Now I advise you to take all of this with a grain of salt, but I have done some thinking. I was wondering what kind of career path Bradford could be on, and his path so far kind of reminds me of someone all Rams fans know pretty well.
Yes... Bradford's up and down career reminds me of a the former Niners QB, Alex Smith. If you don't know, Alex Smith was taken first in the 2005 NFL Draft making him a former number one pick along with Sam Bradford. Like Bradford, Smith struggled at times throughout his earlier years in the NFL. Injuries also played a major part in Smith's strife in his early career, and injuries would be his down fall in San Fransisco. Interestingly enough, both quarterbacks have had issues with their A/C joints in their shoulders. Note that Bradford's shoulder was a cause of concern coming out of college, and Smith hurt his in 2007 (his third season). Beyond the Draft and the injuries, Bradford and Smith share similar statistics in their first four years in the NFL. I took a sample of Smith's second to fifth year to compare to Bradford's first four years. I decided to skip Smith's rookie season because he did not start the year starting like Bradford did.
Some key statistics I would like to point out are the records, completion percentage (Cmp%), and the yards per attempt (Y/A). Smith and Bradford were almost identical in these three major stats. The numbers show me that these two QBs are inconsistent with accuracy and inconsistent getting the ball down the field. Ideally, you want your QB to complete above 60 percent of your passes, but both have failed to do that. When it comes to the records of these QBs, most clamoring in Bradford's defense are quick to point out the lackluster supporting cast and the terrible offensive line. These are realities that Smith faced in his young career, as well. Another revealing stat is the combined 34 games these two missed in their four year time spans. Struggling with injuries and having terrible surrounding casts, both Smith and Bradford failed at living up to the expectations of a first overall QB. In the defense of these two, staying healthy isn't easy when you are getting sacked on average 27.5 times a season! In fact, Smith was sacked 99 times in his first four years, but Bradford has been sacked a whopping 120 times! Those kind of hits take a toll on a 20-year old and can inhibit development (just ask David Carr). Keep in mind that Alex Smith started in 43 games between 2006 and 2010, meanwhile Bradford has started and played in 49 games since entering the NFL. The stats are pretty telling as to where Bradford's career is heading, and it would appear as if Bradford is on a similar bumpy path traveled by his counter-part now in Kansas City. What does this mean for Bradford in the future?
It would appear as if it would be wise for the Rams to hold on to their starting QB. Yes, Bradford has struggled at times with protection schemes and under-throwing passes to wide open receivers. But if Bradford is on a similar path as Smith, then we could be in a treat of a season. The 2011 NFL season was the year that the former number one pick, Alex Smith, put it together. Smith didn't put up crazy numbers, but he managed to lead his team to a 13-3 record (only 4 less wins then the previous 4 years). Smith did have the advantage of a stout defense and solid cast in 2011, but I think Bradford could finally have the pieces around to breakout like Alex Smith. I would like to say that I believe Bradford is a better QB at this point in his career. Bradford was on pace for a career year last season, so this could be the year, 2014, that Bradford puts it together in a Alex Smith-esque fashion.
If Bradford is poised for a breakout year, how do the Rams go about helping Sam excel this season? Do the Rams draft the top-WR prospect Sammy Watkins, do they draft a top offensive tackle, or do they continue to build their defense? Obviously you need to keep Bradford up right to allow him to get the ball down the field, but the Niners and Seahawks have shown that you don't need overwhelming QB play to go far in the playoffs. What you need at the QB position is consistency and a QB that takes care of the ball. Bradford was doing well in regard to his touchdown to interception ratio (14-4), but Smith had a ratio of 17 to 5 in his breakout season. Russell Wilson had a 26 to 9 ratio on his way to a championship season (I threw up as I was typing that). Our NFC West counterparts have built winning teams off the run game and a ferocious defense that their young QBs can feed off of. The Rams need to continue to build the offense line to create a dominant run game, and they need to draft to improve the defense. Remember that the Rams found their run game in the last half of the season, and the Rams run defense was in the top ten of the league in 2013. The St. Louis Rams have the pieces to help Bradford, and that is why he is a breakout candidate in 2014 coming off the ACL injury.
Oh and I noticed he grew as a leader last season...