Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 7/29/12
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford quieted most of his critics last year. Now he needs to silence them. There were serious doubts at this time a year ago whether Stafford could stay healthy long enough to showcase his elite arm in the NFL. But he showed that he could, playing through a hand injury and starting every game while leading his team to the playoffs. Oh yeah, Stafford also became one of only four quarterbacks in NFL history to pass for more than 5,000 yards in a season. However, when former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski, now an analyst for ESPN, ranked the leagues top quarterbacks entering this season, he put Stafford at only No. 14. Many who watched him closely throughout last season believe thats too low, that Stafford belongs in the top 10. Some of the debatable choices ahead of him include Chicagos Jay Cutler (No. 8), Baltimores Joe Flacco (No. 9), Dallas Tony Romo (No. 10), Atlantas Matt Ryan (No. 11), Philadelphias Michael Vick (No. 12) and Houstons Matt Schaub (No. 13). Stafford took the hit without punching back. Jaws knows what hes talking about, Stafford said. Hes a good guy. He played in this league for a long time. He knows what it takes to win. Thats not something thats really a concern to me, to tell you the truth. I just want my teammates and the guys on that field to think Im the best thats on the field. As long as they think that, then were good. Jaworski wasnt really all that critical of Stafford. He simply feels that Stafford needs to prove hes not injury-prone for more than that one season. Stafford, the No. 1 pick overall in the 2009 NFL draft coming out of Georgia, missed a lot of time during his first two years in the league because of shoulder injuries. In those two seasons, he played in a total of 13 games (the Lions won three) and completed 54.5 percent of his passes for 2,802 yards, with 19 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Last season, when the Lions went 10-6, Stafford completed 63.5 percent for 5,038 yards with 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Another full season with similar production and theres no question Stafford is a top-10 quarterback, Jaworski said. Hes an elite arm. I just need to see durability and performance over a longer period of time. Although Stafford took the high road when it came to the No. 14 ranking, he quite likely will be motivated to some extent by the slight. Shortly before answering the question about Jaworski, Stafford was asked what drives him coming off such a prolific season. A lot of things, he said. I think you play for respect, not only from your teammates but other players in the league, coaches. Greatness. I just want to be great. Putting in work is what you have to do. Thats something thats fun and enjoyable to me. Based on his performance on the very first day of training camp, it was clear that Stafford put in a lot of work during the offseason to try to take another step toward greatness. Coach Jim Schwartz has been impressed with the body transformation hes seen from Stafford, who is 6-foot-3, 235 pounds. Hes grown up a lot physically over the last few years, Schwartz said. Hes a lot stronger. Hes bigger but leaner. He still had some baby in him when he was a rookie. Now hes a lot different. Stafford has been known primarily as a drop-back passer, but he has worked on his agility to improve his ability to move around in the pocket better. To Stafford, its all about consistency and winning games. Thats what the great quarterbacks in this league do, Stafford said. Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have been the best in the league for a long time because all they do is do it every week and get their team in a position to win. To show up every Sunday, week in and week out, be that guy that you know youre going to get a great performance out of, is what you strive for. If he does it again this year, no one will be able to deny him a spot among the top 10 quarterbacks in the league. Maybe even top 5. EXTRA POINTS Rookie defensive end Ronnell Lewis (tightness in back) was removed from the Physically Unable to Perform list after missing only one day of practice. Left tackle Jeff Backus left Saturdays practice early because of a thumb injury. The severity was not immediately revealed.
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