Does it matter when Sam Bradford starts?

May, 28, 2010
5/28/10
10:59
AM ET
Berry Tramel's column and my earlier item on how early to start Sam Bradford have generated discussion and a few new thoughts.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
G. Newman Lowrance/Getty ImagesIf the Rams are satisfied with the supporting cast, they may start Sam Bradford right away.
"They're going to pay him like a (Hall of Famer)," former Seahawks defensive lineman Mike Frier tweeted. "He better start."

Turf Show Times' VanRam outlined key factors he thinks will be important in determining the best time for Bradford to make his regular-season starting debut with the Rams. "Plenty of things have to be in place before that happens," he concluded. "It's unlikely those things will be a go by Week 1."

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reminded us that the Rams' Steve Spagnuolo and Pat Shurmur were with the Eagles in 1999 when Philadelphia eased first-round quarterback Donovan McNabb into the lineup after going with Doug Pederson to open the regular season.

"Then again," Mortensen tweeted, "if the Rams think Bradford is ready & Steven Jackson is ready to play, the O-line is very solid ... and Sam could start."

Tramel noted that the Rams should start Bradford even though they lack the "big-time running games and solid defenses" that helped Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez start right away as rookies. I would take exception to half of the premise. The Rams do have a big-time running game as long as Steven Jackson is part of the equation. Their offensive line was pretty good and improving until injuries and Richie Incognito's demise wiped out the Rams' depth in the second half of the season.

"Is there a set of stats to put together to show the relativity in the last five or 10 years as to QBs drafted in the top 10 slots, when they began to start, and their first- and/or second-year performance," Bcook122 asked in the comments section of my earlier item. "There is no question that it's not done in a vacuum and the quality of the offense when the guy takes over has a lot to do with the success ratio, but I'm a little concerned about all this talk of Bradford being 'pro-ready' and then holding a too high expectation. Clearly, if he is the best of the bunch, he is going to be starting, and if he shines like Sanchez did, then yahoo, but that's not always the case."

This is where I think it's important to make distinctions between Bradford's situation and other situations encountered by early quarterbacks.

The Jets traded up from the 17th spot into the fifth spot to draft Sanchez. That meant Sanchez walked into a pretty good situation. There's no use in comparing that situation to situations encountered by quarterbacks drafted first overall by teams that did not acquire the top pick. Bradford has joined the worst team in the league, by definition. Sanchez joined one of the better teams.

Quarterbacks Matthew Stafford, JaMarcus Russell, Alex Smith, Carson Palmer, David Carr, Tim Couch and Peyton Manning were No. 1 overall choices drafted by teams that did not acquire the top choice. Eli Manning and Michael Vick were also No. 1 overall quarterbacks during that time, but both landed with teams that did not finish the previous season with the NFL's worst record.

Stafford, Carr and Manning started in Week 1 as rookies. Stafford lasted four games before an injury sidelined him. Carr absorbed 76 sacks in 16 rookie starts. Manning tossed 26 touchdown passes with 28 interceptions while starting 16 games as a rookie.

Russell did not play until Week 13 of his rookie year. He did not start until Week 17. Palmer did not play at all as a rookie. Couch became the Browns' starter in Week 2. Smith made his first NFL start for the 49ers in Week 5.

The more I look at recent history, the less it appears to matter exactly when quarterbacks drafted first overall make their starting debuts. Quarterbacks ultimately succeed or fail based on how they approach the game, their mental toughness, physical abilities and how well their teams assemble coaching staffs and rosters around them.

That said, if you're a Rams fan, how excited are you to see Bradford make his NFL debut in Week 1 against an Arizona defense featuring Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell, Joey Porter and Adrian Wilson? Think those guys would like to welcome Bradford to the league with a few crushing hits?

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