Detroit Lions' Draft Question: Matthew Stafford or Daunte Culpepper?

Scott RiegerAnalyst IApril 16, 2009

There has been much debate and dialogue as to whether the Detroit Lions should use their No. 1 overall selection in next week's 2009 NFL Draft on Matthew Stafford, or select a different player that fills an immediate need. 

There are many other articles that break down Stafford as well as the other possibilities for the pick including Wake Forest Linebacker Aaron Curry, Virginia Offensive Tackle Eugene Monroe, and Baylor Offensive Tackle Jason Smith, therefore I won't be doing that here.

What I do want to focus on is the fundamental question that is often missed by these other articles:


Should the Lions draft Matthew Stafford or Daunte Culpepper?

Before you fly off the handle with the fact that Daunte Culpepper has been in the NFL for 10 years, hear me out.

By most expert accounts, interviews, and mock drafts, the popular choice is for the Lions to select Stafford. There are even reports that a deal is already in place for an estimated $30 million guaranteed.

While this may end up being true, Matthew Stafford isn't likely to contribute to the Lions in 2009 if drafted.

The Lions already have a starting quarterback in Daunte Culpepper, and while he hasn't had much recent success, he has proven that he can be an elite NFL quarterback.  Most people have questions about whether Stafford can be elite, citing poor statistical output, accuracy, and decision making.

In fact, Stafford isn't even the consensus No. 1 quarterback in this years class. Some experts, including the NFL Network's Mike Mayock, considers USC QB Mark Sanchez the better prospect.

For the Lions, they have many needs including (in order of need) MLB, OT/OG, DT, CB, S, WR, and finally QB.

The fact is that while QB may be the most important position in the NFL, it is also a position in which the supporting cast makes a huge impact on the effectiveness of the person playing the position. 


Rookie QB Success

Looking back in recent draft history, the players who have experienced immediate success (including Daunte Culpepper) have played on otherwise solid teams. Examples of this are as follows:


Ben Roethlisberger was drafted 11th overall in the 2004 NFL draft and won the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year while leading the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game.

He followed that up with a superb 2005 season in which he became the youngest QB to win the Super Bowl. His stats in his rookie year were modest (2,621 yds, 66.4 percent completion percentage, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions) but his record was superb.

That had a lot to do with a rushing attack that posted 2,464 yards and 16 touchdowns and a defense that had 39 sacks, 19 interceptions, scored 5 touchdowns and forced 20 fumbles.  In a word, the Steelers defense (ranked 1st overall in the NFL) and support for their rookie QB was "special".

Joe Flacco was drafted by the Ravens 18th overall in the 2008 NFL draft and was appointed starter in the preseason after incumbent Kyle Boller was injured and Troy Smith became ill.

Flacco threw for 2,971 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions while starting all 16 games and then led the Ravens to two playoff victories. Like Roethlisberger, Flacco had the benefit of playing with one of the NFL's most potent rushing attacks and a stifling defense that ranked in the Top Three for the season.

Matt Ryan was drafted by the Falcons first overall in 2008 and led them to an 11-5 record while winning the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award.  Ryan also led the Falcons to the playoffs after a dismal 2007 season. Ryan threw for 3,440 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions.

Like Flacco and Big Ben, Flacco had the support of an improved offensive line and defense thanks to a very productive draft by the Falcons front office. The Falcons finished the year with the NFL's 11th ranked scoring defense.

Daunte Culpepper was drafted 11th overall by the Minnesota Vikings and didn't see any regular season action in 1999 as he backed up Jeff George and Randall Cunningham. In 2000, he was named the starter and went on to win his first seven starts en route to an 11-5 season and NFC Championship Game appearance.

Culpepper threw for 3,937 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions while also racking up 470 yards and seven touchdowns rushing. He earned his first of three Pro Bowls that season, effectively his rookie year.

Culpepper benefited from playing on a good team that was 15-1 the year before he was drafted, 10-6 in the year he was drafted, and 11-5 in his first year as starter.

In addition to having a mammoth and dominating offensive line, he benefited from an innovative offensive coordinator in Scott Linehan.

The one difference between Culpepper and the other QB's listed here is the fact that the Vikings defense was average or below average at best. Culpepper and the offense carried the team...this will become significant later on in this article.


The Case for Culpepper

Forgetting the fact that Culpepper is a 3-time NFL Pro Bowler and has over 23,000 career passing yards and 146 touchdowns and over 2,500 rushing yards for another 34 scores for a second. He is one of the most prolific college quarterbacks of all-time.

At UCF, He rewrote virtually all of the school's quarterback records (more than 30 in all) and also broke the NCAA record for single-season completion percentage at 73.6 percent, breaking a 15-year-old mark set by Steve Young (71.3 percent), which has since been eclipsed by Colt McCoy.

Culpepper accomplished a feat equaled by only two others in NCAA history when he topped the 10,000 yard passing mark and the 1,000 yard rushing mark in his career. He finished his career sixth on the NCAA's all-time total offense list for all divisions with 12,459 yards and was responsible for 108 career touchdowns.

Had Culpepper played at one of the many other schools that were recruiting him like Miami or Florida, he likely would've won a couple Heisman Trophies in his collegiate career instead of flying slightly under the radar at UCF.

His senior season stat line is as follows:

11 games (9-2) - Passing/3,690 yards, 28 touchdowns, seven interceptions Rushing/463 yards, 12 touchdowns

Coming out of college, the book on Culpepper was extraordinary size and athleticism, incredible accuracy and a huge arm.


The Case for Stafford

Matthew Stafford has a rocket arm and has experienced measured success playing at College Footballs highest level. He was a three year starter for Georgia and compiled a 27-7 record while earning second team All-SEC honors last year. For his career, he has thrown for 7,731 yards, 51 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.

He is touted as a franchise signal caller whom a team could build their team around.  An added bonus for the Lions is that he graduated from the same high school as former Lions greats' Bobby Layne and Doak Walker.

As the 50-year curse levied on the Lions by Bobby Layne came to an end last year, it might only be fitting for Stafford to take the helm.

His senior season stat line is as follows:

13 games (10-3) - Passing/3,459 yards, 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions Rushing/40 yards, 1 touchdown.

The book on Stafford is as a gunslinger, sporting great arm strength, a quick release, above-average athleticism, and durability. He has some issues with taking unnecessary risks at times, forcing balls into coverage which too often resulted in incompletions or interceptions. Doesn't have great touch on his throws or do particularly well under duress.



Based on potential alone, selecting Stafford at No. 1 wouldn't be a bad idea and would give the Lions a young QB to build around for the future. On the flip side, Culpepper has thrived under Scott Linehan in Minnesota on a team that had a good offensive line, but questionable defense. 

In Detroit next season, The Lions figure to be improved, however currently sport a moderately improved Defense that still have some holes in it and a talented offense operating behind an average to suspect offensive line.

In any draft scenario, Stafford coming to the Lions will likely entail him riding pine for at least one year while learning from Culpepper.

If Culpepper experiences great success, the Lions could find themselves in a situation like the Bengals had with Jon Kitna/Carson Palmer, the Chargers had with Drew Brees/Philip Rivers, and the Browns currently have with Derek Anderson/Brady Quinn.

If they aren't successful, Stafford could step in next season and establish a connection with Calvin Johnson, possibly propelling the Lions into the Playoffs.

In the immediate future though, the Lions have some decisions to make. The Lions should evaluate their QB situation as if both guys were coming out of college at the same time.

In that example, and as I've shown in this article, the comparison isn't close. Culpepper would be the pick.

So, it would make sense for the Lions to go with Culpepper and try their best to provide him with the support needed to be successful in the way of some quality lineman and a good defense to back the offense up.

Considering that Culpepper is only 32 years old and is reportedly in great shape (rumored to be back to 260 lbs. after checking in at over 290 last season) and healthy, he could feasibly be the Lions starting QB for the foreseeable future.

The Lions should take Daunte Culpepper with the No. 1 pick (read: not take Stafford), and choose to take an Offensive Lineman instead, while using the next 4 picks to solidify the defensive positions of MLB, DT, DE, and CB.


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