Sam Bradford is entering his fourth NFL season this year and many people around the league are saying that this is the year that he will "breakout." If he does "breakout" this year, what does he have to do? How many yards will he have to throw for? Touchdowns? Interceptions? See, nobody really knows how to truly define a breakout season.
Matt Ryan has proved to be a top ten quarterback in the league these past few years. He has ranked in the top ten in passing yards in 2010, 2011, and 2012. In this piece, I am going to compare Matt Ryan's career up to his fourth season to what Sam Bradford's look like.
Now, I think that Matt Ryan's true breakout season was in 2011. Sure, he was a top ten quarterback in 2010, but not a lot of people were really calling him elite after that year. However, after 2011, all of the national talking heads (ESPN, FOX, CBS, NBC, and NFL Network) were all calling Matt Ryan the next great quarterback. And they were right.
I have two main reasons why I decided to compare Ryan and Bradford, and here they are: Coming into 2011, Matt Ryan was entering his 4th NFL season. Guess who is entering his fourth year in 2013? Sam Bradford. In the 2011 draft, the Falcons traded up to get Julio Jones with the 6th overall pick. In the 2013 draft, the Rams moved up to select Tavon Austin with the 8th overall pick. (Les Snead was a part of both of those trades.)
Ryan and Bradford's first three years of there respective careers look very similar. In each of their rookie seasons they were both solid. Matt Ryan's numbers in his rookie season (2008) were: 265-434 for 3440 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. In Bradford's rookie season (2010) the stats were similar: 354-590 for 3512 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. Both players had a "sophomore slump" in their respective second years. Both guys missed games in their second seasons; Ryan missed 2 games, Bradford missed 6. Both guys threw for under 3000 yards and were in the bottom ten in passing yards of starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
However, both quarterbacks bounced back in their third years. Both set career highs in yards and touchdowns, and career lows in interceptions. Ryan's numbers were: 357-571 for 3705 yards, 28 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. To compare, Sam Bradford was 328-551 for 3702 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in his third year. Pretty close, right? Ryan threw for just 3 more yards than Sam, but he also threw for 7 more TD's and 4 fewer interceptions. In my eyes, this next year was Matty Ice's breakout season. He was 347-566 for 4177 yards, 29 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 2011. I labeled this as Ryan's breakout season because it was the first time that he threw for over 4000 yards in his career. That number seems to separate the good quarterbacks from the average-below average ones. That season was also Julio Jones's first season. In his rookie season, Jones caught 54 passes for 959 yards and 8 touchdowns. If Tavon Austin could duplicate those numbers, I think we would all be fine with that.
If Sam Bradford continues to copy Matt Ryan's career path, 2013 will be a big leap forward for him. It would be the first time he throws for 4000 yards. Can Sam Bradford become as good of a quarterback as Matt Ryan? That is yet to be determined, but with the addition of Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Jared Cook it is certainly possible.