Over the next few days, we’ll be taking a look at the talent in the NFC West and seeing how the Rams match up. We lead off today with the quarterbacks.
In an NFL where two of the league’s biggest stars are the Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, it’s difficult for many to think of Sam Bradford as one of the division’s best quarterbacks. But before the 26-year-old went down with a torn ACL last season, he was creating a decent argument for himself.
Obviously it’s difficult to know how Bradford would have performed over the course of the season, since he went down late in Week 7 and didn’t return for the rest of the season. But at the time of his injury, he was putting up career numbers. He was on pace for 32 touchdowns, 3861 passing yards, with 32 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. That would have put him firmly ahead of all three of the other NFC West quarterbacks in touchdowns, while putting him only behind Arizona’s Carson Palmer in passing yards. He would have trailed Kaepernick’s eight interceptions but would have been tied with Wilson and significantly better than Palmer’s 22.
Unfortunately, there are three major concerns which stand in Bradford’s way when talking about him as the best quarterback in the NFC West. First of all, his injuries have been a repeated issue, and there’s no way to know if he’ll ever be able to put those issues in his rearview mirror. After dealing with a season-ending shoulder injury prior to entering the draft in 2009, Bradford stayed healthy as a rookie before dealing with a high ankle sprain in 2011. He then had another healthy season before dealing with last year’s major injury. If he suffers another debilitating injury, the Rams will have to seriously examine their commitment to him and consider finding a more reliable option. At this point though, it sounds like the Rams are very confident that he’s going to stay healthy from this point forward.
Secondly, Bradford doesn’t have the dual-threat aspect to his game that Wilson and Kaepernick possess. Kaepernick ran 92 times for 524 yards and four touchdowns last year, while Wilson had 96 attempts for 539 yards and one score. Bradford, meanwhile, managed only 15 attempts for 31 yards, and he blew out his knee on one of those runs. If anything, you’d have to think that Bradford will be less mobile in 2014, and that will make it harder for him to compete with the unpredictability that Kaepernick and Wilson provide to opposing defenses.
Luckily, he does have what figures to be a strong running attack helping him out, though Seattle and San Francisco’s running backs and offensive lines are no joke either, so Rams backs Zac Stacy and Tre Mason will have to be especially dominant.
The third thing which prevents Bradford from being considered superior to Kaepernick and Wilson, or even Palmer, is his lack of playoff experience. In just two NFL seasons, Wilson’s already played in five playoffs games and has won a Super Bowl. Through two years as a starter, Kaepernick has played in six postseason games, including a Super Bowl loss in February of 2013 and a loss to Seattle in last season’s NFC Championship Game. He hasn’t been quite able to take the leap to become a champion yet, but he’s shown the ability to take over a playoff game on several occasions. And though Palmer hasn’t been in the playoffs in a long time, he played in and lost two Wild Card games in the 2005 and 2009 postseasons.
Meanwhile, Bradford still has yet to play in a postseason game with four seasons under his belt. It’s worth noting that during both of his healthy seasons, he has kept the Rams in contention until late in the season. But he still has yet to actually make it, and we won’t know how he performs in those situations until he does.
Right now Kaepernick ranks as the most talented quarterback in the talented NFC West, although Wilson has shown a spectacular ability to drive an offense, and as a result he’s become the most accomplished. While Bradford’s lack of legitimate running ability or playoff experience prevent him from being on the same level as them right now, his success when healthy and superiority as a pure pocket passer to the division’s other quarterbacks indicate that he could surpass those two sooner than later.