St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford and the 5 HOF QB's He Should Emulate

David Heeb@@DavidHeebCorrespondent IJune 12, 2012

St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford and the 5 HOF QB's He Should Emulate

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    Sam Bradford is an elite NFL quarterback. Sam Bradford can't stay healthy. Sam Bradford doesn't have enough help around him. Sam Bradford is overpaid. Sam Bradford's offensive line is going to get him killed. Sam Bradford is the future of the St. Louis Rams.

    You might hear all of those things said about Bradford in one week.

    I personally think Bradford is going to be an elite NFL QB, and I also believe the Rams will eventually play in a Super Bowl with Bradford as their QB. Bradford was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010, leading the Rams to a 7-9 record.

    However, Bradford fell flat on his face in 2011. In the "what have you done for me lately" world we live in, it seems like some fans have already written Bradford off, like he is not going to truly be the QB to get the Rams over the hump.

    History tells us otherwise.

    Today, I'm going to show you five historical examples of a Hall of Fame QB that started out rough, or maybe started out okay and then had a bad year, like Bradford did in his second season. All of these QB's, as the roster got better around them, put up terrific numbers while leading their teams to multiple Super Bowl appearances.

    I'm sure Rams' fans would sign off on Bradford leading us to two or three Super Bowls, right? As always, thanks for reading.

Ben Roethlisberger

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    Roethlisberger isn't in the Hall of Fame, but he will be. After leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to three Super Bowls, while winning two, he has the rings to go along with some prolific passing numbers. However, he didn't start out lighting the world on fire.

    Roethlisberger's first two seasons were basically spent handing the ball off. He averaged less than 23 pass attempts per start. The Steelers basically asked him to make the easy plays, give it to the running back, and let the defense do the rest.

    Big Ben posted excellent QB ratings playing that style. In his third season, when the Steelers changed personnel, they gave Big Ben the keys to the offense. He played terrible. His QB rating sank to 75.4, his completion percent fell below 60, and he threw a league high 23 INT'S.

    It wasn't until his fourth season in the NFL, the year after he played awful, that Big Ben became Big Ben. That fourth season, the Steelers took a little off of his plate (his pass attempts fell from 469 to 404). His completion percentage shot up to over 65 percent, his QB rating was a robust 104.1, and his TD/INT ratio was 32/11.

    Basically, the Steelers simplified things for Big Ben, got him back to his roots, and Roethlisberger became the future Hall of Famer we see today.

John Elway

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    John Elway's career is a fascinating study. Did you know Elway only threw 20 or more touchdowns once before the age of 33? Did you know that Elway never threw for over 60 percent completion before the age of 33? All Elway did was win, with a 148-82 (64 percent) career record.

    Elway started 10 games his rookie season, and he didn't play very well. His QB rating of 54.9 was barely higher than his completion percentage of 47.5. So for all you Andrew Luck fans buying into the hype that he is the best QB prospect since Elway, patience grasshopper, patience.

    Elway played better in his second season, and had a 12-2 record as a starter, and his QB rating of 76.8 was respectable for that era (the NFL passing game was very different in 1984). He was coming into his own. Then in his third season, the Denver Broncos turned Elway loose to throw a league high 605 passes. Elway only completed 54 percent of his passes, had a 22/23 TD to INT ratio, and his QB rating dropped to 70.2.

    It wasn't until Elway's fourth or fifth season in the NFL, when the Broncos cut his passes back to about 510 passes per season - nearly 100 less passes than he threw in 1984 - that Elway began to resemble the Hall of Fame version. That's when Elway put up an average of 19/12 TD to INT ratio, 55 percent completion, and an 81 QB Rating.

    Elway became a better QB when the Broncos asked him to do a little less. He wound up leading the Broncos to five total Super Bowls, winning two of them. If Bradford plays that well, it would be just fine with me.

Brett Favre

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    We go from one gun slinger to another. Favre didn't play much as a rookie. After being traded to the Green Bay Packers, he worked his way into the starting lineup and played very well during his second season. He put up a QB Rating of 85.3, completing over 64 percent of his passes.

    During Favre's third season, you guessed it, the Packers increased his passing attempts (from 522 to 571), and his QB Rating fell to 72.2. Favre completed only 60.9 percent of his passes that season, and he had a TD/INT ratio of 19-24.

    Favre bounced back as a fourth year starting QB with a 90.7 QB Rating, completing over 62 percent of his passes, with a TD/INT ratio of 33/14. I found it interesting that Favre's passing attempts actually increased, which goes against the norm in our little comparison so far. During that third season, Favre threw 582 passes.

    So the Packers trusted Favre with more passes, and he played better. Maybe he just needed more time? The bottom line is Favre used that season to propel him into three straight MVP awards (1995, 1996, 1997) and a Super Bowl victory.

    It took Favre three years to figure it out, but once he did, he made everybody associated with the Packers glad they were patient with No. 4.

Troy Aikman

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    Troy Aikman is a great player to look at if we want a blueprint for Sam Bradford. Aikman played in a run first offense, which Bradford will probably do under Jeff Fisher. Aikman was drafted by a team that was terrible, just like Bradford was.

    Now the Rams just need to find Bradford his Michael Irvin, right?

    Aikman went 0-11 as a rookie starting QB. The Dallas Cowboys were bad, and Aikman was worse. His QB Rating of 55.7 was awful, his completion percentage of 52.9 terrible, and his TD/INT ratio of 9 to 18 just awful. He bounced back as a second year player to go 7-8 as a starter, with a QB Rating of 66.6, a completion percentage of 56.6, and a TD/INT ratio of 11 to 18.

    Aikman appeared to be coming into his own, going 7-5 as a starter in his third season, but injuries took away a big part of his season. His QB Rating shot up to 86.7, his completion percentage was 65.3, and his TD/INT ratio was 11 to 10.

    As Aikman was improving, the Cowboys were slowing giving him more chances to throw the ball. Finally, in his fourth season, Aikman put up 473 passes - his first season of more than 400 passes - and he had a great season. He put up a QB Rating of 89.5, a completion percentage of 63.8, and a TD/INT ratio of 23-14.

    That fourth season (1992) was the Cowboys' first Super Bowl win with Aikman as the starting QB. The Cowboys would win three Super Bowls in a four year stretch. Aikman would wind up in the Hall of Fame. However, Aikman wasn't a star until his fourth season as a starting QB.

Eli Manning

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    While Elway, Favre, and Aikman are fun comparisons, we all know that the modern passing game is different than when those guys were in their prime. Eli Manning provides a terrific blueprint for us to use in trying to figure out if Sam Bradford might end up being an elite NFL QB.

    Eli Manning had a QB Rating of 55.4 as a rookie. His QB Rating hovered between 55 and 77 during his first four seasons in the NFL. Eli, like most other promising young QB's, was given a lot of freedom starting with his second season in the league. He averaged 536 passing attempts from his second to his fourth season in the league.

    Eli actually threw an NFL high 20 interceptions during his fourth season in the league. He looked like a care taker QB, the kind that just handed the ball off and didn't put his defense in a bad position. His completion percentage was a pedestrian 56.1%, and his QB Rating was a very humble 73.9.

    A lot of people were questioning Eli Manning.

    Then he led the New York Giants to three straight playoff road wins, including a win in Green Bay. To top it off, he orchestrated an upset of the undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Eli had played big on the biggest stage, and he used that momentum to carry him to a terrific fifth year in the NFL.

    Eli had a QB Rating of 86.4, a completion percentage above 60, and TD/INT ratio of 21 to 10. The Giants only asked Eli to throw 479 passes that season, and he led the Giants to a 12-4 regular season record.

    You could argue that Eli Manning started playing great football at the very end of his fourth season, and that he hasn't looked back since. He has two Super Bowl wins, and he is clearly one of the elite QB's in the NFL.

So How Good Is Bradford Going to Be?

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    Bradford completed 60 percent of his passes as a rookie, with a TD/INT ratio of 18-15. Unlike these other QB's, Bradford didn't have an elite receiving target to throw to. The Rams were a bad team, with three starters on the offensive line that would be replaced by the end of the following season.

    Bradford's fall from grace during his sophomore year, in hindsight, was very predictable. The flaws the team had during his rookie season (the receivers, the O Line) weren't adequately addressed prior to the start of his second season, he got saddled with a new offensive coordinator that wanted him to hold the ball longer in order for passing plays to develop, and the Rams played a brutal schedule.

    It's hard enough being a young QB, but my goodness, the Rams really set him up to fail in 2011.

    If history teaches us anything, it's going to take Bradford time to become an elite QB. It took every other QB on this list three or more years before they truly became a franchise altering QB. That is the hope of every Rams' fan, that Bradford can become that QB for our franchise.

    I think the Rams will scale things back in 2012. Bradford is going to throw the ball less, and he won't be asked to hold the ball nearly as long when they do have him throw. He has better talent at wide receiver, his second year tight end should be a factor in the passing game, and the offensive line has been upgraded over the last two seasons.

    Jeff Fisher has two good running backs. Steven Jackson and his rookie understudy, Isaiah Pead, will give Fisher the two back system he needs to take pressure off of Bradford. The Rams have a talented young defense. Bradford, for the first time in his Rams' career, is in a position where he can succeed. He has help around him.

    Now, we'll see if Bradford has the goods. I'm guessing he'll show us all that he does.