A Career That Is Still Awaiting Takeoff
In 2010, the Rams made Sam Bradford the first overall selection in the NFL Draft. The options were far from plentiful that year for any team that was hoping to secure a franchise QB. In fact, the only other signal caller that was chosen in Round 1 was a former Heisman Trophy winner from Florida named Tim Tebow.
Now, Bradford will enter the 2013 regular season having been under center for 42 of a possible 48 career starts. Which includes two years with a full 16 starts, and an abbreviated 2011 season in which a high ankle sprain sidelined him for six contests. His career high in passing yardage is 3,702, and the most TDs that he has generated in any year is 21. Both numbers were established in 2012, and amid the massive output that numerous QBs have been producing, they are not particularly impressive. He placed 15th in yardage, and just 18th with that TD total. He has only manufactured six 300-yard games, and has produced a three-TD game just three different times. He has not thrown for 400 yards in a game, and has yet to generate four scoring tosses in any of those 42 contests.
To be fair, Bradford has never possessed an extensive array of dangerous weapons, nor has he enjoyed the benefits of a highly productive go-to target who consistently remained on the field. While D. Amendola would arguably be considered the most talented Ram WR since Bradford joined the team, he only made 15 starts during that three-year span. No receiver has managed to attain 700 yards while Bradford has been under center, and the depth behind each leader in the Rams’ receiving categories has been disturbingly low.
Last season, Givens led the Rams with 698 yards, with Gibson and the oft injured Amendola each surpassing 650 yards. B. Lloyd paced the team in 2011 with 683 yards, while no teammate could even exceed 431. And in Bradford’s 2010 rookie year, Amendola amassed 689 yards, followed by Gibson’s 620. There are certainly no totals present in those results that would initiate a conversation regarding Hall Of Fame credentials. The same applies to the TE options that Bradford has endured since first snap as a Ram, which have included Daniel Fells, Billy Bajema, Michael Hoomanawanui, and Lance Kendricks.
His Receiving Options Have Improved
General Manager Les Snead and Head Coach Jeff Fisher have made a concentrated effort to boost Bradford’s arsenal of receiving weaponry, both in free agency and during the recent draft process. First, they signed the gifted Jared Cook to a five-year contract in March, which provides a significant upgrade at the TE position. Then during April’s NFL Draft, St. Louis traded up to the eighth overall slot to ensure the selection of Tavon Austin, who will supply much needed versatility and sheer speed to the Ram’s attack. Bradford should reap the benefits of both roster additions, as both Cook and Austin should create matchup nightmares for opponents.
Cook’s numbers in Tennessee were not overly impressive, although that was the consequence of having a restricted role within the Titans’ offense. Fisher is acutely aware of Cook’s capabilities, and the Rams should be more effective in exploiting that physical advantages that the 6’5”, 250 pound Cook can create for opposing defenders. That includes the ability to line up as a wideout, where his considerable athleticism can be more beneficial. He will be a welcome enhancement for the St. Louis passing attack, and Bradford’s numbers should improve as a result.
Austin possesses the potential to be the Ram's premier playmaker, and could easily become the team's leading receiver. He has the flexibility to line up in multiple positions, and St. Louis will employ their prized draft pick extensively. His presence should open space for Givens, who garnered 42 receptions last season. Fisher has already credited Givens for improving on a weekly basis, and that should continue within this year's enhanced passing attack. And even though fellow second-year wideout Brian Quick did not replicate Givens' success during their rookie seasons, it is too early to dismiss the second-year WR. Fisher has declared that Quick will start, and it makes sense that the team will supply him with ample opportunity to succeed. He is 6'4", possesses good athleticism, and the Rams invested the 33rd overall pick of the 2012 draft in order to have him on the roster. Still, Quick only collected 11 receptions during his disappointing 2012 season. And with Austin and Givens expected to make significant contributions to the offense, Quick needs to demonstrate an enormous improvement in order to remain in the mix.
Jackson Not In Action
While Bradford and his revamped collection of targets should improve upon last season's 222 YPG average, the St. Louis rushing attack will likely experience a decline in production. S. Jackson was literally a warrior in nine seasons with the Rams, while battering opponents for over 10,000 yards and 56 rushing TDs. However, he has now migrated to Atlanta, and his replacements are hardly imposing. Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead combined for just 529 as rookies in 2012, with Richardson collecting 475 of that total. That tandem will compete for touches with rookie Zac Stacy, who surpassed 1,000 yards in two consecutive years at Vanderbilt. If he demonstrates that he can run with power as is expected, Stacy will become a factor in the backfield competition. But regardless of how the RB carries are distributed, the absence of a truly dangerous runner will place more pressure upon Bradford to produce this year. Opponents will be inclined to employ fewer resources toward stopping the run, and can devote more defenders and schemes toward neutralizing the Rams' passing game.
The Protection Should Be Better
The Rams also executed one other move of significance, by pilfering LT Jake Long from Miami. He was signed to a four-year, $34 million contract, and the move was certainly designed to help Bradford. Long is a four-time Pro Bowler, was the first overall selection of the 2008 draft, and will supply an unprecedented level of protection.
Where To Draft Him
The decision makers in St. Louis have done a commendable job of providing Bradford with additional tools toward increased success, and it is time for him to make definitive improvement in his fourth season as a pro. If he can maintain good health, then he should deliver the best numbers of his career. However, that does not mean that you should plan on utilize him as a QB1, or reach for him in your upcoming drafts. Even with the bolstered arsenal of weaponry, Bradford will face a daunting challenge simply by performing for a franchise that resides in the NFC West. Division rivals San Francisco (200 YPG), Arizona (200 YPG) and Seattle (203 YPG) all ranked within the top six in pass defense during 2012, and will be formidable once again. Bradford should establish a new career best with 25 TD passes, and will edge beyond his previous career high by throwing for 3,800 yards. But considering the depth that will exist at QB this season, those numbers will not represent sufficient improvement for you to select him before Round 12 of your fantasy drafts.