Thursday, January 9, 2014
On Bradford, No. 1 picks and the playoffs
By Nick Wagoner
ST. LOUIS -- Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will make his first career postseason start Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. In doing so, he will become the fifth quarterback taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft since 2004 to start a playoff game.
There are nine active quarterbacks that went first overall in the draft in the league right now. After Sunday, there will be just one who has yet to make a playoff appearance: the Rams' Sam Bradford.
Newton will join Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck as former No. 1 picks to start a playoff game. All but Stafford, Palmer and, obviously, Newton have won a playoff game.
It's worth noting that in that time, there are other No. 1 quarterbacks who flamed out. Tim Couch, David Carr and JaMarcus Russell are no longer in the league.
For Bradford, the closest he's come to a playoff appearance came in his rookie season. That year, Bradford helped the Rams to a 7-9 record with only a season-ending loss at Seattle keeping them from winning the NFC West division and landing in the postseason. In what amounted to a de facto playoff game, Bradford had one of the worst performances of his rookie season, going 19-of-36 for 155 yards with no touchdowns and an interception for an abysmal QBR of 8.4 as the Rams lost 16-6.
Since, the Rams haven't again sniffed a postseason appearance. Of course, the blame for the lack of playoff berths goes well beyond Bradford. It also pre-dates him to the team's last playoff appearance in 2004.
St. Louis has one of the league's longest streaks of seasons without a playoff bid. Bradford's tenure in St. Louis has mostly fallen in line with the team. In the lost 2011 season, Bradford dealt with an ankle injury and struggled when he was on the field. In 2012, Bradford managed to stay healthy and the Rams improved to 7-8-1.
This year, Bradford tore an ACL in Week 7 against Newton's Panthers and the Rams dipped slightly to finish 7-9 -- though Bradford had seemed to find himself some in the three games before his injury.
Of the quarterbacks on this list, Bradford's career trajectory most closely resembles Smith's to this point. Both players went through a number of coordinator and scheme changes and both had their share of self-inflicted struggles.
San Francisco drafted Smith first overall in 2005 but didn't make his playoff debut until 2011. If Bradford followed a similar timeline, his first postseason appearance would come in 2016. Although the Rams have made it clear they're committed to Bradford as the quarterback of the present and, potentially, the future, the 2016 season would coincide with the end of Bradford's rookie deal.
If Bradford hasn't led the Rams to the playoffs by then, chances are any hopes of doing it in St. Louis would decrease significantly.