What Are the Rams' Options at Quarterback After Sam Bradford's Injury?
Injuries suck. Injuries suck even more when they pile up on one dude that just can't seem to catch a break. Sam Bradford is that dude.
Rams QB Sam Bradford is out for season after MRI shows he did tear left knee ACL, per sources. Rams will announce later today. @ESPNNFL— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) August 24, 2014
After multiple shoulder injuries in college and an ACL tear last year, it's pretty clear Lady Luck has it out for Sam Bradford. Now, the Rams are left without their starting quarterback yet again. The team was 19th in numberFire's Power Rankings prior to the injury, so now we have to ask how the team's outlook has changed.
Can Shaun Hill Fill the Void
As much as I feel bad for Bradford, it doesn't change the fact that he has struggled mightily in his first four years with the Rams. In fact, Shaun Hill, the team's new number one guy, may not even be a downgrade.
To compare the two, I'll use numberFire's Net Expected Points (NEP). This is a measure of how many points a player adds to his team's expected point value relative to a league-average player. For quarterbacks, we can look at both Passing NEP, which looks at the player's NEP on all drop-backs (including sacks), and Total NEP, which includes their proficiency with running the football.
I'm going to take a page out of Leo Howell's playbook and go with presenting a blind résumé for both Bradford and Hill over their last three seasons with at least 150 drop backs. The table shows the Total NEP for both players in each season.
|Year 1 NEP||Year 2 NEP||Year 3 NEP||Three-Year Sum|
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you'd rather have Player A than Player B. And, based on the preface of this, you've probably guessed that Hill is Player A and Bradford is Player B. Which one was the first overall pick again?
The issue for Hill is that Year 3 (his last year with more than 150 pass attempts) was 2010. Since then, he has thrown exactly 16 passes, none of which came last year. Regardless, when Hill was given chances to be "the guy," he actually wasn't bad.
In his four NFL seasons, Bradford has never ranked higher than 20th among quarterbacks in Total NEP. Hill did exactly that in both 2008 and 2010, finishing 18th and 16th respectively. For a guy that's supposed to be a backup, you could do a lot worse.
Bradford, on the other hand, has very much fallen short of expectations. While he did take a significant step forward after his sophomore year (Year 1 on the chart above, the 2011 season), posting Total NEP's of 26.23 and -1.05 aren't going to get the job done for a guy that has a cap number in excess of $16,000,000 each of the next two seasons.
In the preseason, Hill has been far from stellar. In the team's first three tune-ups, he's 8-17 for 143 yards and two touchdowns. The sample size is so ridiculously small, though, that it's hard to say definitively that he isn't suited for the job.
These numbers aren't meant to make the argument that Hill is going to make the Rams better than they would be with Bradford. I'm just trying to show that the drop off from Option A to Option B is not as precipitous as it may seem. The Rams could definitely get by with Hill as their main guy, assuming his skills haven't fallen off the table since 2010. Because that assumption may be too big of a leap, though, let's look at some potential options the Rams may have.
Mark Sanchez, Philadelphia Eagles
Back in March when Mark Sanchez signed with the Eagles, I wrote that St. Louis would have been the perfect choice for The Sanchize because of Bradford's struggles. Alas, he went to Philly to back up Nick Foles. Now, my ideal situation makes a bit of sense.
Sanchez's former offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, is now in St. Louis. The Rams have a need for a guy that could pick up the system quickly and take the team in stride in Week 1. Why not Marky Mark? Ian Rapoport of NFL Media is reporting that the Rams do indeed have interest in Sanchez.
Sanchez's time in New York was, in a word, gross. Over his four years at the helm of Rex Ryan's offense, he recorded Total NEP's of -51.73, 11.92, -58.00 and -82.81. Ugh.
Apparently, though, Chip Kelly is the quarterback whisperer. This preseason, Sanchez is 25-31 for 281 yards, two touchdowns and a pick for a 112.5 rating. He's basically the next Joe Montana, except with exponentially more swag.
The problem here is that, according to the USA Today's Tom Pelissero, Sanchez doesn't want to go to St. Louis. This makes sense considering Sanchez has a solid supporting cast and some stability around him for the first time in his career. It might not be bad to spend a year learning and developing. But he would be interesting in St. Louis without a doubt.
Christian Ponder, Minnesota Vikings
Over the Vikings' last two preseason games, I have as many passing attempts as Christian Ponder. The former 12th overall pick hasn't thrown a ball since the team's first game against the Oakland Raiders, where he was 3-7 for 39 yards and sacked three times.
Ponder, much like Bradford, had a momentary "spike" in his NEP numbers in 2012. Outside of that, there hasn't been a lot to get excited about.
Ponder's numbers, despite being utterly uninspiring, are still markedly better than Sanchez's. But Sanchez never had anyone on Adrian Peterson's level (although Bilal Powell comes close, obviously). That makes it hard to compare the two as being viable options.
Ryan Mallett, New England Patriots
You'd think, with the way people clamor over Mallett, that he was the next Steve Young just waiting to be freed from his chains. Instead, he's a guy who is 1-4 in his career for 17 yards and an interception. Can you say MVP, homie?
This pre-season, Mallett is 14-26 for 161 yards and a touchdown. Bill Belichick has tried his darndest to showcase Mallett and show, "Look what we have! A shiny new toy that we really don't want, but you totally should!" And I'm sure the Pats drafted Jimmy Garoppolo because of how enamored they were with Mallett's abilities. That's how stuff like this works.
If the Patriots can sucker the Rams into giving up a decent package in return for Mallett, something may be seriously wrong. I know the Bradford injury puts you in a tough spot, but selling the house to pick up a guy who has as many career interceptions as attempts may not be the correct course of action.
Kirk Cousins, Washington's Professional Football Team
Cousins' -40.71 Passing NEP in 160 drop backs gives him a -0.25 Passing NEP per play. In case you were wondering, that's not very good. That means Cousins lost Washington 0.25 points on average every time he dropped back. And he can lead your franchise for the low cost of a high 2015 draft pick! Where do I sign up?
This doesn't even factor in the fact that Washington may not want to deal Cousins because of Robert Griffin III's style of play. That could allow them to drive the asking price up even more. This isn't to say that Cousins may not develop into something useful if he were given the time to learn, but the Rams don't exactly have that time. The season starts in two weeks. Time is not on their side.
In the end, the Rams may be best off just rolling with Hill at this point. He's proven in the past that he can be a successful NFL quarterback, which is more than any of the options above can say. St. Louis's quarterback situation was bad enough with the uncertainty due to Bradford's struggles. This won't help, and the team could be in for another clunker of a season if they can't find Kurt Warner 2.0.