While I sat in front of my flat screen wanting more NBA basketball (congratulations to the Dallas Mavericks), I settled in for the movie, Sherlock Holmes (starring Robert Downey Jr.), a resourceful and highly intelligent detective (and let’s not forget his astute partner Dr. Watson played by Jude Law). The movie started me down a thought pattern that led me to Sam Bradford and the upcoming season.
I then started looking into first-year starters at the quarterback position, comparing their games started, NFL passer rating and how they performed in their sophomore seasons, better or worse.
Bradford, the first overall pick by the Rams in 2010, is headed into the forbidden sophomore season, better known as the sophomore jinx. With changes in the coaching ranks for the Rams, the key offensive positional coach is the offensive coordinator. Josh McDaniels has had the Midas touch on quarterbacks over the past several seasons. He has been key in the success of Tom Brady and the development of Kyle Orton. He is now paired with Bradford.
Along with the natural questions of the sophomore jinx come other obstacles and challenges for Bradford:
1. New Coach
3. Digestion of a new offensive playbook and information
4. Additional surrounding personnel
5. Acquaintance of a new coordinator’s play-calling and looking for comfort.
With knowledge comes confidence. Bradford will want to prove he can beat the sophomore jinx and that it is nothing more than a media myth that affects players mentally, especially players at the quarterback position in their second season in the NFL.
Bradford is working extremely hard in the weight room, on the field organizing player workouts around the country and grasping the full knowledge of the McDaniels’ blueprint. When I helped draft Bradford, I went on record both in the Rams’ war room and since on radio, saying “Sam Bradford is my highest graded quarterback since Peyton Manning came out of Tennessee.” Yes, there have been some good ones, but I truly believe that he is that good.
While there are several gifted young elite quarterbacks in Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Josh Freeman, Mark Sanchez and Matthew Stafford (who is struggling to stay healthy), Bradford will need to take his game to another level, and will based on his history and the mindset of this player. The extreme competitor that he is, he will work to prove everyone wrong while playing within himself and not press. His leadership qualities developed in front of the NFC West the second half of 2010 season and he became very inspirational not only to his teammates but to the starving fan base that needed positive direction, producing wins and giving them hope for the immediate future.
While I stood and watched Bradford and the Rams at the player organized workouts in St. Louis a few weeks ago, I witnessed a group of men led by Bradford working to get better, coming together as a team and bonding. There is often reason for concern about rookie quarterbacks finding a comfort zone after their first season having success and jumping into their second season.
As I studied data of the young elite quarterbacks mentioned above, Ryan, Sanchez and Flacco were the only ones to start all 16 games. Stafford was injured and Freeman’s playing time didn’t come until the halfway point of his rookie season.
Ryan: 6-5, 224. Playoffs 2008, 2010. Completion percentage: 2008/61.1, 2009/58.3. TDs: 2008/16, 2009/22
Flacco: 6-6, 232. Playoffs 2008, 2009, 2010. Completion peercentage: 2008/60.0, 2009/63.1. TDs: 2008/14, 2009/21
Sanchez: 6-2, 225. Playoffs 2009, 2010. Completion percentage: 2009/53.8, 2010/54.8. TDs: 2009/12, 2010/17
Stafford: 6-2, 230. No Playoffs. Only started 10 games in his rookie season and 3 sophomore season because of shoulder injuries
Freeman: 6-6, 240. No Playoffs. Started 9 games in his rookie season and all 16 sophomore season. Completion percentage: 2009/54.5, 2010/61.4. TDs: 2009/10, 2010/25
Bradford: 6-4, 236. No Playoffs. 16-game starter his rookie season. Comepletion percentage: 2010/60.0. TDs: 2010/18
The quarterbacks that excelled in their second season were Flacco, Sanchez and Freeman. Ryan had a down year and missed the playoffs and Stafford suffered a shoulder injury for the second year in a row. While Freeman didn’t take his team to the playoffs his rookie season, his sophomore campaign was exceptional.
If I was a betting man, I’d count on Bradford not only leading his team to the playoffs, but in the McDaniel’s offense, with the mental toughness and mindset that Bradford has coming into his sophomore season, production will come naturally.