By: Will Burchfield
Matthew Stafford’s strong 2016 season made an impression on his peers.
In a player vote conducted by NFL Network, Stafford landed at No. 31 among the league’s top 100 players. He had failed to make the list each of the last two years.
One guy he really impressed was Josh Norman. The Redskins cornerback had a front-row seat to one of Stafford’s NFL-record eight fourth-quarter comebacks last season.
“It’s like he has a bazooka attached to his arm, a scrap-back rocket or something,” Norman said during the unveiling of the rankings on NFL Network.
In Week 7 last season, Detroit was trailing Washington 17-13 with just over a minute remaining when Stafford led the Lions down the field and hit Anquan Boldin for the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left.
“Gosh, when he comes back in the 4th quarter, that’s big, that’s huge,” said Norman.
Earlier in the game, Stafford hooked up with Marvin Jones for a 52-yard gain down the middle of the field, with Norman in coverage.
“Crazy thing is, I was right there,” Norman said. “I was like, there’s no way this ball’s gonna get in there. Sure enough, it dropped right in. I was like, ‘This son of a gun.'”
“And then he hit one to Anquan Boldin in the seam, another great throw into a tight window in a tight zone,” Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins recalled, “and that was it.”
“He has the ability to make those comebacks happen in the fourth quarter,” Cousins added. “He’s become the total package now and he’s really everything you want in a quarterback.”
Another word Cousins used to describe Stafford: “Fearless.”
“First thing that comes to mind is always his arm strength. He can make every throw and then some. He’s accurate, throws a tight spiral,” Cousins said.
Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee, while questioning the loftiness of Stafford’s ranking, agreed with Cousins about Stafford’ throwing ability.
“I will say this: Matt Stafford’s got the best arm in the league. He’s got the best arm in the league,” McPhee said.
Both Norman and Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes took note of what Stafford was able to do in his first season without Calvin Johnson.
“When Calvin was there it was just, get Calvin the ball. Now it’s more of a team where he’s the complete leader,” said Rhodes. “He’s dishing to this guy, that guy, you don’t know who he’s throwing it to.”
Said Norman, “He’s coming into his own since Megatron left. You can see him being more of that guy, that leader.”
Before suffering a finger injury in Week 14 last season, Stafford was emerging as a potential MVP candidate. He finished the year with over 4,300 passing yards, a 65.3 percent completion rate and 24 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.
His No. 31 ranking on NFL Network’s Top 100 list is the highest of his career. He was No. 100 in 2014 and No. 41 in 2012.
“He’s just really coming into his own and could be in that class of the top-five (quarterbacks) not too long from now,” said Norman.