Since Sam Bradford was drafted by the Rams in 2010, the only consistent force in St. Louis has been change. Tackle Rodger Saffold, drafted in the second round of the same draft, is the only other player on the 2010 Rams offense who is still on the team. Bradford has already played under three offensive coordinators (Pat Shurmur as a rookie, Josh McDaniels in 2011, and Brian Schottenheimer last year), which means this is the first time in four years he isn’t learning a new system. And while his rookie season was always overrated, his performance last year was better than you think. After adjusting for one of the league’s toughest schedules, Bradford ranked 18th in Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt, despite being saddled with an inferior set of receivers.
How inferior? The table below shows the top six leaders in receiving yards for St. Louis last season:
Chances are, unless you’re a Rams fan or play fantasy football, you’ve never even heard of four of those names. And while Amendola was productive when healthy, he missed five games last year (and it’s worth noting that Bradford’s numbers weren’t worse without Amendola in the lineup). Steven Jackson is of course a great player, but there’s only so much help a 29-year-old running back who catches 38 passes can provide to an ailing passing game.
Having a weak set of targets is nothing new for Bradford. Check out 2011:
That year — remember, McDaniels was the coordinator — St. Louis traded for Brandon Lloyd in October, as the Broncos were getting ready to either tank the season or hand the reins over to Tim Tebow (or both). The Rams desperately traded for Lloyd, because Bradford (who missed six games with an ankle injury) had practically nothing to work with before Lloyd arrived.
What about during Bradford’s rookie season? Again, no receiver emerged.
Notice anything? In three years, Sam Bradford has never had a single receiver gain even 700 yards (there appears to be a glass ceiling at that number). Amendola was the leading receiver this time around, although Mark Clayton had the potential to be the real star: He had 300 yards in the team’s first four games, but tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in the Rams’ fifth game.
In 2010, Amendola gained 19.6% of the team’s receiving yards. Two years ago, Lloyd recorded 21.0% of St. Louis receiving yards, and last year, Givens was at 18.5%. Since Bradford’s entered the league, his average leading receiver has gained just 19.7% of his team’s receiving yards.1 How unusual is that?
The table below lists all quarterbacks who:
- Had at least three seasons as a team’s primary passer2 (or, led their team in passing yards in 2012); and
- Their first season as their team’s primary passer began in 1978
There are 126 quarterbacks who meet those two criteria. For those players, I then calculated the average percentage of team receiving yards gained by their leading receiver in each season. As you can see, only three other quarterbacks join Bradford in the “Under 20″ club: Robert Griffin III (whose fortune should change with a healthy Pierre Garcon this year), Mike Pagel (who went 15-31-1 during the leanest of the lean Colts years), and the first Rams quarterback to start a Super Bowl, Vince Ferragamo. In the table below (which includes all 126 names — just use the search or sort functions to find other players, or click the arrows at the bottom), I’ve listed each passer’s first and last year as their team’s primary passer, their number of seasons as a primary passer, and the average percentage of receiving yards gained by their top receiver.
This is just a quick and dirty query I ran, so I don’t want to read too much into it. But I do think this gives some ammunition to those who still believe in Bradford. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think Bradford will move up the list anytime soon, either. Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, and Chris Givens all have a good shot at leading the team in receiving yards, while Austin Pettis, Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey, and Lance Kendricks are going to get shares of the pie, too. It’s possible the leading receiver only gets about 20% of the team’s yards this year, too.
But if that’s the case, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing this time around. At least on paper, the 2013 Rams are deeper and more talented at receiver/tight end than they’ve been in any of the past three seasons. Cook and Austin are loaded with potential, Givens had an excellent rookie year, and one of Pettis/Quick/Bailey should emerge as a strong number three receiver. It’s easy to envision St. Louis running an up-tempo, spread attack similar to what he ran at Oklahoma in 2008, easily the best passing season in college football since at least 2005. Those Sooners teams were anchored by Phil Loadholt and Trent Williams, but Saffold and Jake Long should give Bradford his best set of tackles in his career. For once, the pieces are finally in place. It will be very interesting to see if Bradford can deliver.
As an aside, did you happen to scroll down to the end of the list? The last name on there was Jake Delhomme, at 37.3% (no one else was within three percentage points). Delhomme locked in a wide receiver more than any other quarterback (Steve Smith five times, Muhsin Muhammad once), but he had a very good reason for doing so.
Previous “Random Perspective On” Articles:
AFC East: Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers
NFC East: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams