Could Breakout Candidate Sam Bradford throw 50 touchdowns in 2013?
Ok, maybe this title is a stretch. At least I have your attention now. Sam Bradford did throw for 50 touchdowns in his sophomore season at Oklahoma, but that wasn’t the reason for this article title. More on that later.
We already covered Sam Bradford in the Hydra Quarterback strategy article a few weeks ago, but I felt it was worth digging through the data to find out if he had even higher upside than we originally gave him credit for.
Bradford’s stock is already on the rise as he becomes an en vogue sleeper candidate. His average draft position (ADP) has gone from QB23 to QB21 in a few short weeks. By no means is he flying off the draft boards, but that time is coming.
Rather than rehash what we’ve already covered about Bradford before we get to the new data, here’s a recap:
- He’s an arbitrage play to take advantage of the hype surrounding the Rams’ offense relative to his ADP
- He’s a talented quarterback who was the first player taken in the 2010 NFL Draft
- He was just as effective as Matthew Stafford and Andrew Luck on a per attempt basis last year
- He finally has some offensive weapons (more on that in a bit)
2012 in Review
One of the major reasons Bradford failed to develop in his third season was the lack of skill players around him and a porous offensive line (26th overall according to Pro Football Focus).
Statistically speaking, Bradford set career highs in yards and touchdowns and finished as QB21 in fantasy points per game. But it wasn’t good enough to be a consistent fantasy option.
An elite quarterback should be able to elevate the play of his teammates, but the Rams had one of the worst groups of skill players in the league last season – rivaling the Jaguars and Raiders for that honor. Their top three receiving options were an undrafted slot receiver, a sixth round receiver on his second team and a fourth round rookie with little experience.
The quarterback normally receives most of the credit when things go well, and most of the blame when they don’t. Looking at the data, it’s clear that Bradford did the best with the hand that was dealt to him.
First, let’s separate Bradford from his receivers. Here is how he stacked up against the 27 quarterbacks that had more than 400 passing attempts last season:
|Player||Attempts||RZ Att||RZ TD||RZ %||RZ Conv|
He was just below the average in passing attempts, red zone attempts and red zone touchdowns. Where Bradford was below average was in red zone conversion rate (red zone touchdowns divided by red zone attempts). So was that Bradford’s fault, or his receiver’s fault?
Here is how the Rams receivers fared in the red zone. For reference, the league average for a red zone touchdown conversion rate is approximately 24 percent.
|Receiver||Targets||Target %||RZ Targets||RZ Touchdown||Conv Rate|
As you can see, two out of three of Bradford’s top targets (Danny Amendola and Chris Givens) were below average in the red zone. Brandon Gibson did well, but teams were not game planning to stop him. The people Bradford had to rely on were not converting for him.
In total, Bradford’s touchdown rate per completion was only 6.4 percent – almost a full percentage point lower than the league average of 7.5 percent.
There is room for Bradford to show improvement in the box score with some upgrades on the offense.
Here Comes the Cavalry
The good news for Bradford is that there will be several additions by subtraction this year.
Gone are Gibson (75 targets), Amendola (95 targets) and Steven Jackson (49 targets) from the offense. With the exception of Jackson, both Gibson and Amendola gave the Rams the best they had, but it wasn’t good enough to take the offense to the next level. That is why they were allowed to leave in free agency.
The new regime is filling the holes on offense through the NFL Draft, and with one major free agent signing (tight end Jared Cook). The team has taken six position players in the first five rounds of the last two drafts:
That also doesn’t include new left tackle Jake Long. His arrival and the subsequent move of Roger Saffold to right tackle upgrades two spots on the offensive line in one move. Bradford has been sacked on almost eight percent of his drop backs in the last two seasons. The league average for quarterbacks taking a sack is six percent.
You can make an argument that each projected starter in 2013 is a clear upgrade over the incumbent in 2012:
- X Receiver or Split End – Brian Quick over Brandon Gibson, more comfortable in second year
- Z Receiver or Flanker – Chris Givens, added muscle this offseason for full-time role
- Slot Receiver – Tavon Austin over Danny Amendola, will be more explosive and more dynamic in the open field
- Tight End – Jared Cook over Lance Kendricks, bigger offensive threat with position versatility
And that doesn’t include rotoViz favorite Stedman Bailey who should play a significant role backing up both of the outside receiver spots.
Going back to my earlier point about how inept the Rams were in the red zone last year, the team now has several players that will be in prominent roles that can excel in the red zone.
Cook is going to be a matchup nightmare where ever he lines up with his size and speed. Quick displayed the ability to high point the football with his red zone touchdown catch late in the year. He recently admitted he struggled with the playbook early last year, and he made good strides late in the year. Quick is a breakout candidate in his own right. And finally, Austin has the yards after catch ability to take a short throw the distance.
Offensive Philosophy Shift
It has been well documented that the Rams are moving to a more up-tempo spread attack this year. That makes sense given their personal moves bringing in Austin, Bailey and Zac Stacy and allowing Steven Jackson to walk.
The Rams could pass more frequently than they did last year, and at the very least run more plays each game if they use a no huddle approach. Last year with Bradford on the field, the Rams passed the ball 61% of the time. That ratio could increase slightly if they run more plays.
If we conservatively said St. Louis ran three more offensive plays per game (increase from 62 to 65) or 50 more for the season, Bradford would have the extra volume he’d need to take the next step statistically.
Bradford is no slouch as a runner (20 scrambles out of his 35 rushing attempts), but most of his value will come from his dropbacks. That includes taking fewer sacks with the offensive line improvements. His sack rate of 6.6 percent was higher than the league average of 6 last year. If Bradford can take fewer sacks, that is also a net positive to his passing attempt totals.
I teased it at the beginning of the article, but I’m semi-serious about it. I ran Bradford’s comparables using our Similarity Score app and it showed a median increase of approximately one more fantasy point per week in 2013. That seems fair given his track record and the improvements the team has made on offense.
What stuck out to me was his comparable to Tom Brady’s 2006 season. Brady’s N+1 season happened to be his record setting year with 50 touchdown passes. That was the year the Patriots brought in Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and a little known slot receiver in Wes Welker.
Not to compare the Rams additions this year to the Patriots in 2007, but we have to at least consider the possibility of Bradford taking a huge step forward.
Will he throw 50 touchdown passes? Not likely, but 30 plus touchdowns are within reason.
Bryan Fontaine is the Dynasty Senior Editor for PFF Fantasy. You can follow him on Twitter at @Bryan_Fontaine.