Sam Bradford: Not Quite Bad Enough to Make a Team Give Up on Him . . . Yet

By Jason Lisk

Sam Bradford is part of the problem in St. Louis. That doesn’t mean that he is the only problem, or even the most pressing one. The team cannot run the ball on offense to take any pressure off him this year, with Steven Jackson gone. They cannot stop the run despite having a defensive line full of first round picks. Cortland Finnegan develops a thigh injury when he gets torched repeatedly, presumably from a fork sticking in it.

But make no mistake, he is part of the problem, whether the team has come to that decision yet or not. Two years ago, I talked about the potential decision facing the Rams, when they had Bradford after two years, and a very high draft pick. Like a typical Rams drive, they punted, got a haul of picks in the trade with Washington, and opted to build around Bradford.

That’s great if Bradford is worth building around. If it’s not, they need to take those picks and move on. With Washington off to an 0-4 0-3 start (sorry, did not mean to try to give Oakland a win yet), and St. Louis looking woeful offensively at 1-3 (and Seattle 2x and the return game against San Francisco left in division), it looks like they will have two top ten picks this year.

Why do I say it’s time to move on? It’s not just a reaction to last night, though that did nothing to alter the situation. Three years ago, when everyone was praising Bradford for his rookie year, Chase Stuart said, “hold on.” He caught some criticism for pointing out how the praise for Bradford was similar to that of another guy who threw for a lot of yards (for a rookie) but wasn’t particularly efficient because he had lots of attempts, in Rick Mirer.

Well, here we are four years into the Bradford era, and the Mirer comparisons aren’t that crazy. Bradford’s career numbers show a guy that does not make plays, and does not make enough throws downfield. Bill Barnwell referred to Bradford as a “ruthless checkdown artist” in his season preview, and noted that only 6.8 percent of his career passes had gone for 20 or more yards, the lowest in the league among passers with 1,000 attempts.

That’s also what watching the games show.

Here was Mike Mayock last night after an incomplete pass on a short attempt where the defenders were attacking short area passes, not fearful of getting beat. “Saint Louis is playing in a red zone 100 yards long, everything is within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, have they even thrown a pass more than 10 yards down field?”

Actually, they had, and Mayock’s memory was short, but that’s the problem. The two most notable passes of the first half were deep throws down the right side. On one, he had Austin Pettis breaking open for what would have been a touchdown on 3rd and 2. He missed him badly on the deep throw, not throwing accurately, and not putting enough touch on it to allow the receiver to adjust to a less than perfect pass, when there was space to do so.

The other was the interception, thrown again on third and short, on a play where he had one on one coverage. The ball was underthrown, allowing the corner to tip it to Donte Whitner, who made the diving interception. Whitner, though, would not have been there to prevent the completion on a deeper throw to the outside.

Five years ago, I asked the question “When Should the Lions Have Given Up on Joey Harrington?” Harrington started in Detroit for four seasons. I argued that there was enough evidence to move on after two seasons. Harrington is not the worst quarterback in history, far from it, and was the best option in Detroit for most of those years, when the other option was someone like Mike McMahon.

Harrington was, though, more costly to a team than just having an outright horrific bust that makes it clear he cannot play after a handful of starts–your Druckenmillers and McGwires and JaMarcus Russells.

Sam Bradford has been better than Harrington, and so his being around for a fourth season is more understandable. Here, though, are the most similar quarterbacks from age 23 to 25 (so this does not include the bad results from this year), using the various quarterback measures like YPA, TD percentage, INT percentage, completion percentage, sack rate, and also rushing yards per game. (Without the latter, Donovan McNabb, who made two pro bowls and rushed for over 1,000 yards at age 24 and 25, would have been among the top ten most similar to Bradford).

That list is full of players who, like Bradford were first round picks, with half of them being taken in the top six picks. Archie Manning is the most successful of the group, and he was also a scrambler who added value rushing. This group averaged 33 starts after age 26. Five of them started ten or fewer games after their 26th birthday.

I know the argument is that Bradford has not had much help. I examined this a few years ago. We don’t know where his supporting cast will rank when we look back. My guess is below average, but not historically bad. Laurent Robinson, you might recall, did nothing in St. Louis, and then turned getting to play with Tony Romo into a free agent contract. Danny Amendola is likely going to look better in New England. My guess is that at least one of Tavon Austin, Chris Givens, and Austin Pettis this year will end up being a good starter when paired with a different quarterback.

Yes, he has not had much help. The guys who eventually became stars did more with the little help they had early. We are now 1,680 passes into Bradford’s career. He does not look like he is going to become a star. If you are the Rams, and it looks like you might, at best, have this generation’s Dan Pastorini, do you really pass on the quarterback position again, if you have two top eight picks in this year’s draft? I think that would just be compounding a problem, one that Les Snead did not draft.

There are 12 games left. I don’t think you bench him. Might as well ride it out. If he doesn’t take off in those 12, though, by having a true breakout (and not just throwing for yards based on throwing a lot), it is time to move on.

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