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Making the Leap, No. 9: Eagles QB Sam Bradford

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The Around The NFL crew will document the players we believe will be "Making the Leap" in 2015. This could be a player emerging from no-name status to a quality starter. Or it could mean an excellent player jumping to superstar status. 

The list continues with No. 9 Sam Bradford

Why Bradford is on the list


As Gregg Rosenthal wrote early last season, Chip Kelly has essentially created the quarterback-proof offense. Bolstered by Kelly's ability to scheme defensive confusion and wide-open passing windows, Eagles quarterbacks have combined to average roughly 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns over the past two years.

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After squeezing top-six production out of a washed-up Michael Vick, an inaccurate Nick Foles and a mistake-prone Mark Sanchez, Kelly went out and targeted Bradford as the most physically gifted passer he has coached at the NFL level.

In the lead-up to the 2010 NFL Draft, the Eagles evaluated Bradford as the best young quarterback coming out of college since Peyton Manning in 1998. NFL scouting legend Gil Brandt touted Bradford's Oklahoma pro day workout the most impressive he had witnessed since Troy Aikman in 1989.

"I'll be one hundred percent honest with you," long-time friend Ben Bench recently said. "Sam could have played college basketball, without a doubt. And he probably could have played a couple of other sports if he cared about them. It's always incredible to me how athletic he is."

Rams coach Jeff Fisher once believed Bradford had the potential to develop into the best quarterback in football. Former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo still believes Bradford can become one of the NFL's elite signal-callers.

"Trust me when I tell you he's got all the skills, and I keep going back to the fierce competitor because I believe elite quarterbacks in this league have that," Spagnuolo said in May. "You think of them all, the Aaron Rodgers, the Tom Bradys, the Peyton Mannings, Eli Mannings, they're all very fierce competitors. They love the challenge. They love to rally people around them, and Sam has that. I really believe that."

Spagnuolo's praise might seem excessive, but Kelly also invoked the names of Manning, Brady and Brees while stating that Bradford wouldn't have been available for trade if not for injury concerns.

Despite six years of mediocre game film, scouts and coaches still drool over Bradford's prototypical size (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), obvious arm talent and underrated athleticism.

It's telling that multiple teams placed Bradford's trade value as greater than a first-round draft pick after back-to-back ACL tears sabotaged his 2013 and 2014 seasons.

When Bradford is healthy and playing to his potential, he can improvise in the pocket and make all of the NFL throws with pinpoint accuracy -- as you can see in the video above.

How many quarterbacks can say the same? To paraphrase Bum Phillips, it doesn't take long to call the roll for that class of player.

Obstacles


Bradford's obstacles are three-fold.

Still recovering from his second ACL tear in a 10-month span, Bradford is no lock to hold off an improved Sanchez for the opportunity to open the season as the Eagles' starter.

Whether it's Bradford or Sanchez under center in Week 1, the raw passing stats are likely to decline in an offense intent on re-establishing a dominant ground attack behind DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles -- arguably the NFL's best full-house backfield.

The final hurdle is Bradford's underwhelming game film with the Rams.

More excuses have been made for Bradford than any quarterback over the past half-decade. He's cycled through three offensive coordinators, St. Louis' schemes have lacked imagination, the offensive line was often in tatters, his receivers lacked any semblance of downfield playmaking ability and the running game failed to keep defenses honest.

There's a measure of truth in all of that, but it speaks to Bradford's tangible regression over five seasons that undrafted third-string quarterback Austin Davis completed at least 69 percent of his passes at greater than 7.5 yards per attempt in each of his first three NFL games -- a feat Bradford has yet to accomplish over any three-game span in his career.

It's maddening to watch Bradford's tape because he's such an enigma.

Settling into bad habits after taking too many hits early in his career, Bradford showed shaky pocket presence, come-and-go accuracy, poor decision-making and a lack of anticipation when we last saw him in 2013.

Perhaps most disturbing was a rifle-armed quarterback channeling Alex Smith, refusing to attempt intermediate or deep passes. The Rams found it difficult to move the chains when they treated the entire field like the condensed red zone.

As NFL Media's Matt "Money" Smith put it, Bradford's aerial attack had devolved into, "One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three ... checkdown!"

Kelly will have to rewire his quarterback to trust his offensive line and receivers, with the goal of taking more chances down the field and re-introducing a chunk-play element to Bradford's game.

2015 expectations


"Until you find your quarterback," Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff once said, "the search for him consumes you."

To hear the Eagles' official website tell it, Kelly believes he found his solution in the former No. 1 overall draft pick. After watching Rams game film, Kelly identified Bradford as a "special talent who can make this offense soar."

Desperation opens the mind.

Bradford's first step to making the offense soar is to win a quarterback competition rigged in his favor. If he does manage to avoid an August faceplant and stay healthy for 16 games, he's a virtual lock for a career year in an inherently quarterback-friendly system.

Those are brobdingnagian "ifs."

The latest Around The NFL Podcast welcomes back Lindsay Rhodes to recap Antonio Gates' suspension and the 'Top 100' rankings. Find more Around The NFL content on NFL NOW.

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