long time people were so enamored with his physical talent that they overlooked how intelligent he is and his study habits.”

“He has really grown over time with the progressions of football and being able to dissect defenses quicker while understanding more offense,” White adds.

“He had enough changes in staff where he got a chance to see the way other guys see things and evaluate defenses and those kinds of things and interpret what’s going on in front of him. He’s progressed as a player mentally and it goes along with his arm talent.”

Lewand also recognizes how much Stafford really enjoys the game and being around his teammates. “You can tell from the volume of positive comments from his former teammates how much they enjoy playing with a leader like him.” 

In addition to intelligence and intangibles, Stafford’s arm talent is undeniable. Both Orlovsky and Lewand mentioned that he has been making difficult and jaw-dropping throws for years. “We also watched him make a lot of ‘Mahomes throws’ before Mahomes,” says Orlovsky.

Stafford’s gunslinger mentality and willingness to take risks stems directly from his immense talent. 

“We were watching film once, probably in 2014, and we saw a play where he kind of forces a ball into a really tight window,” Orlovsky details. “He completes it, but there was an easier throw underneath that he could have taken.

“I pointed to it and said, “Matthew, why are you doing this here? Why won’t you take this easier throw instead of trying the harder throw?”

“Because I can and you can’t,” he told Orlovsky.

“That’s one of those things that exemplifies the mindset he has. He wants to make those throws that very few people on this planet can. It’s a really cool thing to watch. It’s gotten him into trouble at some points in his career but it’s also the reason why he’s the type of player and talent that he is.”

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