This post comes from Justin Becker of FantasyFootballOverdose.com. You can follow the Fantasy Football Overdose Google+Page, and for more Premier Fantasy Football Projectionsvisit Fantasy Football Overdose, a fantasy football blog.
The St. Louis Rams made Sam Bradford the number one overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, thinking the Oklahoma quarterback could rescue from the bottom of the NFC West.
Four years late, the Rams have no playoff appearances with Bradford at the helm and are still right where they started: at the bottom.
The NFC West has only grown stronger, while the Rams remain inconsistent on offense. Some blame Bradford, who has never completed more than 60.7% of his passes in any season and has also missed 15 games of his first four seasons.
Still just 26 years old and possessing real talent, Bradford has been the subject of countless rumors through the 2014 offseason. The $78 million dollar man won’t become a free agent until 2016, but extension talks will soon be coming up and many aren’t sold on the Rams being completely behind Bradford as the future of the franchise.
The hesitance to completely back Bradford is understandable, too. He hasn’t exactly been a prolific passer in his four seasons (highs of 3,702 passing yards and 21 touchdowns), while he hasn’t been that major difference between winning and losing. With a ton of money at stake, it’s entirely possible GM Les Snead and the rest of the front office don’t see a franchise quarterback that will soon lead the Rams back to the playoffs. Rather, it’s possible they see an injury-prone quarterback who isn’t quite as good as they hoped he’d be.
There’s another side to the Bradford debate, too, and it’s a powerful one that the Rams are likely to currently be on. There’s the notion that the failure in St. Louis is hardly Bradford’s fault. For one, he’s actually been pretty healthy overall in his career. He did miss six games in 2011 due to injury, but the nine games he missed last year were due to a freak ACL tear. Otherwise, he put in two full seasons in 2010 and 2012.
In addition, Bradford has gone to work with average talent around him at best. Last season was the first year he had anything close to a quality tight end option, and even Jared Cook was extremely inconsistent (much like he was in Tennessee). Bradford hasn’t had an explosive rushing attack to back him up his entire career, either. Even when he had Steven Jackson, the Rams constantly had to manage injuries and there was very little help beyond him in the backfield.
The offensive line has also been a monumental problem, and continued to be in 2013 with injuries to Rodger Saffold and Jake Long.
The arrow is pointing up for the Bradford era in St. Louis, though. Long should return to full health in 2014, while Saffold was re-signed to a long-term deal. Tavon Austin and Jared Cook are two explosive threats for the passing game that will be entering their second season with the Rams, hopefully improving within an offense they will now have mastered, while also building on their chemistry with Bradford.
Zac Stacy has at least for now made Steven Jackson a forgotten man, taking over the St. Louis ground game with a bruising, physical style that even made mincemeat of the Seattle Seahawks one week. Add in the Rams’ ever improving defense, and suddenly Bradford has all the help he can ask for.
Throw in the signing of big target Kenny Britt and a likely early pick on extra help at wide receiver, and Bradford’s 2014 season could easily be his best yet.
There’s more reason for optimism. While the Rams weren’t exactly lighting the world afire or winning a ton of games before Bradford went down in 2013, he was still finding his place in the league.
In just seven starts, Bradford was able to put up 1,687 passing yards and a 14:4 touchdown to interception ratio. Stretch that pace out over a full 16-game season, and Bradford could have potentially had a season that concluded with 32 passing touchdowns and 3,856 passing yards. Those would have been good for career highs by far, while Bradford also would have thrown roughly nine interceptions.
There is little doubt Bradford is probably entering a make or break season in St. Louis. Without a firm backing by his front office already, Bradford at the very worst needs to avoid a major injury, needs to play at a high level and might need to get to the playoffs.
There is a lot standing in his way from proving he’s a legit franchise passer, but there’s little reason to think he can’t make the jump in the fantasy scene. We all were witnesses to the upside of Bradford’s arm when given time to throw to solid weapons.
In week one he connected with the explosive Cook for seven catches, 141 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Cook never came close to matching that kind of production again. Some speculate that it was Bradford’s inability to locate Cook, but based off of Cook’s history, it likely had more to do with his suspect hands and route-running ability.
That elite showing in week one offers promise for the duo, though, while a hopefully more well rounded Tavon Austin can also make a leap with Bradford in year two.
Adding on Britt and another rookie at receiver should round out the passing game and give Bradford his most complete supporting cast since he’s been in the league, but his biggest asset might actually be his running game.
Stacy isn’t an explosive talent, but he’s a volume runner who can take (and deliver) a beating, while also offering reliability as a run blocker and receiver out of the backfield. It’s can’t be over-looked that the Rams didn’t have any semblance of a rushing attack through the first four weeks, when Bradford and the offense were struggling and playing from behind. And it shouldn’t be a major surprise that once the team switched to Stacy in weeks six and seven, the Rams won back to back games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans.
No one knows for sure what the future holds for Bradford. All we know is he’s been a fantasy sleeper just about every season he’s been in the league, and his talent suggests he should be one yet again in 2014. With his best supporting cast to date, this could finally the be the year he actually lives up to the hype.