Minnesota Vikings

McMullen | This season is Sam Bradford’s last chance to prove himself

Minnesota Vikings' Sam Bradford (8) throws a pass over Jacksonville Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny (51) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 11, 2016, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

Sam Bradford was supposed to be a superstar, the kind of can’t-miss prospect who comes along every few years.

A lot of quarterbacks have gone No. 1 overall in the draft because of the importance of the position and the constant desperation bad teams face to find “the guy.” There are levels as to how clean the players are regarded and there’s a huge chasm to how someone like Andrew Luck was viewed coming out of Stanford as opposed to say Jared Goff was on his way out of Cal.

When Bradford was pegged by the then-St. Louis Rams in the 2010 draft out of Oklahoma, he was a lot closer to the former than the latter with Gil Brandt, the godfather of the NFL draft, calling him one of the most accurate quarterbacks he had ever seen.

That part of his skill set has never diminished. Jeff Fisher used to talk about how the football never hit the ground during 7-on-7 drills when Bradford was on the field. When he arrived in Philadelphia in a rare trade of starting quarterbacks (with Nick Foles going to the Rams), accuracy and quick decision making was the narrative Chip Kelly used to spin when talking about the pure-pocket passer who seemed ill-suited for the coach’s offense, which was heavy on zone-read mechanics.

After Kelly was blown out and replaced by Doug Pederson, a 14-year NFL veteran at the position, it was the same glowing reviews on Bradford’s ball placement. And when the Vikings gave up what turned out to be the No. 14 overall pick in the 2017 draft for Bradford after Teddy Bridgewater went down with a career-threatening leg injury 11 days before last season started, all Bradford did was step in and set the NFL’s all-time record for completion percentage at 71.6.

“He’s an extremely accurate passer, which we’ve seen – short, intermediate and long – and accuracy really goes into two boxes, there; there’s the ball placement and then the touch,” Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said when discussing Bradford with the team’s website. “I think he has both of those. And then I think he has a sense of timing – he understands when routes are going to come open.”

That’s where the disconnect exists with those outside the game who are wondering why everyone speaks with such reverence when discussing Bradford despite his 32-45-1 record as an NFL starter with a high-water mark of .500 (7-7) for the 2015 Eagles.

The belief from those who understand what Bradford provides is that things will eventually click because there were always excuses for the team failures.

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 24: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford (8) warms up prior to the NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day November 24, 2016, at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire)

In St. Louis it was the injuries, including two consecutive ACL tears, and poor supporting casts. When he arrived in Philly, he was a square peg in Kelly’s round hole with little skill-position talent to throw to, while his first go-round in Minnesota was behind a depleted offensive line that had to use five different offensive tackles.

Set to turn 30 in November, Bradford will get one last chance to prove he is the guy everyone thought he was coming out of Norman, Okla. He will lead a team with a top-five defense, rebuilt O-line and an underrated receiving corps led by the dynamic Stefon Diggs as well as perhaps the most underrated WR in football, Adam Thielen, and a big target at tight end in Kyle Rudolph.

Oh yeah, Bradford will actually get a chance to prepare with them instead of stepping into the fire after arriving eight days before the regular season begins.

“Now he gets a chance, with the team that we have kind of compiled, to get to know everybody at the right pace, at the right settings, and hopefully it’ll make a difference in the fall,” Shurmur said.

Shurmur was also Bradford’s OC in St. Louis and in Philadelphia for a bit and no coach has gotten more out of the QB than the former head coach in Cleveland. Last year Shurmur took over for Norv Turner in-season and changed to a quick-hitting attack that masked the issues on the OL and allowed Bradford to stay out of the M*A*S*H unit by getting the football out of his hands quickly.

The results were a career-high 3,877 passing yards, the gaudy completion percentage and a 20:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But a promising 5-0 start for the Vikings evaporated into an 8-8 season.

With one year left on his deal and a potential Bridgewater return looming in 2018, this is it for Bradford. There are no more mulligans. While impressive statistics are expected, they will be hollow without team success, something Shurmur believes is finally on its way.

“He’s an outstanding leader, he’s a tremendous decision-maker, which shows up,” Shurmur said of his on-field leader. “He doesn’t throw a bunch of interceptions, and he’s actually more aggressive down the field than he gets credit for. … He’s a pro, he’s had to learn multiple offenses. Fortunately for Sam, this is the third time we’ll be together. As offenses develop and change, he’s kind of at ground zero of this year’s process, which will help.”

-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, CBS Baltimore, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.


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