The awful news came down on Sunday afternoon that St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and will miss the entire 2014 season. It’s very possible that this injury, which is the same diagnosis that ended his 2013 season after seven games, will spell an end to the former number one overall pick’s career with the Rams. Unless they make a trade for another starting quarterback, which seems unlikely considering how much Jeff Fisher values repetition and knowledge of his system, the Rams will be forced to rely on 34-year-old career backup Shaun Hill as their quarterback in 2014.
There are a lot of people on social media who are already burying the Rams’ chances in 2014, and that’s somewhat fair. A good quarterback is an unbelievably important ingredient for a team to be good, and there haven’t been too many scenarios where we’ve seen a team’s projected starter go down without his team collapsing along with him. With that said, Hill has shown throughout his career that he can be an effective quarterback, and it wouldn’t be fair to write off the Rams just yet.
Let’s keep in mind that following Bradford’s injury the Rams went 4-5 with Kellen Clemens as their starter in 2013. Clemens was not seen as a viable starter prior to being pressed into action, as he only had a 51.8 career completion percentage and a 4-8 career record. He didn’t have a whole lot of arm strength or exceptional accuracy, and the only area in which he was at all superior to Bradford was with his mobility.
Nevertheless, Clemens answered the call, completing 142 of his 242 passes for a 58.7 completion percentage while throwing for a career-high 1673 yards. He was by no means spectacular, but Clemens allowed the Rams to be competitive, getting wins over two playoff teams, the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, and a Chicago Bears team that finished 8-8 but was very competitive throughout the course of the year. The way the Rams’ offense was set up, emphasizing a powerful running attack led by Zac Stacy and shorter passes to quick and elusive guys like Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, Clemens was able to succeed while being a “game manager”.
Hill, who is a significantly better player than Clemens according to their career numbers, should be able to achieve the same amount of success, especially with a Rams offense that has been upgraded thanks to the addition of Kenny Britt and the improvement of young players like Bailey, Brian Quick, and Lance Kendricks. He’ll need great play from his defense and quality effort from his offensive skill players, but there’s no reason to completely eliminate the possibility of Hill being able to lead the Rams to at least a winning record.
While Hill hasn’t played extensively since 2010, the numbers indicate that he can be very effective. He’s got a career 13-13 record as a starter, a 61.9 career completion percentage, and a 41 to 23 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Back in 2008, Hill led a San Francisco 49ers team with a receiving corps of 36-year-old Isaac Bruce, Bryant Johnson, Arnaz Battle, and Josh Morgan to a 5-3 record under his watch while completing 62.8 percent of his passes. And while working with a 2010 Detroit Lions team that had barely any big-name talent outside of Calvin Johnson and a rookie Ndamukong Suh, Hill was once again effective, completing 61.8 percent of his passes. The team’s 3-7 record under his watch certainly was not reflective of his play.
Obviously Hill has aged since then and it’s possible that his skills have deteriorated, and while he doesn’t have a superstar like Calvin Johnson to throw to, he’s playing with a much more talented offensive core overall. Hill certainly has his faults–otherwise he would’ve maintained a starting job throughout his career–but based on his track record, it’s definitely reasonable to believe that the Rams still have a chance with him under center.