NFC West: Where Does Sam Bradford Rank Among NFC West QBs?
The NFL is a quarterback driven league. With a good QB, you have a chance to win some games. With a great QB, you have a chance to win the Super Bowl.
Some divisions are loaded at QB, with every team having a so called "franchise player" under center. The NFC South has Cam Newton (Carolina), Matt Ryan (Atlanta), Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay), and Drew Brees (New Orleans).
Perhaps just as important as each of those QB's individual ability is the fact they are surrounded by other talented players. Having a strong offensive line, a "go to" wide receiver, a strong running game, or a tight end that can cause mismatches can enhance a QB's effectiveness.
Today I'm going to break down the NFC West QBs. Based on their talent, and the supporting cast they have on offense, do any of these guys have a chance to lead their team to a Super Bowl in the near future?
Looking at the Numbers
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No. 4, Kevin Kolb, Arizona Cardinals
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Kevin Kolb will be entering his second season as the starter in Arizona. The Cardinals traded a second round pick, along with starting corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, to the Philadelphia Eagles for Kolb prior to the start of last season. They quickly signed Kolb to a long term contract (six years, $65 million), a move that was made in an attempt to solidify the QB position in Arizona for the foreseeable future.
Kolb didn't play up to his contract during his first year in Arizona. Injuries kept Kolb on the sidelines for much of the season, as he only played in nine games. During those nine games, Kolb completed a pedestrian 57.7 percent of his passes for 1955 yards, nine touchdowns, eight interceptions, and an 81.1 quarterback rating.
However, Kolb was sacked on 10.6 percent of his passing attempts. That might explain why he missed seven games, and why he didn't play like a $65 million QB. The Cardinals obviously have major needs on the offensive line, but instead drafted wide receiver Malcolm Floyd in the first round. Pairing Floyd up with All-Universe receiver Larry Fitzgerald gives Kolb arguably the best receiving duo in the NFC West.
The questions remain, will Kolb have time to throw? If he can't, can the Cardinals reasonably expect him to stay healthy?
Adam Snyder was brought in as a free agent to play right guard. He started for the San Francisco 49ers, and is an upgrade at the position. But he isn't a dominant player. Rookie Bobbie Massie was brought in as a fourth-round pick, and looks to be the starter at right tackle.
In my opinion, the Cardinals didn't do enough to fix their offensive line, which will negatively impact Kolb (who is only "good, not great" to begin with).
Final Analysis: The Cardinals aren't anywhere close to winning a Super Bowl with Kolb because he can only win a Super Bowl with very good talent around him. The receiving corps looks promising, but the offensive line in Arizona is a disaster.
No. 3, Matt Flynn, Seattle Seahawks
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Matt Flynn was brought in by the Seahawks via free agency. He spent the last four seasons as Aaron Rodger's backup in Green Bay, which means two things: one, he didn't play a lot; and two, when he did get to play, he was playing with some very good players.
So it is very hard to judge Matt Flynn based on the very small sample size we have to work with. Flynn basically mopped up games, but also put up great numbers. Is that because of the receivers he worked with? Green Bay had arguably the best receiving corps in the NFL.
Either way, we're about to find out how good Matt Flynn is, because Seattle isn't nearly as talented as the Green Bay Packers.
What we do know is Tarvaris Jackson had a decent year for Seattle last season, completing 60.2 percent of his passes for 3091 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He was also sacked on 8.5 percent of his passing attempts.
Seattle has a "good, not great" offensive line. The receiving corps is very lacking, with often injured Sidney Rice being the only real threat on the roster. However, the Seahawks do have a very strong running game. This should help Flynn stay in manageable down-and-distance situations, and make him a moderately successful QB.
Final Analysis: Flynn could get the Seahawks into the playoffs if he plays as well as he did in his limited action for the Packers. However, I don't see the Seahawks being a serious threat to reach a Super Bowl as long as Pete Carrol and company keep making such strange draft picks.
No. 2, Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
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Sam Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, the apple of several QB-needy teams' eye, and was generally seen as an elite QB in the making by NFL personnel during his rookie season. Bradford led the lowly Rams to a 7-9 record as a rookie, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year in the process. So, his future looked bright.
Then came year two, when the bottom fell out for Bradford.
The lockout killed the offseason. A new offensive coordinator killed all of his continuity. And his offensive line just plain killed him. Bradford was sacked on 9.2 percent of his pass attempts in 2011. Bradford was playing behind a rag-tag offensive line after the Rams lost their starting left (Rodger Saffold) and right tackles (Jason Smith) to season-ending injuries, and then lost starting center Jason Brown to the coache's doghouse. It was a recipe for disaster for any young QB.
To compound problems, the Rams lost their only consistent wide receiver, Danny Amendola, to a gruesome elbow injury in the first half of Week 1. Bradford was left to rely on Bradon Gibson (undrafted free agent), Danario Alexander (undrafted free agent), Austin Pettis (rookie, looks like a bust), Greg Salas (rookie, played great until he broke his leg and missed the rest of the season), and tight end Lance Kendricks (rookie).
Now as Bradford enters year three of his career in St. Louis, he is about to play for a new head coach and his third offensive coordinator.
The Rams' offensive line should be much better this season. Saffold and Smith will both be healthy. RG Harvey Dahl is a beast on the interior offensive line. Scott Wells, a pro-bowler in Green Bay, was brought in via free agency to play center. The LG spot is a question mark, but there are several attractive options to fill the spot in camp.
The receiving corps looks much better on paper. Amendola will provide Bradford with a safety valve on short, underneath routes now that he is healthy. Salas had the look of a productive role player before he got hurt. Steve Smith, who set a franchise record for receptions with the New York Giants, was brought in via free agency after missing most of the last two seasons due to injuries. Brian Quick (6'4", 220 lbs), drafted in the second round (No. 33 overall), looks like a terrific prospect. Chris Givens (6'0", 4.36 in the 40), drafted in the fourth round, should also make the roster as a deep-threat receiver.
The Rams also have a terrific running game, with Steven Jackson carrying the bulk of the load. Isaiah Pead, who was also drafted in the second round (No. 50 overall), looks like an exciting change-of-pace back who will compliment Jackson nicely. You know the Rams are going to feature a heavy dose of the run with Jeff Fisher in charge, and OC Bryan Schottenheimer of the "ground and pound" Jets calling the plays.
Final Analysis: The Rams are a dark horse playoff team this year, and look like a team on the rise. With several draft picks still coming from Washington via the RG3 trade, the Rams should have the opportunity to continue to surround Bradford with more talent. The Rams are a year away from being good, and probably two or three years away from being elite. If they become an elite team, it will be because Sam Bradford finally had enough talent around him to become an elite QB.
No. 1, Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
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Alex Smith was the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. After struggling through several injuries, coaching changes, and a ton of sacks as a young QB, Smith had a breakout season in 2011 under rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Smith was sacked on an astronomical 14.9 percent of his passing attempts as a rookie. When you stop and think about it, Sam Bradford is on an almost identical career path as Alex Smith. Smith carried all the weight of being the No. 1 overall pick, and he just didn't have enough talent around him.
By the start of the 2010 season, Smith's sixth year as a pro, the Niners undoubtedly had the best team in the NFC West. Head coach Mike Singletary had helped mold a ferocious defense, and there were several talented players like Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, and Frank Gore on the offensive side of the ball.
Ironically, it was Smith's lack of production, and his 3-7 record as a starter, that paved the way for then rookie Sam Bradford to lead the Rams into contention in the NFC West. It also led to Mike Singletary being fired as head coach. Then Harbaugh was hired, which in turn led to Smith's terrific 2012 season.
Smith started all 16 games for the first time in his career last season. He completed 237 of 445 passes for 3,144 yards, 17 touchdowns, and only five interceptions. His quarterback rating of 90.7 was a career high, despite being sacked 44 times (9 percent of his attempts).
As Smith prepares to enter the 2012 season, the 49ers look absolutely loaded on the offensive side of the ball. They added future Hall of Famer Randy Moss at WR, and if he plays at even 90 percent of his ability, that alone could take the Niners' offense to the next level. Then the rich got richer, as the Niners added Mario Manningham via free agency, and then drafted A.J. Jenkins in the first round (No. 30 overall). So now the Niners can boast a four-WR set of Moss, Crabtree, Manningham, and Jenkins. That is enough firepower to go toe-to-toe with any team in the NFC, including Green Bay.
That isn't even taking into account the Niners' two biggest weapons– tight end Vernon Davis and running back Frank Gore. Davis is, in my opinion, the best tight end in the NFL. He would make anybody in the NFL a better QB. Gore is a terrific back, and the Niners have unbelievable depth behind him. Brandon Jacobs was brought in via free agency to compliment scat back Kendall Hunter and second-round draft pick (No. 60 overall) LaMichael James.
The Niners' offensive line, while young and improving, did give up 44 sacks last season. They lost starting RG Adam Snyder to Arizona, and drafted Joe Looney in the third round (No. 117 overall) to replace him. But this O-line is still the only chink in the Niners' armour.
This team has a phenomenal defense, a great running game and several dangerous weapons in the passing game. Most of all, they have so much depth that they will be able to sustain the inevitable injuries hat every team in the NFL has to deal with.
Final Analysis: Alex Smith is the best QB in the division, and while he may only be a "game manager," the Niners have a team that seems to be suited to his strengths. Smith went toe-to-toe, pass-for-pass, touchdown-for-touchdown with Drew Brees and the Saints last year, so he is capable of putting up numbers. It will be interesting to see if he is more mistake prone while trying to keep so many receivers happy this year. Either way, the Niners have an excellent shot at the Super Bowl with Smith under center.