The Rams, after a disastrous 2011 season, are sort of the forgotten team in the NFC West this offseason. The Niners are likely going to be in the pundit preseason Super Bowl conversation, the Cardinals and Seahawks are on the rise after solid second halves last year, especially on defense, but I think the Rams also have a shot at surprising some in 2012. I'm a little reticent to say too much about a team or player I haven't yet studied very intently so I don't want to make too many judgements about Sam Bradford as a player, but you can count me among those that believe he can still have a very good NFL career and be one of the better starting quarterbacks in the league.
Bradford's arm strength is the first thing that pops off the screen to me. He throws with great zip and has a nice quick release that delivers a smooth looking, tight spiral. He can do this on the run or from the pocket. His accuracy in 2011 seemed to be pretty erratic at times and my impression was that in the mid- to short-range, there were a lot of throws that would land either a few yards in front of or at the feet of his intended receiver. He had some overthrows on deep passes that I'm sure he'd want back.
Bradford's had some issues that have held him back a bit since entering the league, as Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times explained - and of course, they start with the absence of chemistry with receivers and continuity coaching-wise. St. Louis had Pat Shurmur as offensive coordinator and Richard Curl as QB coach in 2010 and Bradford fared well, setting several records as a rookie quarterback and nearly winning the NFC West (you should remember this). Then, Josh McDaniels transitioned to offensive coordinator in 2011 as the Rams lost Shurmur to Cleveland as Mike Holmgren's new head coach, and curiously, the club decided to go without a quarterback coach.
As far as Bradford's go-to wide receivers, Mark Clayton was first in 2010, catching 10 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns in his first game as a Ram after being traded for less than a week earlier, but tore his patellar tendon in Week 5. Danny Amendola emerged as Bradford's lean-to receiver after Clayton went down but got hurt Week 1, leaving two rookie receivers in Greg Salas and Austin Pettis and a rookie TE in Lance Kendricks to pick up the slack. The Rams went out and got Bradford's primary weapon in Brandon Lloyd in Week 7, but at that point he was far behind in the playbook and in chemistry with the man throwing him passes. As McAtee put it and I would agree - it's hard as a young QB to be successful with all that going on; most top quarterbacks are afforded more continuity.
I've embedded some videos below via RamsOnDemand that take a big chunk of Bradford's throws from 2011, and I've included Ron Jaworski's QB breakdown as well; what you'll see among some very impressive throws is a mixed bag of bad line play, weird Josh McDaniels playcalling, and some headscratching passes from the soon-to-be third year quarterback.
Jaws' look at Bradford beat me to the punch on the one pass that I wanted to point out to you guys but I'll talk about it anyway - this 34-yard dagger on the run to his right that hit Brandon Gibson in the back of the endzone for a touchdown against the Ravens. Watching that throw brought Aaron Rodgers to mind for me - not that I'm comparing the two in overall talent at this point in their careers because Rodgers is at another level. But, when I watch Rodgers, the first thing I notice is his ability to throw moving out of the pocket - lightning fast wind-up and sling-shot delivery with great velocity on the football, and that throw by Bradford is reminiscent of the top arm talents in the NFL like Rodgers or Matt Stafford. He has the ability to make a 45-yard pass into the back of the end zone on a dime with touch and velocity -- that's rare.
Now, obviously, Bradford will have to put everything together; get on the same page as his receivers, which is no small feat, as we've talked about here recently - acclimate to his third coordinator in three years, and his second head coach, but if I'm a Rams fan I have to feel pretty good about the potential that's still there. I'm in the camp that believes the Rams are on the uptick and quick; particularly on defense, but their offense may still surprise some people.
As their receiving corps improves - Salas and Kendricks are very promising in my opinion -, Bradford's confidence should too, and skittishness in the pocket should diminish in theory. Bradford also gets one of his favorite targets back this year in Danny Amendola and the Rams are expecting quick returns from Brian Quick and Chris Givens, two highly touted receivers from the Draft this year. Not to mention, St. Louis still has Steven Jackson and picked up an explosive homerun hitter in Isaiah Pead. On Paper, that offense should improve greatly in 2012, particularly if their line play can pick things up and defense can get them some better field position and maintain some leads.
Of course conversely, Sam Bradford, at the end of the day, still faces the harsh reality of starting another season with a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback coach, and a couple of rookie receivers to throw to.
The final two videos brought to you by RamsOnDemand.