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Player Spotlight: Sam Bradford

A detailed look at Sam Bradford's fantasy prospects for 2013

The Rams are gearing up their passing game this year.  Make no mistake about it – St. Louis has been stocking up youth, speed and talent when it comes to eligible receivers for Sam Bradford ever since free agency opened in March.  First came the signing of free agent tight end Jared Cook, who was woefully underutilized in Tennessee despite a wide receiver-like 13.1 yards per catch average and a strong catch percentage (over 61%) with below average quarterback play.  Cook will be the starting tight end for the Rams come this fall, and he will be a big part of the St. Louis offense and a favored target for Bradford.

But wait – there’s more.  In a bold Draft Day 1 move, St. Louis traded up to acquire Tavon Austin (West Virginia), who has been compared favorably to Percy Harvin and Randall Cobb both in talent and ability to be a playmaker.  Austin is lightning fast (4.34 40-time at the NFL Combine) and head coach Jeff Fisher wants the ball in Austin’s hands as much as possible.    The Rams continued to add to their wide receiver depth chart by adding another former Mountaineer in the third round, Stedman Bailey.

The free agency improvements were not limited to receiver, either, as the Rams were able to greatly improve their offensive line by signing Jake Long to a four-year deal.  Long now shores up the left tackle spot for St. Louis, which should provide Bradford with more time, confidence and security in the pocket to deliver the ball to all of his new weapons in the passing game.

The addition of Austin and Cook only hint at what the Rams are planning for this season when it comes to the passing game.  To get a better idea of the plans in St. Louis, you have to look at not only the OTAs and what the coaches are saying, but also the subtractions from the roster as well.  Gone is Steven Jackson, their former Pro Bowl running back who was a fixture in the Rams’ backfield for years.  Instead of replacing Jackson with a rookie or a free agent, St. Louis is planning a 3- or 4-headed committee of young talent with second year players Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and Terrance Ganaway along with rookie Zac Stacy.  None of these backs are expected to become a feature tailback, and the committee approach begins to hint at how much the Rams will rely on their passing game this year.

The Rams are “All In” on Bradford and the passing attack for 2013.  Fisher and Schottenheimer are putting a ton of faith in their quarterback to build upon a strong finish to last year and further improve in Bradford’s fourth NFL season.  The expectations are high for Bradford, who will be leading a 4-wide based offense quite often with Austin and Cook in the slots surrounded on the outside by second year wide receivers Brian Quick and Chris Givens, with even more depth on the bench in Austin Pettis and tight end Lance Kendricks.  Despite the loss of Danny Amendola to the Patriots in free agency, this is the youngest and most talented group of receivers that Bradford has had since being drafted in 2010.

Sam Bradford’s fourth NFL season is being viewed as a make or break year for both Bradford and the Rams.  He has never finished a season with over 4,000 yards passing or even completed 60% of his attempts, but with improvements at wide receiver, tight end and left tackle, all the elements are there for Bradford to take that next step towards becoming the true franchise quarterback that St. Louis envisioned him to be back when they selected him in the first round in 2010.  Bradford has the supporting cast, Playmakers in Cook and Austin, and a running back (Richardson) out of the backfield that can create big plays when he gets the ball in space – all elements that should increase Bradford’s completion percentage and passing yards total this season. 

Positives

  • St. Louis is gathering a ton of talent in the form of pass catchers this offseason.  From tight end Jared Cook (free agent signing from Tennessee) to eighth overall draft pick Tavon Austin, the Rams are stockpiling talent and speed all around Sam Bradford.  The Rams added Austin’s teammate Stedman Bailey in Round 3 of the draft to improve the depth chart at wide receiver
  • Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is back this season, marking the first time in Bradford’s career that he will be in the same offense since joining the Rams.  Schottenheimer has already been effusive with praise for Bradford this offseason, describing him as “a thousand years” ahead of where he was at this time in 2012.
  • The Rams have moved on from Steven Jackson, changing gears towards a running back by committee approach to their 2013 backfield.  Up to four backs (Isaiah Pead, Daryl Richardson, Zac Stacy and Terrance Ganaway) all may have roles this year – but quite often a committee approach, especially with 3-4 players involved, leads to a bigger emphasis on the passing game
  • Tavon Austin is going to be a big weapon for the Rams, right out of the gate.  Between Austin and Richardson, Sam Bradford should have lots of short completions to players out of the St. Louis backfield that will boost Bradford’s passing numbers
  • The improvements along the offensive line should not be overlooked.  Highlighted by the addition of former Dolphin Jake Long, the Rams will have much better protection for Bradford this season

Negatives

  • Steven Jackson’s departure is not to be minimized.  The former Pro Bowl tailback took a lot of the pressure off of Bradford and the St. Louis passing game.  Bradford will have more weight on his shoulders to step up and lead the passing attack this season despite a likely downgraded rushing attack to balance out the offense
  • Despite improvements on the offensive line, there will be plenty of pressure on Bradford – and it may not be coming from the defensive pass rush.  Bradford is considered to be in a “make or break” season, and he has a lot of talent this year around him.  If he fails to improve on his career numbers and falls short of key metrics like 4,000 yards or 25 passing touchdowns, Bradford could face competition as the quarterback for the Rams as soon as next year

FINAL THOUGHTS

Sam Bradford has everything he should need to have to break out and be a productive fantasy quarterback starting this year.  He is surrounded by good protection thanks to the addition of left tackle Jake Long, and the offensive supporting cast has greatly improved with additions of free agent tight end Jared Cook and rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin.  Even though Steven Jackson left for Atlanta, the committee of running backs should be sufficient to support Bradford in providing a solid complimentary ground game along with options for short passes to Daryl Richardson or even Austin out of the backfield.  Coaches Jeff Fisher and Brian Schottenheimer have put their faith in Bradford this season, and expectations are high that Bradford will respond with his best career performance.  With the Rams playing in one of the most difficult divisions in the NFL with Seattle and San Francisco, Bradford will have to step up and deliver to keep the Rams’ offense humming and competitive each and every week.  I expect that Bradford will finally start to deliver on the high expectations that were placed upon him when he was drafted four years ago and he will break through the two statistical barriers (4,000 yards passing, 60% completion rate) that have plagued him in his young career.  With such young talent around him, this year could certainly be the beginning of when Bradford becomes a Top 10 NFL quarterback.  His fantasy numbers may not quite be Top 10 this year, but I expect a solid showing and great improvement for Bradford as he posts his best numbers of his career in 2013.

SAM BRADFORD PROJECTIONS

 

CMP

ATT

PYD

PTD

INT

RSHYD

RSHTD

Jeff Pasquino

350

575

4025

25

15

80

1

David Dodds

318

532

3692

22

14

88

1

Bob Henry

351

580

4060

25

12

80

1

Jason Wood

335

550

3865

22

14

65

1

Maurile Tremblay

324

543

3781

22

41

137

1

Message Board Consensus

349

579

3857

24

12

140

1

QUOTATIONS FROM AROUND THE WEB

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

Sigmund Bloom (Footballguys.com) said:

Fellow staffer Matt Waldman put it perfectly on the second night of the draft when he opined that the Rams appeared to be reassembling the offense Bradford ran at Oklahoma. With a large variety of dangerous targets and an upgraded offensive line, Bradford could finally be ready to put up where he left off during a sometimes brilliant rookie year in 2010. At the price of a pick in the 12th round or later, it's an attractive bet to see if Bradford can break out on your bench.

Nick Wagoner (St. Louis Rams blogger) said:

It’s clear from watching [OTAs] that the Rams intend to be more high octane offensively. Bradford discussed that possibility yesterday and it seemed it was very likely given the weapons that were added during the offseason.

TheDirtyWord said:

Bradford’s career has been a curious one to say the least after a rookie year that saw praised significantly despite not averaging 6 YPA, his 2nd year was almost a carbon copy of Matthew Stafford’s injury plagued 2nd year. While Bradford did not breakout in Year 3 like Stafford did, he righted the ship to a certain extent under the steadying hand of Jeff Fisher…When you look at the Rams, you see a lot of potential in their skills positions, but precious little track record… The fact is, it’s difficult to evaluate Bradford because aside from Steven Jackson, the Rams have had perhaps the worst collection of skill position talent in the NFL during that time.  And with Jackson gone, the burden now falls entirely on Bradford to make the Rams his team.  Can the combination of Richardson/Pead/Stacy give the Rams a viable rushing attack?  Is Tavon Austin the second coming of Percy Harvin?  Can Brian Quick translate his physical talent to the NFL and start to have an impact?  Is Jared Cook finally poised to become a true #1 TE by which you can build your passing game around? … the Rams can be a real competitive outfit in 2013 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win 9 games in 2013 with an eye toward becoming a significant player in 2014.  But what needs to happen this year is the true emergence of Bradford and while I don’t think he’ll be prolific, he’ll come through with his best season to date and will show himself ready to become the leader of this team.  I'm obviously trending optimistic, but I like how this team is being built.

Prediction: 368 Completions, 607 Pass Attempts, 4196 Passing Yards, 24 TD’s, 11 INT’s


More from Jeff Pasquino:

Money Talks (Free Agent Bidding Advice): Week 8 - October 21
The Daily Grind - Daily Fantasy Contest News: Week 7 - October 17
Eliminator Pool: Week 7 - October 16
Against The Spread Pool: Week 7 - October 16
For the Win: Week 7 - October 15
Money Talks (Free Agent Bidding Advice): Week 7 - October 14
The Daily Grind - Daily Fantasy Contest News: Week 6 - October 11
Eliminator Pool: Week 6 - October 9
Against The Spread Pool: Week 6 - October 9
For the Win: Week 6 - October 8