Is Sam Bradford No. 1? Pro day will show QB's worth to Rams
By Jim Corbett, USA TODAY
When Sam Bradford shows off his surgically repaired throwing shoulder at his March 29 pro day in Norman, Okla., the St. Louis Rams should get a good indication whether the quarterback factors into their plans as the clock ticks toward their first overall pick in the April 22 draft.
Rams general manager Billy Devaney, coach Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams staff must decide whether to pull the trigger on the 2008 Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma.
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay says the top pick in this year's draft is Bradford's to lose after the quarterback met with Devaney and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur last week at the Athletes' Performance Institute training facility near Pensacola, Fla.
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"Unless something is fundamentally wrong his throwing motion has changed, if he's not getting nearly as much zip on the ball, if there's something that just jumps out at you and is alarming and creates concern I don't think his pro day will affect that opportunity to be the No. 1 pick," McShay says. "It's the (Rams') biggest need and the most important position."
Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma are widely considered the best players in this draft, rare talents at a valued position.
But if Bradford proves healthy, he's the best quarterback at the NFL's most critical position. And no matter how good Suh and McCoy appear, a franchise quarterback makes their worth pale.
In a quarterback-driven league, the Rams have two designated drivers banged-up veteran Marc Bulger and perennial backup A.J. Feeley, two potential bridges to whomever they designate as their future.
So the pressure is on Bradford to win his pro day and win over the Rams.
"Franchise quarterback trumps all," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock says. "No matter how good you think Suh and McCoy are, if you believe Bradford is a franchise quarterback and by the way, your building is kind of empty of franchise quarterbacks Bradford has to be the first discussion.
"If the medical question is blessed by their doctors, it makes it easy.
"The Rams passed on (Mark) Sanchez and Matt Ryan (in the 2009 and 2008 drafts, respectively). Do they want to pass on another potential franchise quarterback?"
What will Spagnuolo be looking for on Bradford's pro day?
"I'll be looking for the presence, how he is around teammates because he's in his own setting now," Spagnuolo said. "Then, medically, (assessing) the shoulder. I'll try and grab him early by myself just come away with an overall impression."
Some feel Bradford would have been the first overall pick last April had he come out, ahead of Matthew Stafford, who went first overall to the Detroit Lions, and Sanchez, chosen fifth by the New York Jets, who traded up 12 spots to get him.
"I really felt if Sam Bradford had entered the draft last year, he would have been the first player chosen. I thought his accuracy separated him from Matthew Stafford and also (Mark) Sanchez" former Cleveland Browns general manager and current Philadelphia Eagles consultant Phil Savage says.
"If he clears this medical question, I cannot see any reason why he wouldn't go No. 1 overall. He has the size and enough arm strength."
Bulger has led the team in passing yards every year since 2002 when he replaced Kurt Warner but has started all 16 games once in that span and missed seven games in 2009.
"If you're in the market for a potential franchise quarterback, he's as good a bet as any who have come through the last number of years," Savage says of Bradford.
"At some point, the Rams have to pull the trigger on a quarterback."
Bradford returned to Oklahoma in 2009 coming off his 50-touchdown, eight-interception Heisman Trophy season, when he completed 67.9% of his passes.
Unfortunately, Bradford's decision to return to Oklahoma came back to bite him when he twice injured his throwing shoulder.
"The biggest concern is the last two times he hit the ground, he basically wasn't able to play anymore," Savage says.
Bradford had successful AC joint surgery performed by James Andrews on Oct. 29. Medical checks at the scouting combine last month showed no setbacks.
"That (pro day) will be the final test. Everything up until now he's passed with flying colors; the medical reports are excellent," Devaney told the NFL Network on March 17.
"He's an impressive guy. We, like a lot of people, are anxious to see Sam throw the football."
More and more, Bradford's name is the one atop mock drafts.
Mayock suggests the Rams entertain all options, particularly since the Washington Redskins, who hold the fourth overall pick, also might want Bradford. Their new regime of coach Mike Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen inherited sixth-year quarterback Jason Campbell, a first-rounder in 2005.
"Washington could come to you and say, 'Take Jason Campbell and our fourth overall pick,' " Mayock says. "You stay open for business.
"But the first question you have to answer internally is, 'Do you think that kid is a franchise quarterback?'
"I don't even think the Rams know right now. I don't think they can know."