Sam Bradford has been praised for his rookie season, when he threw almost 600 passes as a rookie. I talked about the jury still being out on Bradford as his yards per attempt numbers were very low, and even though we know he had a bad supporting cast at receiver, we didn’t know how he would do yet with any talent. I also promised to look at how that supporting cast ranked compared to other rookies. So here we are.
I reviewed every rookie season since 1970 that was similar to Bradford’s by YPA, and where a quarterback threw 200 or more passes, and then looked at his receiving group. I used the approximate career value numbers at pro-football-reference to compare the groups, finding the average career rating of the top 3 receivers (usually WR1, WR2 and TE). A receiver group with a career rating of between 45-50 would probably be average. Above 60 would be a very good group, and below 30 would be a pretty poor group. As we can see, alot of rookies have played with a bad receiving corp in their first opportunity, and many of them, like Bradford, played for teams that had the first overall pick in the draft.
Okay, so teammates matter. I don’t think that’s groundbreaking. The bottom of that list, those that played with average or better starting receivers but still put up well below average YPA numbers, is full of some guys that weren’t very good (Hutchingson, Komlo and Woodley). On balance, I would take the guys who put up similar numbers with bad supporting casts. But there’s no guarantee, and bad players can often make it difficult to tell whether the QB is part of the problem or solution.
Sure, Aikman struggled with a historically bad group of receivers as a rookie, but Steve Walsh put up similar number with the exact same group, and the rest of their careers diverged. Neither Couch nor Leaf had much help, and Couch put up slightly better numbers on an expansion team than Bradford last year, while Leaf was worse.
If I were to guess, since we don’t know how the players on Bradford’s team will turn out without the benefit of hindsight, I would say they would rank near the bottom of the list, in the Aikman/Leaf/Couch range. But historically worse than any other receiving group? No. Just bad, not way worse than what any other #1 pick dealt with. We don’t know if Amendola will turn out to be a decent slot receiver who plays for 5 or 6 more years, or whether Daniel Fells will at least be a 4 or 5 year guy in the league. Bradford also had the benefit of Steven Jackson, which is something that most of these guys didn’t have. Aikman and Walsh, for example, had Paul Palmer, before they added Emmitt the next season.
The lesson, I guess, is that teammates matter, and the Rams better get some people around him. I think Tim Couch could have been a decent quarterback if he didn’t get beat up early on, and played with any amount of decent receiving talent. And Aikman certainly took off once Irvin and Smith and Novacek came in. A quarterback can’t do it alone.
[photo via Getty]