Well, it’s official now, Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno will be playing the NFL this time next year.
When you get right down to it it was the smart move for both guys (probably). Knowshon, as a RB, really needs to leave now and take advantage of the limited life span of an NFL RB by getting there as soon as he got to the point where he couldn’t really improve his stock. Leaving as the #1 projected RB certainly qualifies there.
Stafford on the other hand was always a 50/50 proposition. An amazing talent, his blips of inconsistency will always dog him and are really the only issue he’ll have against him come draft time. His legacy at UGA will be a bit spotty, no conference titles, no divisional titles, but QBs get far too much of the credit/blame there. If I’ve heard one guy say “give me David Greene anyday” I’ve heard 100 but personally I’d rather have Greene’s defenses with Stafford. Hey, that’s me.
Stafford’s game translates extremely well to the NFL but some of his more obvious tendencies could get exposed at that level, namely his tendency to throw off his back foot and occasionally try and force the ball into tight spots. In the NFL both of those traits get you in trouble in a hurry where every LB and DB has the talent and speed to make passes that were decent in college look horrendous, you think that UF or Bama defense looked fast, wait until you see Baltimore. Some have speculated that Stafford’s draft stock is slipping after his poor first half against Michigan State. That may be the case but I fully expect it to bounce sky high after he has individual workouts. His arm strength (which has even received praise from the likes of Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning) and ability to break down film (a trait he displayed before he even set foot on the UGA campus when he wowed counselors at the Elite 11 camp) will see him climb into better position and as NFL GMs really break down his film they’ll realize that many of his INTs were on tipped balls and see the incredible progression he made from year 1 to year 3. In the end, if you’re going to go top 5, you have to go. And that’s the boat Stafford’s in. Not a bad boat.
The only caveat to that is that going that high, you’re expected to break out come year 1. Stafford can send a special thanks to Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco for that, as their rookie years have set the bar going forward. Gone are the days where a rookie was expected to come in and learn the ropes, or if they did start, not much was expected of them, a la Peyton or Troy Aikman (who were both horrid their rookie seasons). Nope, depending on where Stafford ends up, he’ll likely be expected to start or at least push for the job on day 1. If it’s in a place like Detroit or Kansas City, there’s almost zero chance of that first year going well. They simply have too many holes…far too many, although this year’s Miami team would say it can be done…Stafford just won’t have a Parcels (unless draft day gets really interesting). The problem with going early as a QB is that there is a long history of failure there. There has yet to be a true junior (at least I haven’t heard on one and certainly can’t recall one) that left early and was successful. Eventually someone will pull it off and we might actually end up with 3 trying it this year…Stafford, Bradford of OU and Sanchez of USC, but the deck is stacked against them, history tells me that.
Ultimately Stafford will always be compared by most SEC fans to Tim Tebow. They came in together, they both were highly thought of, but that’s about where the comparison ends. Tebow and his fiery leadership and bull-headed approach to the QB position found himself in an offense tailor-made for his skills. That resulted in a Heisman trophy and two trips to the national title game. Stafford on the other hand is a quietly confident young man that had NFL written all over him from the day he stepped on a HS football field. His collegiate legacy is more unachieved potential than anything else. Considering the fact he broke UGA’s single season TD record and led the SEC in passing, that’s a testament to how truly high his potential is. Tebow is being projected as an NFL TE by some experts. Stafford is a projected top-5 pick. Tebow is a Heisman winner and national champion. I’d be interested to see if either would trade for the other’s spot…honestly, not just player-speak.
In the end, Moreno’s decision was easy. Stafford’s, not so much. It was a tough one to make. Selfishly I would’ve liked to have seen him return, but for him, watching guys like Cornelius Ingram miss their entire senior years after deciding to come back, probably makes this decision a much smarter one. He could probably improve his overall game by staying another year but I’m not so sure he could improve his draft status. I don’t know many folks that would have returned to their own senior seasons at their respective colleges if some industry big shot came and offered them $30 million to leave early. Don’t hold these kids to any different standard. From another selfish angle, i just picked up two NFL teams that I’ll have a vested interest in. Stafford likely be on a really, really bad team while Moreno has a good shot to end up on a solid, playoff contending team. It’ll be fun watching them play next year although I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d prefer it be in Sanford.