Monday, November 5, 2012
Scout's take: Questioning Bradford's status
By Mike Sando
A week ago, Pro Football Focus named Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson to its all-NFC West team over San Francisco's Alex Smith.
No one could have seen that coming in 2010, when the St. Louis Rams used the first overall draft choice for quarterback Sam Bradford.
"It's funny," Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said, "we're talking about the best quarterback in the division and nobody even thinks about him."
A few weeks back, when Bradford tossed three touchdown passes to help the Rams outscore Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins, we took note of the performance here. And when Bradford played well enough to win against Miami, albeit in defeat, we took notice again. But in both cases, other quarterbacks from the NFC West played as well or better that week.
"The Rams got Jeff Fisher, they got these other pieces, all those draft choices, but if Bradford is not a star, none of that matters," Williamson said. "He needs to be the best quarterback in this division and that is not saying much. Tom Brady is not in the NFC West."
Bradford gets a pass, at times, for persevering through miserable circumstances. It's tough to evaluate how a driver performs behind the wheel of a car missing its transmission and radiator. The Rams haven't had the offensive line, receivers or overall health to give any quarterback his best shot.
"There is always an excuse," Williamson said. "He has been in the league long enough now where we're tired of hearing that. You're not a prospect any more. This is when you've got to be good."
Smith (four), Wilson (three) and Kevin Kolb (one) account for the eight top performances from NFC West quarterbacks this season, measured by Total QBR. Bradford owns the ninth, 11th and 12th-best games.
"Just statistically speaking, he has had like two or three really good games his whole career," Williamson said. "It's never like, 'Wow, Bradford had a great game today.' "
We covered this subject heading into the Rams' Week 2 game against Washington. At the time, there were 29 quarterbacks since 2008 with at least 25 games featuring 25-plus action plays. Of those, Bradford had the fewest games with a QBR score of 70 or higher (50 is average and 100 is maximum). He had two. Chad Henne was next with four.
Bradford made it three with his 77.3 QBR score against the Dolphins. That stands as his highest score of the season. Meanwhile, Wilson has four 70-plus games in nine career starts. Smith has four in eight starts this season.
Other quarterbacks in the division appear to be outperforming Bradford regularly.
"I just don't think it's a slam dunk that Bradford is clearly the answer," Williamson said. "After watching him his rookie year, you said, 'OK, he's the guy.' I feel that way about Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson. I felt that way that way about Bradford.
"This season, for the first time, I'm thinking maybe he is always going to be the 18th-best quarterback in the league."
We'll revisit these thoughts as the season progresses.
Bradford should benefit from receiver Danny Amendola's anticipated return from a rib injury. As the second chart shows, Bradford's third-down production has suffered in recent weeks. The decline matches up with Amendola's exit from the lineup during a Week 5 game against Arizona. Bradford's production on early downs has actually improved since then.
With a trip to San Francisco awaiting in Week 10, Bradford faces a tough test coming out of the Rams' bye week.
This game marks Bradford's first against the 49ers since the 2010 season, when he completed 75.7 percent of his passes for 292 yards during a memorable Week 16 victory in the Edward Jones Dome.
Bradford posted a 72.5 QBR score that day. He has bettered that one time in the interim, against the Dolphins.
Eli Manning (96.0), Christian Ponder (89.9) and Aaron Rodgers (55.1) are the only quarterbacks to post scores higher than average (50) against the 49ers this season. San Francisco's opponents have posted a cumulative 48.3 score, just above Bradford's 46.1 for the season.
Related: Bernie Miklasz on Bradford.