We’re just a few days past the one-year anniversary of the Sam Bradford trade, a deal that was of course necessitated by the devastating injury to young Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Before his injury, Bridgewater was heading into a critical third season. Opinions about Bridgewater’s short-term and long-term skill set varied widely. Among Vikings fans, he quickly became a polarizing figure. The good news was that in Year 3, we were (hopefully) going to gain more clarity about Bridgewater. Was he destined to be an average (at best) quarterback, or would he continue to evolve?
We never got that answer because of the injury. In came Bradford, a quarterback with a much longer track record.
Strangely enough, though, the Vikings still find themselves with a starting quarterback that elicits a wide range of opinions. In some ways, 2017 for Bradford is every bit the “prove it” year in which we will hopefully gain clarity as 2016 was supposed to be for Bridgewater.
I had reached that conclusion before checking out the various quarterback rankings produced by national publications heading into this NFL season. But taking a look at what some respected people think of Bradford only cements the idea that there is a shocking lack of consensus about a former No. 1 overall pick who has made 78 career starts and will turn 30 this season.
Is Bradford — who set an NFL record last season by completing 71.6 percent of his passes but won just seven of his 15 starts — borderline elite or borderline terrible? It all depends on who you ask:
*ESPN.com’s Mike Sando polled 50 NFL folks — everyone from GMs and personnel directors to coordinators, scouts and analytics directors — to compile his annual list of quarterback rankings published in late August. He separated the quarterbacks into Tiers (1-4) and also overall ranking. Bradford ranked near the bottom of the third tier, 23rd overall.
So that’s the low end of how Bradford is perceived by NFL folks — functional but essentially well below-average.
Sando declared, “There is no more mystery with Bradford. He’s seen as a good passer from a clean pocket, but not the difference-maker evaluators once thought he could be.” But …
*NFL.com: These quarterback rankings, compiled by NFL editor Gregg Rosenthal, appear to be based on his evaluation. Rosenthal labels Bradford a “middle-of-the-pack” QB, slotting him in 18th overall among NFL signal callers. He writes, in a tip of the cap to how many good quarterbacks are in the league right now, “Bradford is coming off an underrated season in which he showed improved toughness and vertical ability, yet it’s tough for him to crack the top 20.” Essentially, Rosenthal is saying Bradford is fine but not special.
*USA Today: Steven Ruiz, writing for USA Today’s For The Win site, based his quarterback rankings entirely on film study. He grades each quarterback on six categories: Accuracy, arm strength, athleticism, pocket presence, field vision and pre-snap ability, then ranks them based on overall grade.
Here we find Ruiz has Bradford 13th overall, ahead of quarterbacks such as Oakland’s Derek Carr (15th) and Eli Manning (14th). Bradford was ranked 22nd last season, so this is a significant jump based on his 2016 performance.
Writes Ruiz, after giving Bradford an overall grade of 8.3 out of 10: “Bradford is somehow both overpaid and underrated. He’s been labeled a checkdown artist who is unable to threaten defenses deep, but he’s actually one of the best deep ball passers in the league. The problem is an offensive line that does not give him enough time to show off his arm talent.”
*Bleacher Report: Now it’s time for the extreme high end as national NFL writer Doug Farrar ranks all 32 Week 1 starters in the NFL. He does this in reverse order, from 32 down to 1. Keep scrolling. Keep scrolling. Did he forget Bradford is in the league? Nope, there he is: the No. 6 overall quarterback in the NFL for Week 1, ahead of Ben Roethlisberger (No. 8) and several other very good quarterbacks. The list goes: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson … then Bradford. That’s elite company.
Farrar lauds Bradford for throwing just five interceptions while being good on both short and deep passes last season — all behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines. He writes: “Bradford will be a free agent after the 2017 season, and at 29, he has a lot of good years left if he can stay healthy. The Vikings should consider him their franchise quarterback, because he’s already played as if he is.”
So there you have it. Bradford is anywhere from No. 23 to No. 6, which is a huge swing from well below-average to elite (or close to it). Maybe the safest answer lies somewhere in the middle (Pro Football Focus did have Bradford 16th in its QB grades late last season).
If you’re a Vikings fan, you have to hope Bradford distinguishes himself one way or the other this season (and that the offensive line gives him a chance to do it), making a complicated decision about their long-term answer at quarterback an easy one.