Sam Bradford has never lived up to the expectations that come with being the first overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams (coached at the time by Steve Spagnuolo).
His lot through the first five years of his career was to play for mediocre to awful teams that were often in turmoil and to suffer knee injuries that cost him half of the 2013 season and all of 2014. Entering this season he was just 25-37-1 as a starting quarterback.
The Giants, of course, know Bradford well. Spagnuolo, their defensive coordinator, drafted him in St. Louis hoping to rebuild that franchise around him. The Giants have faced him six times over the years, including twice a year ago when he was quarterbacking the Philadelphia Eagles.
With the Minnesota Vikings now, the Giants’ Monday night opponent, after a stunning early September trade from the Eagles, Bradford may now be in the best situation he has ever been in. Even without star running back Adrian Peterson the Vikings are 3-0, led by a dominant defense and developing, complementary offense.
“He’s in a pretty good situation to succeed,” said talent evaluator Brandon Thorn during an appearance Friday on the Big Blue Chat podcast.
Bradford took over the starting role from Shaun Hill in Week 2. He has completed 40-of-59 passes (67.8 percent) for 457 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating through two games (107.8) and QBR (78.67) are easily career highs.
Christopher Gates of SB Nation’s Daily Norseman told me that ”It's sort of hard not to be impressed at this point.”
“The Vikings put Bradford out there in the first game in their new stadium in prime time against their biggest rival a couple of weeks ago, and he put together a phenomenal performance,” Gates said. “Given the amount of time he's had in the offense and the defenses he's faced, it's hard to imagine that he could have done a whole lot better than he did.”
When Teddy Bridgewater went down with a knee injury that will cost him all of this season and perhaps part of 2017 as well, Minnesota went all in for the next two years by dealing away a 2017 first-round and a 2018 fourth-round pick for Bradford.
Why? Because, as Thorn explained, despite the lackluster results of his first few NFL seasons “I think he has traits that you can win with.”
Those include being an extremely accurate passer in the short to intermediate areas. Here are a couple of Bradford’s best throws from his debut game with Minnesota in Week 2 against the Green Bay Packers.
After watching Bradford go 22-of-31 for 286 yards and two touchdowns in that game against the Packer, Jeffrey Chadiha of NFL.com wrote that the games was “the best Bradford has looked in years” and also “better than Bridgewater ever has in his two years of running the Vikings' offense.”
For his part, Bradford told New York media on a recent conference call that he is still learning the nuances of the Minnesota playbook.
“I feel good with our game plans each week. I think it is one of those things, regardless of whether you have been in an offense for five weeks, or five years, you are normally going to have a few wrinkles each week or plays that are new,” Bradford said. “I feel like in the past three weeks I have been able to get a grasp with what the core of our offense is, and then obviously each week there are some change ups and there are some things that we do a little bit different, but I feel comfortable with where I am at and it seems like I learn something new every day.”
Spagnuolo said that Bradford “looks really comfortable” running the Minnesota offense.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com named Bradford one of the best new additions to a team this season:
It's easy to call the Eagles' trade of Bradford to the Vikings in early September a win-win now that both teams are 3-0, although we said as much at the time, too. Not only are the Eagles and Vikings both more watchable, Bradford is showing off traits he rarely displayed during his time in St. Louis. The former No. 1 overall pick is overcoming a terrible offensive line and showing a willingness to make tough throws into tight windows.
Bradford gives this Vikings team the ability to dream the impossible in this post-Teddy Bridgewater, post-Adrian Peterson world.
If the Giants are going to derail, at least temporarily, the Bradford train they will have to pressure him. Their depleted secondary will also have to control Bradford’s new favorite target, wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs has 13 receptions with Bradford at quarterback, including nine against Green Bay.
“I know Sam Bradford a little bit and I watch and I can tell, you know, he gets confidence in certain guys. I can tell that he's confident in Stefon,” Spagnuolo said. “He's going to be a guy we're going to have to be concerned with. We always identify the guys that we think can wreck the football game. I think he can because he's a deep threat.
“Talk about explosive play, I think explosive plays were one of the things that hurt us last week. We really hadn't had that issue, and we give up two explosive pass plays that come back and kind of bit us if you really think about it in the end. I think he's got that ability.”
Those explosive plays, though, now begin with Bradford.