As a first overall draft pick, the burden of a franchise’s expectations are placed squarely on your shoulders. This, of course, is only fair. After all, you are regarded as the best player of your college class, and the contract and stardom that are part of being Number One do come at a price: to rescue a moribund team from the depths of defeat. As a quarterback, those expectations are even bigger, with the player given the keys to an offence that needs to re-learn how to win.
When Sam Bradford was drafted in 2010, St Louis Rams fans could not have been more excited. Here was their new leader, a former Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma who would take the reins from the Marc Bulger he would soon supplant. Injury concerns were brushed aside and, after a stellar Pro Day, Bradford was anointed the Rams’ new Messiah. He would resurrect the Greatest Show on Turf and take the franchise to the Promised Land.
Sadly, it has not proved so thus far. Bradford has accumulated an 18-30-1 record and, while demonstrating occasional flashes of high-caliber ability, he has fallen well short of the elite status for which many were hoping. He has a mediocre rating of 79.3, and while his touchdown/interception ratio is an optimistic 59/38, his career yards-per-attempt is a measly 6.3. These are not the statistics of a first overall pick. This has given way to a wide array of excuses: a high turnover of offensive coordinators, a weak receiving corps, a shaky offensive line, and, of course, injuries. Went Sam went down with a torn ACL at the midway point of last season, he was having the best year of his career, by far, and well on the way of achieving career highs in many areas. What could have been!
While these excuses do have some justification, however, the fact is that time is running out for Number 8. Next season will be Bradford’s fifth, and patience is wearing thin. The front office have gone some way towards addressing the issues which have hindered the quarterback’s progress. Firstly, Brian Schotteinheimer’s tenure has provided some continuity and stability at the OC position (even if some Rams fans feel this actually works against Bradford). Secondly, a significant investment has been made at wide receiver, most notably the drafting of dynamic player Tavon Austin. The free agent signing of Jake Long also proved the franchise’s commitment to strengthening the offensive line. The Rams also, through Zac Stacy, have a running game that can take the pressure off Bradford’s arm. And, finally, the upcoming draft is expected to yield even further players that can only help Bradford fulfill his potential. The pieces seem to be in place: now it is up to Sam to step up.
2014 will, therefore, be a huge year for Bradford. It is an opportunity for him to maybe emerge as a late-bloomer, similar to Alex Smith. Or, it could signal the start of an all-too-familiar process that will see him descend to backup status before, eventually, fading into oblivion and becoming the answer to a trivia question. Ignoring the technicalities behind Eli Manning’s drafting, seven of the last ten quarterbacks drafted have led their teams to the playoffs: David Carr and JaMarcus Russell are not good company to be in. But, if Bradford does not meet these expectations this year, expect the long wait for a franchise quarterback to dominate the next off-season.