*This is the age of the young quarterback. Buoyed by the draft class of 2012, we have a surplus of promising young signal-callers. Around The League and "NFL Total Access" will count down the top 10 quarterbacks 25 or under we'd want leading our franchise. *
No. 8: Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams
Why he's here
Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft for a reason. (Well, other than the fact the St. Louis Rams badly needed a quarterback and the next QB drafted that year was Tim Tebow.) Bradford came out of Oklahoma known for his accuracy, NFL arm and smarts. After three years and 42 starts, Bradford as a pro is tougher to define.
Evaluating Bradford was harder than any quarterback on this list because of the lack of players around him and his offensive system in 2012. Bradford has played for three dramatically different offenses in three seasons. Blaming the surrounding talent often is a cheap excuse because you can isolate quarterback play, but Bradford's supporting cast often masked solid performances.
The arm strength is still there. And despite the Rams' often frustrating station-to-station offense under coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, Bradford enjoyed his best season in 2012. The play below is a nice example of Bradford's ability to throw on the move and use his natural velocity.
Bradford threw 21 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions last season, dramatically raising his yards per attempt average to 6.7. You had to squint, but there was real progress in 2012. Just not enough to satisfy many Rams fans.
Why he's not higher
It's fair to say Bradford has not elevated the play of those around him. In 2011 especially, he appeared shell-shocked because of all the pressure he saw. Early pressure often was a problem last season, but timing with his young receiver crew was the bigger issue. The Rams did not have receivers who could win against press man coverage, which especially killed them on third downs. Even when his receivers won, Bradford often threw behind them on slant routes.
Perhaps Bradford's biggest issue is the toughest to evaluate for an outsider. Greg Cosell of NFL Films would call it "seeing the field clearly." On plays Bradford got the right protection and what he wanted out of the coverage, he often hesitated. This led to dump-off passes when the play design called for more. The first play in the package below is an example of what I mean:
The Rams rely on option routes, which require Bradford and his receiver to be on the same page. I saw a ton of broken-off routes and passes to nowhere. Bradford and his young wideouts, especially the promising Chris Givens, often saw the field differently. The second play above illustrates that. This is understandable in a new offense, but it's something Bradford must overcome this year.
All of the different systems and numerous hits appear to have slowed down Bradford's processing. Hopefully a second year in Schottenheimer's system speeds things up.
The only scenario where Bradford isn't a Ram next year would be if the team bottoms out and the Rams falls in love with a rookie quarterback. That's hard to imagine. The Rams have a dynamic defensive roster that will keep them in almost every game. And Bradford showed signs of emerging last season. He made a ton of huge plays in both contests against the San Francisco 49ers, saving his best throws for when the game was on the line. He also showed far better pocket toughness than I expected over the course of the season.
Bradford delivered a lot of very good passes just before getting smacked around last year. His receivers didn't always make the catch, but Bradford didn't flinch. He stood tall and showed he can deliver with bodies around him. Bradford's going to be an NFL starter for a long time. I'd be surprised if that didn't play out primarily in St. Louis.
Bradford's five-year ceiling
The Rams' defense and coaching staff will give Bradford a chance to start winning playoff games sooner than later. But there's also no denying he's well behind in his development compared to players who reach elite status. Most established top-10 quarterbacks showed more by this point in their career.
Bradford seems to be just missing something, but it's hard to put a finger on what that something is. He's often at his best in the 2-minute drill and when he lets the ball rip on a double move like the touchdown to Chris Givens, shown to the right.