What Should We Make of Sam Bradford's Play This Year?

The Vikings traded for Sam Bradford right before the start of the year. Can he keep playing well?

Entering the NFL as the first overall pick in a draft rightfully comes with high expectations.

Sam Bradford, the top choice in the 2010 NFL draft, has never lived up to those expectations -- be it from injury, coaching, or surrounding talent.

Now though, the pressure is off Bradford after being traded to the Minnesota Vikings right before the start of the year from the Philadelphia Eagles to replace the injured Teddy Bridgewater.

So far, he is playing well, as he has helped the Vikings start the year undefeated.

To see if the Vikings can continue to play well offensively as the year progresses, we should look further into Bradford to see whether or not he is producing at a rate he is capable of maintaining.

Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs

To date, Bradford has taken 101 drop backs, resulting in 66 completions on 95 attempts for 719 yards and 4 touchdowns. While the numbers are not gaudy, they show good capability from Bradford to lead the offense.

Before digging deeper into just this year, let's look at Bradford through the years to see how this season compares so far -- both by traditional stats and our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. We'll extrapolate his 2016 performance to compare his pace to prior seasons.

BradfordDrop BacksAttComp%YardsYards/AttAir Yards/AttTDINTPass NEPPass NEP/PPass Success%

It is clear that Bradford has shown steady improvement throughout his career, and this year is no exception.

Bradford is not only completing passes at his best rate ever, but also he is throwing the ball deeper down the field than before, as evidenced from both his yards per attempt and air yards per attempt.

Further, Bradford is on pace for the second-most touchdown passes in a year in his career and the fewest interceptions.

NEP supports what the traditional statistics show.

Bradford is on pace to post his first above-average season by Passing NEP ever, as he has never outperformed the league-average Passing NEP per drop back since entering the NFL. This year, for context, the average Passing NEP per drop back is 0.13.

This efficiency spike is not just the result of big plays, as Bradford's yard per attempt metrics could lead us to believe; rather, it is the result of improved consistency, which is shown through his career-best Passing Success Rate, the percentage of drop backs that yield a boost in NEP.

At this moment, Bradford has the 7th-best Passing NEP per drop back and the 17th-highest Passing Success Rate among the 33 quarterbacks with at least 61 drop backs.

Wide Receivers

Bradford has never been granted top-tier receiving talent to throw to, and that may have played a part in his failure to meet his statistical ceiling.

Bradford's best seasons have come in 2015 and -- so far -- 2016. His leading receivers -- Jordan Matthews and Stefon Diggs, respectively -- have outclassed his leading receiver from any other season prior.

Year Receiver Tar Rec Rec Yd TD Rec NEP Rec NEP/Tar Rec Success%
2010 Danny Amendola 123 85 689 3 50.15 0.41 78.82%
2011+ Brandon Lloyd 150 70 966 5 85.38 0.57 90.00%
2012 Danny Amendola 101 63 666 3 52.33 0.52 80.95%
2013 Jared Cook 85 51 671 5 54.90 0.65 88.24%
2015 Jordan Matthews 128 85 997 8 84.12 0.66 78.82%
2016* Stefon Diggs 136 100 1,488 4 127.42 0.94 92.00%

Brandon Lloyd was only with the Rams for 11 games in 2011 but did grade out as a below-average receiver in terms of Reception NEP per target. In fact, all of his top receivers have done just that, aside from Stefon Diggs at his current pace and Jared Cook when compared to other tight ends in the same season.

Among 66 wide receivers with at least 20 targets this year, Diggs ranks 9th in Reception NEP per target and 17th in Reception Success Rate. Seeing Diggs' consistent strong success this year should inspire hope that Bradford can keep his pace going all year long.

Moving Forward

Although the Vikings face the strong pass defenses of the Houston Texans and Philadelphia Eagles these next two weeks, their schedule softens up considerably after that.

All signs point to a positive year for Bradford and the Vikings, and it is time to see this top pick live up to his expectations.