The Philadelphia Eagles’ 2015 offseason had as much action as a recent Game of Thrones episode, minus the dragons. As head coach Chip Kelly has fully embraced his personnel power for the first time, he’s been reworking the Eagles roster to great extent. His biggest gamble this offseason will be his investment in quarterback Sam Bradford becoming a franchise player.
Bradford was acquired from the St. Louis Rams for quarterback Nick Foles and a pair of mid-round draft picks. We’ll see how those draft picks turn out, but as far as the talent swap of Foles for Bradford, the Eagles won in a landslide. The obvious caveat with Bradford is his extensive injury history.
Going back to his collegiate career, Bradford dealt with a concussion in 2007 and a shoulder injury in 2009. The injuries have continued to pile on in the NFL. With the Rams, Bradford dealt with a bad ankle sprain in 2011, and then tore his left ACL in both 2013 and 2014.
All together, Bradford has played in 49 games in five seasons, missing 31 total contests. That’s the overwhelming negative on Bradford’s resume. But when Bradford is on the field, he’s shown a lot of talent as a quarterback.
In fact, if Bradford can stay healthy, he’s going to be Chip Kelly’s franchise quarterback. When he went down with his first torn ACL, Bradford was playing the best football of his career. In 2013, Bradford played seven games, and the most impressive was his final contest of the season against the Carolina Panthers.
The Rams didn’t win the game, but it wasn’t because of Bradford struggling. After rewatching all seven of Bradford’s performances in 2013, this game encapsulated his talents most effectively, as he showed every trait required of a franchise quarterback.
What will also help Bradford is the transition from offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to Kelly. While with the Rams, Schottenheimer’s offenses were as bland as tofu and as predictable as could be. The same cannot be said for Kelly’s offense.
It says a lot about former Eagles starters Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez that they couldn’t cut it in Kelly’s system. Kelly requires precision passers that are efficient. Foles was especially poor at this in 2014, ranking 31st in the NFL in accuracy, per Pro Football Focus.
Bradford has excelled with his accuracy. In 2013, he was seventh-best in the NFL as far as making a catchable throw, per Pro Football Focus. He also takes care of the ball extremely well. His career interception ratio of 2.2 percent is third in the league, behind just Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady.
But what makes Bradford a potential franchise player and not just another subpar player that produces decently in Kelly’s system? His understanding of space, leverage and timing are critical for his success. Bradford has solid arm strength, but not a cannon that overcomes late decisions.
On the play above, Bradford shows excellent situational awareness and timing on his throw. The situation is 1st-and-10, and the Rams are down multiple scores. Carolina has just four defensive backs and two linebackers in coverage, and the safety is clearly covering Tavon Austin in the slot.
Austin, running a vertical route, is a major mismatch with the safety. The safety isn’t used to covering a receiver as fast as Austin, and it shows as he comes too far downhill post-snap. Bradford is watching this unfold the entire play.
As soon as Austin takes one step past the coverage safety, Bradford releases his throw. He cannot just bomb this throw, however, as the deep safety is making his way toward Austin. There’s a sizable gap to throw into, and Bradford hits Austin. These are the same types of throws that Kelly often asks his quarterbacks to hit.
We can see above that Foles struggled to hit massive passing lanes even with a clean pocket. Bradford won’t have these same consistency issues.
The most impressive showing of Bradford’s advanced eyes is on the play below. Let’s take a look at the video first and then break it down further.
At first glance, this is exactly what you’d expect from an upper-echelon quarterback. Many underprepared quarterbacks would try to force this throw before the receiver crosses the field. That would have been dangerous, as the lurking linebacker is ready to intercept a hurried throw.
An interception in this moment could have led to a touchdown for the Panthers. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is working to where Bradford is looking, which is the right play by Kuechly. But he doesn’t know that Bradford is actually getting Kuechly exactly where he needs him to be so he can complete the pass.
Now it’s time to break it down into two frames to see it better.
There’s a lot happening as this play unfolds, including the crashing safety after Bradford takes his left hand off the ball. Bradford’s taken the underneath linebacker out of the play, and the receiver did his job by crossing the cornerback’s face when he cut inside. Still, an inaccurate pass could result in an interception to the cornerback or safety if the throw is too far behind or in front of the receiver.
Even with defensive tackle Star Lotulelei about to pounce, Bradford delivers the perfect strike for the completion. This was only a modest gain in the red zone, but these are they types of plays that separate a replaceable quarterback from a highly valued playmaker at the position.
The constant positive I kept finding in Bradford’s film was his eye talent. His ability to work through progressions and make the right decision is likely why Kelly prompted the trade for Bradford. On a play that was negated by a penalty, Bradford showed the ability to make three reads throughout the entire field.
This isn’t common to see, so it’s notable, even if the play didn’t stand. Above are Bradford’s three progressions in one play. He finishes with a 60-yard throw to Austin on the go route.
Bradford moves from the top of the field to the bottom to find the big play. Most importantly, he didn’t pass up an easy throw for a more challenging one. Instead, he finds the right read as Austin streaks downfield.
It may seem surprising to some that these plays are notable, but less than half of current starters across the NFL are doing this consistently. Bradford hasn’t shown that he will become one of the elite signal-callers, but he can put himself in the top-10 discussion if he can piece together a full season.
The Eagles offer Bradford the best receiving corps, offensive line and coaching staff that he’s had yet. He offers the Eagles the best talent at the quarterback position they’ve had in the Chip Kelly era, and it’s not particularly close.
Bradford’s health is the big question mark, but if he’s able to log the third complete season of his career, expect massive production. He’s a perfect fit for Kelly, and can be successful outside of the Eagles’ offensive system. A big season in 2015 will not only restore Bradford’s reputation, but also set him up for a sizable long-term contract.
All stats used are from Sports-Reference.com.
Ian Wharton is an NFL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.