Much of the year, we’ve talked about the Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck, and Peyton Manning. The Colts started 0-13 and looked like they had the first overall pick wrapped up. However, they’ve won the last two games (again showing that NFL teams don’t tank games as a matter of course), and are only 4 point underdogs today against the almost as bad Jacksonville Jaguars. The Rams, meanwhile, have continued to struggle offensively and are the lowest scoring team in the league, and are tied with the Colts at 2 wins. If the Colts win today, and the Rams lose, it would be St. Louis, and not Indianapolis who would be on the clock with the first pick.
So while Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck has presented much fodder, the Andrew Luck and Sam Bradford debate presents a different dynamic–would a team go with another first overall pick at quarterback just two years after making that move. Peyton Manning has a big contract but is a proven commodity; Sam Bradford also is getting a lot of money, but is no sure thing.
The answer likely depends on how Bradford is viewed. He was almost universally praised after his rookie year. Chase Stuart pointed out how that rookie year was overrated. (Which I followed up by looking at teams that showed big defensive improvements with new QB’s and without, and how they did the following year) In May, I talked about his supporting cast, and though it was bad, probably was in line with some other top picks who struggled, not all of whom panned out. In that piece, I said:
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 (Hutchinson, 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.
So last year’s teammates were blamed for his numbers, but it is probably the case that this year’s teammates on offense were much worse and are actually to blame for any perceived decline. Bradford has had a disappointing season, but has he really been worse? Injuries to himself and others, luck, and a horrible line have hidden any possible development in year two. He was overrated as rookie and now the overreaction will come the other way, but it likely has little to do with Bradford.
Much was made of his receivers last year, and lack of talent. What we may have missed is that the Rams’ offensive line of Roger Saffold, Jacob Bell, Jason Brown, Adam Goldberg and Jason Smith played in a combined 79 of a possible 80 games last year, so what he may have lacked at receiver was somewhat offset by offensive line health and continuity. This year, the Rams signed Harvey Dahl, who had a good year with Atlanta in 2010, to replace Goldberg at RG. Dahl, as it turns out, is the only one who has started every game, though he has had to play out of position and is now at RT because of injuries. The projected starters on offensive line have only played in 73% of the games, and rarely all together. LT Roger Saffold and RT Jason Smith both hit the IR in November, and Jacob Bell had a knee injury in early December and will miss the last 4 games. Jason Brown and Harvey Dahl are out of position, and the rest of the line is patchwork.
As for those receivers, while his group was criticized, he lost his “go-to” guy, Danny Amendola, after 1 game. Last year’s top receivers in catches were Amendola, Brandon Gibson, Daniel Fells and Laurent Robinson. This year? Brandon Lloyd, Gibson, Austin Pettis and Greg Salas. Lloyd is an upgrade, but played less than half his games with Bradford, while the rest is a downgrade, especially seeing how Robinson has done in Dallas.
Bradford’s yards per attempt has been similar, in fact, ever so slightly up. His completion percentage and sack rate are worse. While sack rate can be the responsibility of the quarterback, his rate doubling in one year suggests it was offensive line related. Knowing the injuries on the line supports this. The completion percentage and sack rate also have some interaction; if a quarterback throws more passes away, the completion percentage goes down at the benefit of the sack rate. The fact that both took a dramatic drop supports the massive offensive line injuries and constantly changing receiving group having an impact on those numbers.
Bradford himself has dealt with a finger injury sustained in week 2, and high ankle sprains. These certainly had an impact on him as well as he tried to play through them. The fact that even with these injuries, he outperformed his backups is a positive sign. While Bradford has struggled with a 6.1 yards per attempt figure, the combination of A.J. Feeley and Kellen Clemens has combined for 5.5. yards per attempt.
So, I wish I could tell you whether the Rams will have to address the quarterback position. I think this year was a lost year in so many ways, but though I was more skeptical than the general public of Bradford after year one, but my opinion has not taken a downturn after year two. The dreadful offense around him has obscured whether he is, in fact, part of the problem or part of the solution.
I don’t believe teams should fall prey to sunk costs. If they think Luck is better than Bradford, they should consider a move. Bradford himself is likely untradeable because of the contract, so it would be a question of taking on another quarterback. However, I’m not sure they can tell that at this point. Luck, or any other quarterback would be victim to the same issues that Bradford would face next year.
[photo via Getty]