"I don't know where Peyton (Manning) was after four years exactly, but I think that Matt's definitely on track to be one of the best quarterbacks ever to play this position," Linehan said Thursday, via Detroit Free Press reporter Dave Birkett.
Ever? Hey, we all understand supporting your guy. And we know Stafford has as much potential as anyone as he closes in on a second consecutive 5,000-yard season. Stafford is the reigning NFL Comeback Player of the Year, but he did take a step back in 2012 with just 17 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions. He threw 41 TD passes in 2011.
The Peyton Manning comparison doesn't help Linehan's case. Manning didn't miss a single game until 2011 and threw 111 TD passes in his first four years. Stafford missed 19 games in his first two years and has thrown for 77 touchdowns.
We're not hating Stafford. We believe he's going to put up huge numbers for the Lions for a long time. But one of the best ever is a strong statement.
"He's in an age of great quarterbacks," Linehan said. "He's not going to be mentioned in that category yet until we put together two or three seasons like we did last year in a row.
"(But) finish this season out strong, you look at the end of the year, see his numbers after two years, I mean it's hard to say that there's a lot of quarterbacks that have done that."
Consistency will be Stafford's challenge. He has a huge arm and confidence in it, but Stafford has to eliminate the wild swings in his game. Coach Jim Schwartz blamed an NFL-high 37 drops. Linehan pointed to a receiving corps that lost Nate Burleson, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles. Either way, Stafford needs to spend time in the offseason working on mechanics because that will add consistency to his throws. There are too many off the back foot and from awkward angles when not necessary.
The 2009 No. 1 overall draft pick has as much potential as any young quarterback in the NFL, but there's a lot that has to happen for Stafford to be mentioned with the greats.