As I've learned recently, criticizing Sam Bradford is damn near approaching heresy. I understand. The St. Louis Rams and we long-suffering fans have been hoping for a viable franchise quarterback for a long time, and the lanky kid out of Oklahoma who was the first pick in the 2010 NFL Draft is supposed to be the next big thing here.
The Rams offense has never averaged more than 18.1 points per game with Bradford under center. Problems up and down the roster account for much of those issues, from a poor offensive line to a glaring lack of receivers. I've come to believe that the offensive struggles are multifaceted. We can't blame Bradford's struggles on him entirely considering the team around him, but I think it's wrong to exclude him from the list of reasons for the team's offensive struggles.
At any rate, the debate over Bradford is in full swing. It seems to have settled into a tone that goes something like: he's not done anything to make us think he's a bust, but he's not doing anything to make us think he's a franchise quarterback either.
I expected to see more from Bradford by his third season in the league. We all did. Mike Sando pointed that out in a conversation with Bernie Miklasz Tuesday on 101 ESPN (at the 2:15 mark).
Check out this tweet from Sando earlier on Tuesday:
Mike Williamson of Scouts, Inc., who has been a Bradford backer in the past, took a harder line in a Monday conversation with Sando.
"There is always an excuse. 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.
Just statistically speaking, he has had like two or three really good games his whole career. It's never like, 'Wow, Bradford had a great game today.'"
The whole thrust of Sando's post is that Bradford is the third-best quarterback in the division, behind Alex Smith and Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson. A larger discussion point in regards to Bradford is the lack of steady progress since his rookie season, even when you break out this season individually.
Wilson, as Sando noted in the interview with Miklasz, has made steady progress since the start of the season. His offensive line is better, and he has Sidney Rice, who is better than any receiver on the Rams roster. Wilson is also one of those quarterbacks that can buy themselves an extra second or two with is ability to move outside the pocket.
There are positives with Bradford. His fourth quarter numbers are the fourth best in the league, according to ESPN's proprietary QBR statistic. You can go back through the game tape and find those pinpoint throws to a receiver that still make your jaw drop.
Bradford is hardly a lost cause.
But he has people like Williamson saying that he needs to start showing more in his third season.
"I just don't think it's a slam dunk that Bradford is clearly the answer. 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."
This isn't really something new. Greg Cossel said this about Bradford in early October:
I've been a little disappointed in Bradford. I think there are times when he throws it really well because he's a very good arm talent. You just don't see the consistency in his game. Granted, it's a new offense ... but I just feel like he should be a little further along.
Some quarterbacks can compensate for offensive line issues, the great ones can. Obviously as the numer one pick in the draft, the feeling was that he can become a great one. At this point in his career he has not shown the ability to overcome weaknesses in his o line.
Fisher and Snead have been pretty effusive in their praise for the quarterback. Fisher even cited the presence of Bradford in making his decision to coach the Rams this year. Even if they had their doubts, the front office can't do much about it in 2013, not with a very mediocre quarterback class.
The Rams have eight more game to play, tough ones at that. There are reinforcements coming in the way of Rodger Saffold and Danny Amendola, who are both expected to be in the lineup this week. Both those players should benefit Bradford directly.
It also puts more pressure on the quarterback to improve his play down the stretch.