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Sam Bradford

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The Oklahoma pro day fueled the final surge of Sam Bradford affirmation. It is affirmation after all, because scouts, NFL teams, want Bradford to be a franchise quarterback. The Rams want Sam Bradford to be a franchise quarterback. It's widely accepted that even if St. Louis drafted Ndamukong Suh and killed the rest of their draft, they would be a below average team because they lack a quarterback.

Let's talk about that first. I would not invest in Marc Bulger, but it is curious that Bulger is written off. Matt Hasselbeck, a year and a half older, similarly plagued by injuries, worse than Bulger each of the last two seasons, and by the same measure, adjusted yards per attempt, equal to Bulger for his career, is thought to have gas in the tank. For whatever reason, Hasselbeck is thought of as the better quarterback and better quarterback going forward. That does not make much sense, honestly. Short of prestige, I can't think of a way to rank 2010 Matt Hasselbeck ahead of 2010 Marc Bulger.

Seattle has a strong need for a franchise quarterback, but fans recognize that if the talent is not there, the Seahawks have a stopgap with some potential. The Rams are in the exact same position. Bulger is not likely to recover enough to enjoy a late-career resurgence, but neither is Hasselbeck, and both are likely better in the short term than any quarterback from the 2010 class.

The Rams have added liability. Selecting Bradford first overall locks them into the largest rookie contract in the history of the NFL. JaMarcus Russell was signed to a six-year, $61 million contract with $32 million guaranteed. Two years later, Matthew Stafford was signed to a six-year, $72 million contract with $41.75 million guaranteed. St. Louis could pay Bradford as much as $80 million with nearly $50 million guaranteed. They would agree to this contract with the possibility of a rookie salary cap looming. In other words, they could set and hold the record for largest rookie contract in the NFL, and all for Sam Bradford.

Bradford would have to be exceptional to merit that investment. Is he?

A few weeks back, the praise and criticism of Bradford was clear. Bradford had two huge seasons in Oklahoma. He did so in a weak conference for defense, in a spread attack, and surrounded by copious amounts of pro talent. Every member of the Sooners offensive line was a pro prospect. Center Jon Cooper signed with the Vikings. Guard Branden Walker was signed by the Texans, but released after two arrests. Phil Loadholt started 15 games at right tackle for the Vikings. Duke Robinson is a bit of a mystery. He slid from possible first-round pick to certain second-round pick to selected in the fifth. Whatever the reason, few doubt his talent or dominance at the college level. Right tackle Trent Williams is a possible top-15 selection.

Bradford excelled with excellent protection, good weapons and in a spread system. Scouts wondered if he had the requisite skills to make pro reads, pro reads quickly enough to avoid pressure, and specifically, if Bradford could make pro reads while adjusting to pressure. Those two skills, reading a defense and reading a pass rush, are the two essential skills of a quarterback. Bradford has no meaningful experience making pro reads. The year after four of his five linemen left for the NFL, in just 71 pass attempts, he suffered not one, but two serious injuries to his throwing shoulder. If concerns about his pocket awareness were valid before, they are blinding now. In short, Bradford could not have had a worse 2009 season, short of career ending injury, but because he spent so much of the season injured, he has been given a pass. That is maddening.

What possibly could Sam Bradford have shown in his pro day to improve scouts perception of his ability to make pro reads and read pro pass rush? I can't think of a single thing. Instead, this is further evidence that the outside media can reinforce a questionable decision by spinning a largely irrelevant event into a tipping point. After Bradford completed 49 of 50 passes, Detroit was officially-unofficially on the clock. The pick had been made. The Rams would be flogged mercilessly by the media if they dared pick another player.

This is a standing tradition. See:

Matthew Stafford:

While Stafford (6-foot-2 5/8, 225 pounds) chose to stand on his combine numbers, he did throw 50 passes in a scripted workout that was run at a quick pace. My sources on the ground in Athens all agreed that of the 50 passes, only three weren't thrown with accuracy. Stafford rolled out, threw deep comebacks ... he threw everything.

. . .

What did I learn from Stafford's workout? That I wouldn't be worried if I were the Lions about taking him with the No. 1 pick.

JaMarcus Russell:

JaMarcus Russell Killed It

This isn't directly Skins related, but I spoke to few people today who were at LSU's Pro Day, and from what I heard this QB did some pretty amazing stuff. His arm strength is ridiculous, he oozes athleticism and he blew away the throng of scouts watching from the sidelines, Vinny (Uncle Junior) C. included.

Alex Smith:

Utah quarterback Alex Smith followed in the footsteps of Auburn's Ronnie Brown and USC's Mike Williams by wowing team officials at his personal pro day in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

One personnel source on hand said Smith had a "paramount" workout. Smith looked so good, he likely vaulted to the top of the 2005 draft's quarterback class a day before California's Aaron Rodgers responds with his personal pro day.

Stafford has pocket awareness problems and ended his rookie season on IR. Russell has the suite: pro read problems, excellent surrounding talent and a short tenure as a starter. He is the current model of quarterback bust. Smith played in a spread offense, took most of his snaps from shotgun, and has never developed a pro read or pro pocket awareness. Smith is entering his sixth season with most of the problems he entered the league intact. The 49ers finally accepted his inability to drop back and designed an offense around the shotgun. He may yet develop, but he has crippled his team thus far, and whatever he did last season, is still very much a bust until proven otherwise.

Any concern the Rams or any other NFL team had before the Oklahoma pro day should persist. Nothing, and I mean nothing, about playing catch with your favorite receivers tells us anything, and I mean anything, about Bradford's ability at the next level. If he could not "make all the throws", Bradford would never have been considered for the first overall pick. If he could not show accuracy in drills, he never would have made the Sooners roster. Pro day drills are less meaningful than a simple forty time.

So, why should St. Louis draft Sam Bradford? They don't lack for a short term solution at quarterback. They don't lack for alternative talents worthy the first overall pick. They don't need a quarterback anymore than a dozen teams need a quarterback. They have little pressure to draft a quarterback this year because they have little hope of escaping the top ten in the 2011 NFL draft. They won't win again until they have a top quarterback, but unless Bradford is a franchise quarterback, St. Louis is not investing in the future, but sabotaging it.

Every team needs a franchise quarterback, and every opportunity should be exhausted searching for one. However, drafting Bradford first overall will not make him a franchise quarterback. This franchise quarterback death spiral happens almost every year. Some talent emerges from the pack and every question, every neon-red flag, every alternative is cast aside. The St. Louis Rams must select Sam Bradford or prove they are not committed to winning.

So they will. If Bradford busts, it will be chalked up to quarterback roulette. Every team must try, and can not be faulted if their try does not succeed. That seems stupid to me. Very, very stupid. Unless St. Louis has answered the red flags, can see within Bradford the requisite skills and talent, not what they want Bradford to be, nor their wildest dream, but within the tape, existing pro read and pro pocket awareness, unless Bradford has proven he is not only clearly the best quarterback prospect, but a good quarterback prospect, than drafting him first overall is a mistake. It is not a commitment to winning, but a commitment to losing, but losing in a less controversial way.