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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:

Games Receiving
Rk Player Year Age Tm G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
1 Chris Givens 2012 23 STL 15 12 42 698 16.62 3 46.5
2 Brandon Gibson 2012 25 STL 16 13 51 691 13.55 5 43.2
3 Danny Amendola 2012 27 STL 11 8 63 666 10.57 3 60.5
4 Lance Kendricks 2012 24 STL 16 14 42 519 12.36 4 32.4
5 Steven Jackson 2012 29 STL 16 15 38 321 8.45 0 20.1
6 Austin Pettis 2012 24 STL 14 2 30 261 8.70 4 18.6

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:

Games Receiving
Rk Player Year Age Tm G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
1 Brandon Lloyd 2011 30 STL 11 10 51 683 13.39 5 62.1
2 Danario Alexander 2011 25 STL 10 5 26 431 16.58 2 43.1
3 Brandon Gibson 2011 24 STL 15 9 36 431 11.97 1 28.7
4 Lance Kendricks 2011 23 STL 15 10 28 352 12.57 0 23.5
5 Steven Jackson 2011 28 STL 15 15 42 333 7.93 1 22.2
6 Greg Salas 2011 23 STL 6 0 27 264 9.78 0 44.0

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.

Games Receiving
Rk Player Year Age Tm G GS Rec Yds Y/R TD Y/G
1 Danny Amendola 2010 25 STL 16 6 85 689 8.11 3 43.1
2 Brandon Gibson 2010 23 STL 14 12 53 620 11.70 2 44.3
3 Daniel Fells 2010 27 STL 16 6 41 391 9.54 2 24.4
4 Steven Jackson 2010 27 STL 16 16 46 383 8.33 0 23.9
5 Laurent Robinson 2010 25 STL 14 11 34 344 10.12 2 24.6
6 Danario Alexander 2010 24 STL 8 2 20 306 15.30 1 38.3
7 Mark Clayton 2010 28 STL 5 5 23 306 13.30 2 61.2

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.

Quarterback
First
Last Year
Sea
Average
Robert Griffin III20122012117.3%
Mike Pagel19821985419.4%
Sam Bradford20102012319.7%
Vince Ferragamo19801985419.9%
Jake Locker20122012120.9%
David Garrard20062010521.7%
Brandon Weeden20122012121.9%
Gary Danielson19781984422.1%
Joey Harrington20022007622.9%
Russell Wilson20122012123.1%
Donovan McNabb200020101123.2%
Phil Simms197919931123.3%
Steve DeBerg197819911123.4%
Trent Dilfer19952007723.8%
Trent Green19982005624.1%
David Woodley19801982324.1%
Jason Campbell20072010424.4%
Drew Brees200220121124.5%
Vince Young20062009324.6%
Jim Harbaugh199019991024.7%
Bernie Kosar19851991724.8%
Dan Marino198319991624.8%
Tommy Kramer19791986724.9%
Danny White19801987624.9%
Philip Rivers20062012724.9%
Chad Henne20092012325.2%
Neil O'Donnell19911998725.2%
Boomer Esiason198519961225.4%
Marc Wilson19811990525.6%
Jim McMahon19821993925.6%
Mike Tomczak19861999625.6%
Steve McNair19972006925.7%
Michael Vick20022012725.9%
Tony Eason19841986325.9%
Randall Cunningham19871998726.1%
Chris Chandler19882001926.1%
Tom Brady200120121126.2%
John Elway198319981626.3%
Doug Williams19781988626.4%
Christian Ponder20112012226.4%
Aaron Rodgers20082012526.4%
Billy Joe Tolliver19901999426.4%
Drew Bledsoe199320051226.5%
Ken O'Brien19851991726.5%
Joe Flacco20082012526.5%
Eric Hipple19811986426.6%
Mark Sanchez20092012426.8%
Erik Kramer19911998427%
Kerry Collins199520101227%
Jim Kelly198619961127.1%
Vinny Testaverde198820071527.1%
Kyle Boller20032007427.1%
Josh Freeman20092012427.2%
Mark Malone19841988527.2%
Jay Schroeder19861992627.2%
Matt Hasselbeck200120111027.2%
Brad Johnson19962006927.3%
Bubby Brister19881993427.4%
Tony Romo20062012627.5%
Warren Moon198419981427.7%
Jon Kitna19992010827.8%
Jim Everett198619961127.8%
Jay Fiedler20002003427.8%
Steve Beuerlein19892000627.9%
Eli Manning20052012828.1%
Jack Trudeau19861989328.1%
Gus Frerotte19952008628.2%
Alex Smith20052011528.2%
Dave M. Brown19941996328.2%
Kurt Warner19992009828.2%
Don Majkowski19881990328.2%
Ben Roethlisberger20042012928.3%
Charlie Batch19982001328.6%
Joe Montana198119941228.7%
Mark Rypien19891993528.8%
Bill Kenney19811987728.9%
Brett Favre199220101929%
Chris Miller19881995729%
Rodney Peete19902002529.1%
Bobby Hebert19871996729.2%
Tony Banks19962001629.2%
Matt Schaub20072012629.2%
Marc Bulger20022009829.2%
Jeff George19901999829.3%
Joe Theismann19781985829.3%
Rich Gannon19902003929.3%
Kyle Orton20052010429.4%
Dave Krieg198319961329.5%
Doug Flutie19882001429.6%
Tim Couch19992002429.6%
Kevin Kolb20112012229.6%
Neil Lomax19821988729.7%
Matt Cassel20082012529.8%
Byron Leftwich20032005329.8%
Wade Wilson19871993429.9%
Stan Humphries19921997629.9%
Jay Cutler20072012629.9%
Chad Pennington20022008630%
Carson Palmer20042012830.2%
Elvis Grbac19972001430.2%
Steve Young19861998930.3%
Ryan Fitzpatrick20082012530.4%
Kordell Stewart19972003530.5%
Colin Kaepernick20122012130.7%
Andrew Luck20122012131%
Brian Griese19992007631%
Jeff Hostetler19911996631%
Daunte Culpepper20002007631.2%
Peyton Manning199820121431.2%
David Carr20022006531.3%
Jeff Garcia19992008831.4%
Ryan Tannehill20122012131.6%
Aaron Brooks20012005531.6%
Jeff Blake19942003831.7%
Jake Plummer199720061031.9%
Cam Newton20112012232%
Patrick Ramsey20022004332.8%
Andy Dalton20112012232.8%
Mark Brunell199520061033.2%
Scott Mitchell19931997433.2%
Matthew Stafford20092012333.2%
Matt Ryan20082012533.4%
Troy Aikman198920001233.5%
Rick Mirer19931995334.1%
Derek Anderson20072010334.2%
Jake Delhomme20032009637.3%

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

  1. And, of course, his leading receiver has been a different player each year. []
  2. Defined as leading the team in passing yards. []
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