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Sam Bradford, the Rams and the shotgun

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Few things have complicated prospect evaluation and draft prognostication like the predominance of the spread offense in college. And of all the players being evaluated for the NFL ranks, quarterbacks face the most questions when it comes to making the transition. Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford has succeeded in putting to rest lots of the questions surrounding his draft status, particularly his health, but plenty of people still wonder about how well he'll fare when he's actually got his hands close to the center's most intimate parts for a snap as opposed to the shotgun, which he's far more accustomed to seeing. It may not matter all much. 

The trend in the NFL right now is firmly fixed on passing. As a result, more and more teams are using the shotgun in their offense. The Rams could be positioned to do the same thing. Of course, how often they use the shotgun and how effectively they use it has to do with personnel. If the Rams do draft Bradford, they'll have a QB very comfortable with the shotgun and some talent around him that could help make it more effective. 

Head coach Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur used the shotgun on 38.8 percent of the team's offensive plays. Two NFL teams used it more than 50 percent of the time, New England and Indianapolis. Like the rest of the Rams offense, it wasn't very effective. They averaged 4.9 yards per play out of the gun and had a DVOA of -40.3 percent, second worst in the league. It's worth remembering that the Rams passing offense had a DVOA of -33.5 percent, worst in the league. With the total offense last season being so bad, it's hard to judge just how effective the shotgun was. Keith Null, a spread QB who reportedly still wasn't comfortable taking snaps under center until mid-season, started four games for the Rams...two of which featured an offensive line with just 40 percent of it's regular starters protecting him. 

But, this could be a much different year for the Rams. They'll start the season with their offensive line completely healthy. Ordinarily, that might not be much of an assurance to Rams fans, but the offensive line did improve last year with the additions of Jason Smith, Jason Brown and a healthy, bulked up Jacob Bell. Still in doubt? Check out t his article from Pro Football Focus rating the pass protection of all 32 teams. They put the Rams at #12. The discrepancy between the protection and the sacks? The quarterbacks. Check it out, from PFF:

In fact, they could have been even better. But if Peyton Manning is a master when it comes to stopping pressure from becoming sacks, the Rams quarterbacks were magicians at turning pressure into sacks: They ranked 31st in sack/pressure ratio (and were 32nd in 2008), making their general protection look a lot worse than it was. The bottom line here is they are generally good pass protectors -- especially in the middle -- who don't like to leave in too many people to help out.

That jives with some of the complaints appearing in the game threads at TST last year. It also speaks to some of the issues the Rams had with their receivers. 

My next question was just how much the Rams are likely to run the shotgun. Unfortunately, Football Outsider's shotgun stats cover just last season. The best comparison we can do is to look at how often the Eagles lined up in the shotgun, since that was where Shurmur was before coming to the Rams (as QB coach) and the Eagles offense didn't change too much in the wake of his departure. (Not the best comparison, but a starting point) And just how often did they use the shotgun?

Only the Pats and Colts used the gun more than the Eagles, who used it on 48.7 percent of their total offensive plays. 

So could the Rams be using the shotgun more in 2010? It's very probable. They spent their first round pick last year, second overall, on OT Jason Smith, who really came into his own as a pass blocker last year, especially when he used the two-point stance that he used so often at Baylor. It offer the Rams the justification they need to (not that his contract doesn't) to move him over to the left side this year. 

The Rams also have the one and only Steven Jackson, who you may recall is a pretty good player whether he's running the ball or catching a pass. It seems like every Sunday last year we were beating our heads against the walls, lamenting the lack of options and draw plays coming from the Rams' huddle. With an offense more capable of playing out of the shotgun, Jackson could get a lot more action on those kinds of plays. 

And what about the QB? If the Rams do go with Bradford, there's no question about his ability to take snaps out of the shotgun. He figures to have decent pass protection around him, so what about the issue that pluaged Rams QBs last year, the ability to keep pressure from becomming sacks? Bradford has a quick release and throws well on the move,  and though he is hardly a scrambler, he does have the mobility to keep himself out of pressure. In college, he showed good decision making and an ability to read defenses. How well that translates to the pro level remains to be seen, and is arguably the biggest question mark he brings to the draft. As the TCU game reminds us, he's not perfect at picking up blitzers. 

If the Rams eschew Bradford with their top pick, they still might get a QB like Colt McCoy who also spent lots of time working out of the shotgun in college. 

Barring a giant shock, the Rams will draft Sam Bradford with their top pick, and you can expect to see more of the shotgun in their offense.