St. Louis Rams' Sam Bradford: Is he a 'franchise quarterback'?

Sam Greenwood

In today's pass-happy NFL, no position is more significant, or comes under closer scrutiny, than the quarterback. A franchise quarterback is a player coveted by every NFL team - the key to playoff aspirations and Super Bowl title hopes. What defines a franchise quarterback? Do the Rams have one in Sam Bradford?

The quarterback is the most talked-about position in the NFL. As the most important position on the field, it's easy to understand why so much attention is paid to them. When the terms "elite", "top ten", "franchise player" and "NFL rankings" [among others] are read in articles and commentary, more often than not they are used in reference to the quarterbacks of the NFL. These terms are being used with greater frequency [and about more quarterbacks] than ever before.

It's relatively easy to come up with terminology; however, far more difficult to define what those terms actually mean in relation to NFL players. One of the more perplexing terms used in any discussion about quarterbacks is "franchise quarterback". What is a "franchise quarterback"? What are the criteria used in determining who qualifies as a "franchise quarterback"? What standards must a quarterback meet to become one?

The most important question for St. Louis Rams fans: is Sam Bradford a "franchise quarterback"?

In an article for Bleacher Report, on July 26, 2013, "How to Define a Franchise QB in Today's NFL" (please click on link), Erik Frenz presented a set of criteria and standards, for what constitutes a "franchise quarterback". The article relies exclusively on statistical analysis, and concludes with a list of quarterbacks who qualify as "franchise quarterbacks". It's noteworthy that his analysis is based solely on results from the 2012 season.

The Criteria

  1. Statistical Pedigree
  2. Winning
  3. Dynamic Skill Set
  4. Decision Making
  5. Leadership
The Standards

Statistical Pedigree

Three measures comprise the standards for the criteria of "statistical pedigree": Yards - Per - Attempt, Passer Rating/QBR, and Completion Percentage. The following are what a quarterback must achieve to meet the standards set: 63.0% completion percentage, 85.8 passer rating, and 7.6 yards - per - attempt. Sam Bradford, with a 59.5% completion percentage, 82.6 passer rating, and 6.7 YPA, did not meet any of the three standards in 2012.

Winning

As noted in the article, team win-loss record is a problematic measure for a quarterback:

"Yes, overall win-loss record is one of the worst measures of a quarterback. It tells you nothing about the player except that he's on a team that wins."

A measure known as Win Probability Added [WPA], developed by the stats website Advanced NFL Stats, is an innovative way of bringing "winning" into the "franchise quarterback" discussion. The standard a quarterback must achieve is 0.155 WPA - per - game.

The other standard for "winning" is a Super Bowl victory, which is considered a defining moment for a "franchise quarterback".

Sam Bradford did not achieve either of the standards, as he has no Super Bowl victory on his resume, and his WPA - per - game was 0.12.

Dynamic Skill Set

Arm strength is the focus in this "dynamic skill set" criteria. Accuracy percentage, on throws travelling 20 yards or more through the air, is the measure used in relation to arm strength. The standard to attain is ranking in the top 12 in this statistic. Sam Bradford, with an accuracy percentage of 41.7, ranks 12th on the list, meeting the standard set for this particular criteria.

Decision Making

Erik Frenz suggests that some of the NFL's best quarterbacks are those that release the football quickly. He uses a statistic tracked by Pro Football Focus [the average time it takes a quarterback to attempt a pass], as an indicator of quick decision making. The standard for this criteria is a top ten ranking in attempt time. Sam Bradford ranked 18th in 2012, and did not attain the standard.

Leadership

As the author suggests, leadership is virtually impossible to measure by statistics. He does, however, offer two statistical measures that are indicative of quality leadership: 3rd down - conversion % - by pass, and 4th quarter comebacks. The standards for the leadership criteria are: at least 3 4th quarter comebacks in 2012, and ranking in the top ten in 3rd down - conversion % - by pass. Sam Bradford met the standard for 4th quarter comebacks [4 in 2012]. His 3rd down - conversion % - by pass ranked in the bottom ten in the league.

Who Are The NFL's "Franchise Quarterbacks"?

Eight statistical measures were used in qualifying players for "franchise quarterback" status. In order to be considered a "franchise quarterback", a player must have met the standard in at least 5 of the 8 statistical categories [or won a Super Bowl]. The accompanying chart presents the 11 quarterbacks who qualified as "franchise quarterbacks".

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Questioning The Methodology

The article on Bleacher Report is an excellent starting point in any "franchise quarterback" discussion. To further the discussion, the following are my observations and questions regarding the criteria:

  • Is one year of qualifying enough to declare a player a "franchise quarterback"? What if that one great year is surrounded by six poor years? Should sustained excellence and consistency factor into the discussion?
  • All of the criteria and standards in the article involve statistics and production. Are there other factors, conditions and intangibles that should be included - of a non-statistical nature? Statistics only tell part of any story, and not always reliably.
  • Are the standards for meeting the criteria reasonable? Are the qualifications too stringent? Are the number of "franchise quarterbacks" too few in number? Too many?
  • Should winning the Super Bowl be one of the standards to meet? Or does this comment from the author downplay the importance placed on winning the Super Bowl:

"The quarterback is considered the most important player on the field, but in what is frequently called the "ultimate team sport," we shouldn't give one player all the credit for winning or all the blame for losing."

Sambradford_medium

Sam Bradford

It has become commonplace to refer to Sam Bradford as the Rams' franchise quarterback. There is little doubt the Rams organization believe they have their franchise quarterback in Bradford. It is one of the major reasons Jeff Fisher came to the Rams in January, 2012. There are many detractors, however, that question whether Sam Bradford IS the face of the franchise........the player who will lead the Rams to the Super Bowl.

Bradford is not among the 11 quarterbacks that qualified as a "franchise quarterback", determined by the Bleacher Report analysis. Nor is he considered to be "on the fringe" of becoming one. He met the standards in only 2 of 8 statistical categories. Irrespective of his absence from the "franchise quarterback" list, Bradford should continue his development in 2013 [after much improvement in 2012] - all signs point in the direction of him becoming the Rams' franchise quarterback. Given the improvements to the offensive line, and the additions to the playmaking arsenal, it is conceivable that Sam Bradford could reach the "franchise quarterback" statistical standards in 2013.

The link to the Bleacher Report article was originally posted on TST, July 30, 2013, in my weekly Random Ramsdom column. (please click on link). The first comment posted in the thread for that article is by "fletcherisland". It's compelling - both for it's insight, and depth of analysis [the comment was applauded and recommended by the TST community]. It presents a logical, balanced argument for including Sam Bradford in the "franchise quarterback" discussion. A must read.

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