It’s Time to Stop the Sam Bradford Excitement
Perhaps you’ve had a mentally healthy offseason, staying away from fantasy football content and focusing your efforts on more important things like Dexter, baseball and exercise. If so, congratulations: You’ve only missed a whole lot of over-analyzing, a ton of hyperbole and the hyping of a few undeserving players.
Trust me, I’m guilty of it. I started mock drafting in February, and I’ve written a bajillion words about a fake sport all across the Internet over the last six months. I remember when Shane Vereen’s ADP was nestled in Round 13, and when Vick Ballard was a steal in the fifth.
I’m envious of those of you who have been able to remove yourself from football after Flacco lifted the Lombardi. I couldn’t do it.
One Cinderella story that’s grabbed my attention throughout the offseason – and trust me, you may have no idea that this tale exists – is the story of Sam Bradford. I’ve been intrigued; many think this is his year. It’s been three long, mediocre seasons in St. Louis for Bradford, but a lot of analysts see him being a late-round sleeper in 2013. Many think it’s time for Bradford to be fantasy relevant. And when you’ve got a new toy like Tavon Austin, why not think the sky’s the limit?
Well, because it’s not.
The Rams Offense
Offensively, the Rams will have a different look entering 2013. Runner Steven Jackson took his talents to Atlanta, and receiver Danny Amendola moved on to New England to play with one of the best quarterbacks of all time (What a jump from Bradford, eh?). The Rams did add a couple of receiving options for Bradford to replace the losses though, drafting Tavon Austin and signing long-time fantasy sleeper Jared Cook.
The offensive personnel is young. The three running backs fighting for a starting job have a combined two years of NFL experience, and potential starting wideouts Brain Quick and Chris Givens have just two more. And of course, Tavon Austin has yet to play a single snap in the league.
Can that bring better success than last season? Well, in 2012 the team ranked 19th in adjusted net expected points per play. To put another way, on a per play basis, there were 18 teams scoring at a more efficient rate. The Rams passing attack was better than the rushing one, but both sides of the ball were pretty middle-of-the-road. It’s what you’d probably expect if you watched a significant amount of their games.
Removing veterans Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola from the mix doesn’t seem like it would do much good. However, as we’ve pointed out before, Steven Jackson wasn’t all that great on the ground last season, and Danny Amendola is being replaced by a potential stud in Austin. Optimism, guys. Optimism.
In essence, the Rams unknowns on offense bring a sense of upside and hopefulness. Sam Bradford has another year of experience, Jeff Fisher is in his second season with the team, and who knows, maybe some of those young guys pan out early.
But you have to be smart about your projections. Don’t let a narrative dictate your draft decisions. I understand that being ahead of the curve in fantasy football can bring massive success, but why invest in such a young team, especially in redraft leagues? Why take the chance – even a late-round chance – on such risk?
Why invest in the team – specifically Sam Bradford - right now?
Sam Bradford By the Numbers
Do you remember how dreadful Michael Vick was tossing the rock last season? Well, Sam Bradford – from an efficiency standpoint – wasn’t much better. On a per play basis, Bradford was adding .02 points per pass to the Rams point output, ranking him 22nd among quarterbacks (minimum 300 pass attempts). Bradford’s effectiveness was just as favorable as the Bengals Andy Dalton.
In 2011, on a per play basis because he only played 10 games, Bradford was worse than Christian Ponder throwing the football. The only guys he played better than two years ago were Tim Tebow and Blaine Gabbert. With each pass, Bradford was losing .18 points for the Rams compared to an average passer. That’s no good.
Bradford’s Passing NEP/Play was fourth to last among 300-plus attempt quarterbacks during his rookie campaign. Put whatever type of confidence you want into a rookie season, but keep in mind that there have been plenty of NFL rookies who have surpassed Bradford’s -.05 NEP/Play during their first year.
Overall, Bradford hasn’t been good. We knew that, but perhaps not to this extent. And although his play-by-play efficiency has risen over the past three seasons, are we willing to conclude it will jump significantly enough to make him a worthwhile fantasy asset in 2013?
Using production metrics (no, not just yards, touchdowns and completion percentage), we can look back and determine specific quarterbacks who have performed similarly to Sam Bradford. Using those quarterbacks and their situations, we can then project how we believe someone like Bradford will perform in the upcoming season.
Take a look at the following chart to see who the Rams quarterback scores similarly to:
It’s definitely more of a passing league than it was in 2000 and even 2005, but the numbers above don’t scream "upside". Using some of these comparables – as well as other factors – we’ve projected Bradford for about 3,710 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. That’s good for him to be a low-end backup quarterback on your squad in 10- to 12-team leagues.
Don’t Overrate Sam Bradford Just Yet
It’s not worth it. It could be worth it eventually, but it’s not worth it right now.
We don’t know exactly how things will work in St. Louis, and while the ambiguity amuses us fantasy nerds, it also should scare us. The 2013 season is absolutely littered with quarterback talent, so there’s little reason to use Bradford as anything but a filler in most leagues. If you’re a quarterback streamer, then fine, take a shot with him, but make sure you’ve got a consistent pairing like Ben Roethlisberger or Matt Schaub. If there's an urge to snag Bradford, I'd wait to trade for him once things get settled in St. Louis. It could be a rough first half of the season for the young offense.
Sam Bradford has a hopeful future. But it’s just his fourth year and there’s a lot of room for improvement in the Rams offense. There’s no reason to get excited just yet.