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Sam Bradford: Signs of Greatness?

Quarterback is the most important position in the NFL. It is also one of the tougher positions to evaluate on raw statistical data alone. So what is the one thing pundits always point to when discussing "elite" QBs? More importantly, has Sam Bradford shown it?

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Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The NFL is the ultimate team sport.

In the NFL, no game is won or lost by any individual player, and raw statistics could never tell the whole story of a player's performance. With so many moving and intereliant pieces on any given play, even the "advanced metrics" of sites such as ProFootballFocus have limitations for player evaluation. The QB position is more reliant on the supporting cast than any other position in the NFL. Without serviceable wide receivers, a decent offensive line, or threat of a running game, a QB will surely struggle regardless of individual ability.

With all that said, there is one common thread pundits refer to among the NFL's "elite" at the position: they make those around them better.

It is what separates the Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings of the world from the Rex Grossmans and Mark Sanchezs. While this trait is often referenced, it is almost never analyzed on a player by player basis the same way as QB Rating or raw stats are. As an outside the box way of looking at the Rams QB situation and whether it is even worth gambling on Bradford in 2015 (at a reduced price), I thought it would be an interesting exercise.

With Bradford, the concerns are as obvious as the list of "excuses" for his underachievement is long. Sam is a durability risk coming off of two ACL injuries in the past two NFL seasons. Clearly, the Rams gambled on the health of Bradford and LT Jake Long in 2014 and got burned, badly. With that in mind, the question becomes if the Rams and Bradford can come to a financial agreement that makes sense for both parties, has Bradford shown enough of the anticipated "elite" QB characteristics to warrant keeping the former #1 overall selection around?

For this, I decided to look at the Rams top three receivers from Bradford's first three seasons with the team. I did this for two reasons: (a) Bradford played 42 of 48 games in his first 3 seasons, and (b) Chris Givens is the only current Ram to have made the top 3 receivers list in those seasons which assures we should have their performances with other QBs to compare to. As an interesting aside, the Rams have had a different leader in receiving yards for the past 7 seasons. Last player to repeat as receiving leader? None other than "Big Game" Torry Holt in 2007 and 2008.

Player (Games) Catches Yards YPC TD
D. Amendola (16) 85 689 8.11 3
B. Gibson (14) 53 620 11.70 2
L. Robinson (14) 34 344 10.12 2
Player (Games) Catches Yards YPC TD
B. Lloyd (5) 24 351 14.63 3
D. Alexander (5) 15 287 19.13 1
B. Gibson (9) 29 335 11.55 1
Player (Games) Catches Yards YPC TD
C. Givens (15) 42 698 16.62 3
D. Amendola (11) 63 666 10.57 3
B. Gibson (16) 51 691 13.55 5

None of these receiver statistics are going to jump off the page at you, and at first glance it certainly doesn't look good for Bradford's chances at comparing favorable down the line. Of all the players who made the top three cut in Bradford's first three seasons, only Brandon Gibson, Danny Amendola and Brandon Lloyd have played any significant time since leaving St. Louis. The table below shows each of those players totals with Bradford vs. their new QB:

Player Total Games Total Catches Total Yards Cum. YPC Total TD QB
B. Gibson 21 59 621 10.53 4 R. Tanenhill
B. Gibson 39 133 1646 12.38 8 S. Bradford
D. Amendola 26 96 853 8.68 3 T. Brady
D. Amendola 27 148 1355 9.16 6 S. Bradford
B. Lloyd 28 88 1205 13.69 5 Brady(16 )\Kaepernick (12)
B. Lloyd 5 24 351 14.63 3 S. Bradford

One thing that will certainly jump out at you about the table, is there are two WRs who have both played with surefire Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady. Brady has long been renowned for his ability to elevate the play of those around him. Let's take a look at the per game avgs for each QB/WR duo.

WR Catches/Game Yards/Game TD/Game QB
Danny Amendola 3.69 32.81 .12 Tom Brady
Danny Amendola 5.48 50.19 .22 Sam Bradford
Brandon Lloyd 4.63 56.94 .25 Tom Brady
Brandon Lloyd 4.8 70.2 .60 Sam Bradford

Of course this completely scientific case study proves without a doubt that Sam Bradford is the best QB in the history of the NFL, having clearly out "made guys better"'d than Tom Terrific.

Much like I had mentioned at the beginning of the article, the NFL is a highly complex game. Folks will argue about the impact of schemes, coordinators, surrounding talent and ambient air temperature when discussing QBs. There are far too many variables involved in the NFL world to ever truly compare "apples to apples" as they say. The Brandon Lloyd comparisons don't hold much water, as the sample size is so incredibly small for games played with both QBs. The Amendola comparisons are where the real meat lies, and surely where the argument starts.

As I mentioned, there is no "apples to apples" comparison here, and I am not implying that the substantial statistical advantage Bradford holds over Brady in the Amendola comparison proves anything. However, before the comments section fills up with people mocking me for even mentioning Bradford and Brady in the same breath, let me mention a couple of things.

First of all, I am not suggesting Amendola was better with Bradford; it is merely what the statistics would suggest. Second, it isn't like the system New England runs had ever produced a highly productive slot receiver, so perhaps that's a scheme advantage in Bradford's favor. In the end, it isn't really possible to draw a solid conclusion from this exercise.

Much like virtually every other conversation about the NFL and who is the better player (Manning v. Brady anyone?), the truth wont be revealed using any single metric. At the very least, I hope the unexpected results (don't pretend you aren't surprised too) give you a reason to think a little more critically about player evaluation.

Thanks for reading and as always, Go Rams!!!