Have the St. Louis Rams Put Sam Bradford in a Position to Fail?

Steven GerwelContributor IIIMarch 17, 2013

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 30:  Quarterback Sam Bradford #8 of the St. Louis Rams passes against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on December 30, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

In 2010, St. Louis Rams fans (and most likely the personnel department) were viciously debating whether to take Sam Bradford or Nebraska man-child Ndamukong Suh with the No. 1 overall draft pick. 

Of course, the rebuilding Rams settled on the Heisman-winning quarterback in hopes that he would be the keystone of the offense for the next decade. 

Now that Bradford has turned in three NFL seasons, where do the Rams currently stand at the quarterback position? 

By most accounts, the results are still wildly inconclusive. But have we basically seen the best Sam has to offer? Or, is he just beginning to scratch the surface? 

Two short years ago, the Rams boasted the best quarterback in the NFC West division. Now, with the sudden emergence of Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, patience with the developing Bradford is beginning to run thin among pessimistic portions of the St. Louis fanbase. 

So, is Bradford finally in a position to succeed? Or, will St. Louis be looking for another answer under center at some point? 

The debate will carry on for the time being, and only the arm of Bradford will provide answers, but based on Bradford's current and past circumstances, here's the current situation the Rams are dealing with moving forward: 


Is Failure Inevitable? 

Prior to St. Louis' promising 7-8-1 season in 2012, the Rams had a combined record of 15-65 in the previous five years.

Averaging three wins a season for a five-year period understandably injects insane levels of cynicism into a fanbase, so it's certainly not surprising that a portion of Rams fans are expecting the worst when it comes to Bradford.

Additionally, Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick in the final year before the rookie wage scale was implemented, making him the highest-paid rookie in NFL history with a six-year deal worth $78 million (according to Spotrac).  

So while the contract cannot be blamed on Bradford, the fans still expect immediate production, especially since Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are both pulling in less that $6 million per year on their rookie deals.

Given the contract and draft status, is there anything Bradford can do to fill the expectations? 

We've seen quarterbacks who are merely above average—Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger—win multiple Super Bowls in recent years, but can St. Louis fans live with a winning team that's led by a competent but not spectacular passer? 

It feels that anything short of record-setting fantasy stats and multiple rings will result in criticism (even if those critics are in the minority), which makes the situation less than ideal for Bradford. 

St. Louis fans were treated to Kurt Warner and the "Greatest Show on Turf" era, so it may be difficult for them to accept a quarterback who wins games without swagger and eye-popping numbers.

But the expectations aren't the only thing working against Bradford. 

In 2013, Bradford will be entering the season in the same offensive system for the first time in his career. He was forced to learn a new offense in each of his first three seasons. 

Typically, it can take three years or more for a quarterback to grow completely comfortable with his offense. With that being the case, will it be too late for Sam by the time he conquers the Brian Schottenheimer offense? 

Also, even if Bradford is perfectly capable of grasping the offense, will he be able to overcome the Rams' refusal to properly support him with weapons? 

The top two receivers throughout his career (talent wise) have been Danny Amendola and Brandon Lloyd. 

Amendola was reliable but hardly a frightening presence on the outside, while Bradford only played five games with Lloyd due to injuries. 

The Rams added Brian Quick and Chris Givens in the 2012 draft and recently signed tight end Jared Cook in free agency, but none of these weapons have clearly emerged as consistent game-changing threats. 

By the time the Rams stumble upon an A.J. Green-caliber player in the draft or pony up the money for a Mike Wallace-caliber free agent, it could be too late. 

For Bradford's sake, one of the current weapons will have to step up and become a premier weapon. 

If not, the Bradford era could end in a similar fashion to the Steven Jackson era—nothing but "what ifs" and "what a tragedy." 


Reason for Optimism 

Rest assured, this rant goes beyond doom and gloom. 

Fortunately for the Rams, regardless of the factors working against Bradford, they still possess a very talented passer with monster potential. 

Bradford has 42 career starts in the NFL. Let's compare that to the first 42 regular-season starts of some other well-known quarterbacks:

Bradford: 45 TD, 34 INT, 9.378 Yards

Drew Brees: 45 TD, 38 INT, 8,551 Yards

Tom Brady: 61 TD, 38 INT, 9,448 Yards

Ben Roethlisberger: 54 TD, 41 INT, 8,504 Yards

Matt Ryan: 59 TD, 32 INT, 9,276 Yards

Eli Manning: 60 TD, 48 INT, 8,738 Yards

Joe Flacco: 51 TD, 31 INT, 9,017 Yards


By looking at the numbers, things seem to be pretty even... but not really. In reality, all six of those quarterbacks had a superior supporting cast throughout their first 42 games. 

So if you're an optimist, you might take comfort in knowing Bradford is statistically keeping pace with six quarterbacks who have a combined nine Super Bowl rings, all while possessing far inferior weapons. 

Somehow, it's doubtful that more than a couple of those quarterbacks could have produced equal numbers to Bradford with the same set of circumstances. 

And now that Bradford can finally spend an offseason mastering his offensive scheme as opposed to learning a new playbook, there's reason to believe that he'll further advance his numbers in 2013. 

It's not difficult to make a case that Bradford is an extremely talented passer who has been stuck in a less-than-desirable setting. 

And since he currently has the luxury of a competent and experienced coaching staff, combined with a shiny new 6'5" tight end to play with in the red zone, it's hard to imagine his arrow is pointing anywhere but up. 

Sure, the new playbooks, the lack of receivers, the hefty contract and the lofty expectations have all worked against Bradford, but it would be unwise to bet against him in 2013. 


Looking Forward

Outside of an injury-riddled 2011 campaign where the offensive line allowed an NFL-high 55 sacks, Sam Bradford has been able to step up to the challenges at hand. 

As a rookie in 2010, he took over a one-win team and led them to a respectable 7-9 record that earned him Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. 

And after a miserable 2011 season, Bradford was expected to comeback strong and display the confidence that made him a rising star in 2010. He responded with the best season of his career, throwing for 3,702 yards and 21 touchdowns. 

Now, despite losing his top receiver in Amendola and his top running back in Jackson, Bradford will be asked to build on those 2012 numbers and perhaps lead St. Louis to its first postseason appearance in nearly a decade. 

It's a tall order, but don't be shocked if Bradford begins to earn his keep in 2013. 

St. Louis was a tough team in 2012 despite facing the fourth most difficult schedule (according to ESPN).

With a new attitude in St. Louis, it's only logical to presume that the quarterback has built his confidence with the rest of the team. 

Expect Bradford to have career-best numbers in nearly every major passing category. Slowly but surely, the excuses will become a thing of the past.