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Bleacher Report – Vikings

How good is Sam Bradford?

By Matthew Coller

Evaluating whether a trade was a win or loss can be pretty complicated, but in the case of Sam Bradford, most fans can agree that if the Minnesota Vikings make the playoffs, the deal was a success. The question is: Should you believe the Vikings will make the postseason with Bradford?

How much you buy into Bradford as the playoff savior for the Vikings depends on how much you value his second half of last season, how much you believe the analysts who back his talent and how much you think the Vikings’ strong roster can elevate his play.

Bradford’s career numbers are not outstanding. He has an 81.0 quarterback rating, 6.5 Yards Per Attempt and touchdown-interception rates that work out to about 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Those are the same traditional stats you might expect from a solid backup.

But there is much debate about how well those statistics will predict his success, failure or mediocrity in Minnesota.

The case for Bradford begins with something that GM Rick Spielman said: That he is a highly accurate quarterback. You may have noticed that GMs don’t always tell the truth, but in this case, analysts who have tracked every pass by starting NFL quarterbacks tend to agree. Cian Fahey of Pre-Snap Reads scored Bradford as having the NFL’s No. 1 Accuracy Percentage last season, putting much of the blame for having a so-so season on his lack of weapons.

Pro Football Focus, who also tracks every game, agreed with Fahey’s finding.

“Bradford’s accuracy on his passes is far better than the accuracy of his depth chart competition,” author Nathan Jahnke wrote before last season. “When he hasn’t been under pressure and throws at least 5 yards in the air throughout his career, he’s accurate on 66 percent of his throws.”

His 65.0% completion percentage and high accuracy rate are influenced by Chip Kelly’s short pass offense, but as PFF notes, not entirely. This play is sheer brilliance on the part of the quarterback. Bradford identifies quickly that the Cowboys are bluffing on a blitz, he shuffles in the pocket and fires a strike to Miles Austin.

Here is a perfect touch pass to tight end Zach Ertz, one of his only skilled pass catchers last year. Bradford has a small window to fit the ball and he drops it in perfectly.

Going through game after game, these are trends with Bradford. On short passes, he leads his receivers well, allowing them to run after the catch. He completed 68.9% of his throws between 1-10 yards through the air and gained 6.1 Yards Per Attempt last season. That number is an improvement from the early days of his career. In the first two seasons with the Rams, he averaged 5.0 and 5.5 on similar throws in 2010 and 2011. His poor Yards Per Attempt stats in those seasons drag down his career mark.

Pro Football Focus’ preseason write up of Bradford last year also included a detail about his accuracy: “When Bradford is under pressure, he is accurate on nearly half of his passes with 5 yards in the air or more,” Jahnke wrote.

Coming off major knee surgery, he still showed signs of the ability to escape the pocket and throw on the run.

Or use quick footwork to sidestep a defender and step up in the pocket.

There’s also his deep ball, which may give the Vikings a different trick in the bag from what they had with Bridgewater. Bradford did not chuck the ball deep very often last year – in fact, only 14 times over 30 yards – but he had several beauties, including this one against Buffalo.

He went 7-for-14 with five touchdowns on deep balls. Fourteen passes isn’t much of a sample size, which leads us into the second half of Bradford’s 2015 season.

Over his final seven starts, the Vikings’ new quarterback was outstanding, registering a 97.0 quarterback rating. But what does that really say about how good he will be? If Rory McIlroy and I both go golfing, over seven holes I might be able to hang around with a birdie here and there, but over 18 holes, he would consistently birdie holes after hole and crush me.

That doesn’t mean Bradford’s seven-game stretch of strong play means nothing. His first three games as an Eagle were putrid. He threw just three touchdowns and four interceptions and struggled to step into throws, resulting in a ton of dying quails. But as he went on, gained comfort in the offense and confidence in his repaired knee, Bradford played much, much better. Across the board his numbers reflect what we see.

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Bradford2

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Does this guarantee he will have a 97.0 rating as a Viking? No. It hints at the possibility of Bradford that could be good in Minnesota, but does not prove it.

Similarly, Bradford’s lack of impressive wide receivers in St. Louis and Philadelphia does not prove that he will be better with the Vikings, but you can certainly talk yourself into it when you see the names. His list of top receivers (and tight end) is, well, unimpressive:

2010: Danny Amendola
2011: Brandon Lloyd
2012: Danny Amendola
2013: Jared Cook
2015: Jordan Matthews

Even with a high accuracy rating, a good second half and a good No. 1 receiver in Stefon Diggs, the most likely scenario is that there will be ups and downs and the Vikings will have to hope their strong defense and running game will bail him out from time to time. One of Bradford’s shortcomings is that he will underthrow or put “too much touch” on the ball on intermediate routes.

We mentioned in a breakdown of why Teddy Bridgewater would be hard to replace that Minnesota’s injured starter was excellent between 11-20 yards. That is not exactly the case for Bradford, who had a solid Yards Per Attempt of 9.6 on those throws, but only completed 50%. It was a similar story in 2013 with 44% completion percentage and nearly 10 yards per attempt.

You can see here how Bradford can have his head-scratching moments on intermediate passes.

If the Vikings recognize some of his issues with accuracy at that level, they can mitigate some of his shortcomings as Chip Kelly attempted to do by having Bradford throw 252 passes between 1-10 yards and only 92 between 11-20.

Unfortunately Spielman acquired talent to fit around Bridgewater, not Bradford. The Vikings’ group isn’t a bunch of Yards-After-Catch receivers and Adrian Peterson is not a pass catcher – though Kyle Rudolph was probably the happiest person in Minneapolis after looking up what Ertz did last year. Maybe Jerick McKinnon was smiling, too. Norv Turner will have to make changes on the fly to find ways to open up quick passes in order to get similar results to Bradford’s 2015 season.

And that is probably all the Vikings need to be in a playoff spot. They are hoping that Bradford magically turns into flawless No. 1 overall pick the Rams once dreamed of, but if they got the 2015 version, the 7.0 Yards Per Attempt version and 86 rating, the drop off from Bridgewater won’t be as much as it appeared with Shaun Hill or another veteran like Mark Sanchez.

The Vikings’ nightmare, however, is that Bradford’s performance will be closer to his bigger career sample. In that case, the defense and running game will have to be really, really good in order to make the playoffs.

The post How good is Sam Bradford? appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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