In classic tales of Americana, there is but one thing we love more than Mom’s apple pie, a sky full of fireworks, or an ice cold glass of homemade lemonade—a great comeback story.
When you think of the greatest athletes in sports history, there usually is a comeback story nestled somewhere in the respective biographies. Babe Ruth. Muhammad Ali. Ted Williams. Josh Hamilton. Mario Lemieux. Michael Jordan.
Things started off so well for both the Rams and Bradford as a rookie in 2010. The team won seven games, improving mightily from the wretched 1-15 season that was 2009, and had a chance at a playoff berth in the season’s final game.
Bradford threw for over 3,500 yards, completed 60 percent of his passes, threw more touchdowns (18) than interceptions (15) and did so without the benefit of a wide receiver catching more than three touchdowns or gaining 700 yards.
It was an impressive beginning to a career for Bradford, who despite missing most of his final season of college ball at Oklahoma with a shoulder injury (ESPN) had much to prove as the top overall selection at the 2010 Draft.
Who is the best QB in the NFC West?
Rams fans know all too well about the horror of 2011. Injuries to Bradford’s ankle and throwing hand killed any chance of building upon 2010’s successes. Operating without a quarterbacks coach and changing offensive coordinators (again) also surely had an effect on maintaining Bradford’s development.
It was a classic case of taking two steps forward, but three back.
Injuries are, however, a part of today’s NFL. You can’t expect to take a snap from center, stand in the pocket and throw the ball 35 times a game without consequence.
Likewise, you can’t expect your coaching staff will stay with you forever. In fact, you should expect just the opposite. If you perform well and the team wins, your rivals will surely be looking to poach your staff in order to replicate that success (see Cleveland Browns and Pat Shurmur, 2010).
Underachieve and lose? Well, Steve Spagnuolo and I do not have to explain that (ESPN).
Why do I see Bradford as primed for a huge comeback in 2012? Two reasons: (1) History; (2) Jeff Fisher.
It should go without saying, even in today’s “What have you done for me lately?” environment, but quarterbacks do not often see immediate success.
Looking at some of early professional seasons of the game’s greatest passers—it is clear that Bradford deserves to stand proudly among them.
|Year (as starter)||Completion%||Passing Yds||TDs||INTs|
Digging even deeper, Bradford can say his first two years were better than Troy Aikman and Terry Bradshaw, both former top overall draft choices. Aikman and Bradshaw had terrible completion percentages and TD/INT ratios to start their careers.
Bradshaw had completed 48 percent of his passes, while throwing 48 TDs and 81 INTs after his fifth season. Aikman was not much better, with a 55 percent completion rate, 20 TDs and 36 INTs after his second NFL season.
I don’t mean to suggest that Bradford has multiple Super Bowl rings headed his way or a Hall of Fame induction speech to start preparing, but clearly if you are going to project a QB’s statistics going forward, Bradford has as good a shot as any to stand with the game’s greats. Plus, we’re not talking about someone in Bradford who has little or no pedigree.
Notwithstanding JaMarcus Russell, but most QBs taken first overall have a little game to their name.
Bradford has had comparable, if not better, starts to his passing career than many of his fellow competitors, such as Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Mark Sanchez, Alex Smith and Ben Roethlisberger. There are quite a few playoff victories and Super Bowl championships on that list.
With a healthy hand and ankle, and maybe a little something still left to prove, I see Bradford picking up right where he left off in 2010. He should have a completion percentage right in the low-60s, be closer to 4,000 yards passing than 3,000 and have a healthy (and positive) separation between his TDs and interceptions.
If you are still not convinced, take a look at the track record Jeff Fisher.
In Fisher’s first full season with the Houston Oilers in 1995, he drafted a quarterback at the top of the draft (third overall), mentored him for two seasons and then gave the 24-year-old full control as the starter of the newly named Tennessee Titans.
Bradford also has two years of “seasoning” under him, and will be 24 years old at the start of this season. The similarities do not end there.
After Steve McNair’s first two seasons as the primary starter, he completed 55.7 percent of his passes, and averaged 2,945 passing yards, 15 TDs and 12 INTs. For Bradford, after two (almost full) seasons, he stands with a 57.6 completion percentage, and averages of 2,838 passing yards, 12 TDs and 10 INTs.
The evidence is pretty convincing. Bradford, when healthy, has put himself on a similar path of successes (and setbacks) that mirror many of the game’s greats.
You can call 2012 Sam Bradford’s comeback story. I’ll call it the continuing maturation of one of the game’s most underrated passers.