2013 Fantasy Football: Does Sam Bradford Have Sleeper Potential?
Since being taken with the No. 1 overall pick back in the 2010 draft, St. Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford has kinda fallen off the face of the earth from a national attention perspective. Of course, much of this has to do with the fact that the Rams have been arguably the NFL’s worst franchise for about the last decade or so, as the last time they finished with a record over .500 was 2003. For a reference point, that was Kurt Warner’s final season with the Rams (he played in just two games) and a full five seasons before he nearly led Arizona to a Super Bowl win against the Steelers. Considering that Super Bowl already feels like it was forever ago, that gives you an idea of how long it really has been since the Rams have been any good at all.
Bradford will be entering his fourth season already, and we’re still truly waiting for him to break-out. However, it’s not like he’s been bad or anything. He was limited to just 10 games in his second season due to a nagging ankle sprain, and he was quite terrible that year. But he did win the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 2010 after he completed 60 percent of his passes for over 3,500 yards to go along with 18 TDs and 15 picks. He did this behind a shoddy offensive line with a completely ordinary group of receivers that included Danny Amendola, Brandon Gibson and Laurent Robinson, among others. You may also recall that the Rams actually almost made the playoffs that year as they finished 7-9, but losing a tiebreaker to Seattle for the NFC West title.
Last year, Bradford was significantly better than he was in his second year, as he finished with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and over 3,700 yards. St. Louis improved from 2-14 to 7-8-1, and now they seem primed to actually make some noise in what’s become the NFL’s toughest division. So, can he finally make “the leap” and become consistently relevant as a fantasy option?
If we’re going off of completely basic, standard fantasy scoring numbers, Bradford was the 16th-best fantasy quarterback last year. That’s slightly better than guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Carson Palmer and Matt Schaub, each of whom we typically think of as nice bye week fill-ins. Bradford actually finished with one more TD pass than did Matthew Stafford, but Stafford was the far more useful fantasy commodity by virtue of throwing for over 1,200 yards more than Bradford. The Rams’ QB was still able to top the 3,700-yard mark, which isn’t near elite, but is a solid improvement over where he was in his second season.
He did, however, rank near the bottom of the league in yards-per-attempt among the league’s regular starters, averaging just 6.72 yards-per-throw. Surely this has plenty to do with the lack of over-the-top receiving options he’s had to work with. Would you be confident throwing the ball up-for-grabs for Austin Pettis to go grab? No, you wouldn’t. When you’re playing with guys like Chris Givens and Danny Amendola, you hit them in the intermediate routes and take what you can get.
Now, Amendola, one of three Rams to catch between 600-700 yards worth of passes a year ago, is in New England, and the club essentially used their first-round pick on Tavon Austin in order to replace him. Austin was incredibly explosive during his collegiate career at West Virginia, and the team figures to get him involved in the offense quite a bit from the start. His big-play ability is something St. Louis hasn’t had in their offense with Bradford at the helm, so if the diminutive Austin is capable of holding up under the physical rigors of playing in the NFL, Bradford should benefit. St. Louis also picked up a reliable pass-catching tight end in Jared Cook during the offseason. Chris Givens led the Rams in receiving as a rookie last year, and clearly has already developed a solid rapport with Bradford. In limited action in the first preseason game against the Browns over the weekend, Givens caught three passes for 82 yards.
The running game for the Rams is a big, fat question mark. Longtime incumbent Steven Jackson has finally been liberated and is now in Atlanta, and the Rams appear ready to use a RB-by-committee approach in 2013 featuring the likes of Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead. Richardson showed plenty of ability as a seventh-round rookie last year, while we still haven’t seen enough of Pead to know what he’s got.
The team has also continued to overhaul what was a complete joke of an offensive line just a few years ago. After they ranked near the bottom of the NFL in several O-line metrics in 2011, the Rams improved substantially in those areas in 2012, and have added a couple of well-known free agents, left tackle Jake Long and center Scott Wells, to the mix. If Bradford is afforded enough time to make reads and throw the ball confidently without having to worry about running for his life, he’s a good bet to continue to improve.
Does Bradford have sleeper potential? Sure. Many are picking the Rams to be one of their surprise teams in 2013, and they won’t be doing any surprising unless Bradford raises his level of play. All signs throughout camp and the lone preseason game thus far point to increased confidence and continued improvement for the fourth-year QB. This will be the first time in his pro career that Bradford has had the same offensive coordinator in consecutive seasons, so that should add to his comfort level, as well. A better offensive line and better playmaking around him means a better Sam Bradford.
But there still isn’t enough in St. Louis to help vault Bradford into the ranks of the fantasy elite. Look at the guys at the top: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, RGIII. What do they all have? Newton, Kaep and Griffin have the dual-threat capability, while the others all have big-time, proven, Pro Bowl-caliber pass-catchers around them. We’ll see what guys like Austin, Givens and Brian Quick can develop into, but they’re all still incredibly young, so there will be a learning curve.
While I love Bradford and I think he’ll one day find himself up there with those aforementioned top-tier guys, he’ll still likely be relegated to bye week savior for fantasy football purposes in 2013.