With the 2010 NFL Draft now less than two weeks away the consensus opinion is that the Rams will be drafting former Oklahoma quarterback and former Heisman winner, Sam Bradford. Bradford looks set to become the franchise QB that Billy Devaney will be placing his job security in, as if he fails with this selection, he looks likely to be shown the door after several disappointing seasons in charge of the franchise. It is also hard to forget the stigma of Devaney’s last first round QB selection, Ryan Leaf, a highly publicised flop, which also serves to cloud our opinion of his judgement. But the burning question is not whether Bradford is a better choice with the first overall pick than Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy, but whether the signal-caller with the average arm-strength and publicised fragility is a better choice than hyperbole hero, Jimmy Clausen.
Sam Bradford’s name was mentioned in the same breath as 2009 #1 pick, Matthew Stafford, but he decided to return to the Sooners for one more shot at that elusive National Title. This proved to be a bad decision as he injured his throwing shoulder in week one, before re-injuring it again in an October comeback ruling him out for the year. Bradford had made his name as a highly accurate passer (67.6%, 88TDs – 16INTs), but now his previously average and now re-built arm strength hangs over him as a major question mark. The naysayers will also point to Bradford’s inexperience in a pro-style offense as a further reason that Bradford will struggle at the next level. Despite these much vocalised concerns, ask 90% of draftniks and Sam Bradford will be wearing blue & gold on April 22nd. Why?
Bradford was never reputed to have a cannon arm and his game is built upon his confidence and accuracy. The intelligent, productive passer has been passed fully fit by world-renown surgeons and his game compared to Hall of Famer Troy Aikman. Do not forget that his attributes are perfectly suited for Pat Shurmur’s West Coast Offense and when answering his critics at his Pro-Day he completed 62/63 which left analysts raving about his other-worldly precision. Throw in Bradford’s prototypical physique and unquestioned intangibles and you begin to understand the whole picture.
However if you want to talk about highly touted prospects, Jimmy Clausen cannot escape attention. Clausen has been a prodigal star since his High School days and is a product of Steve Clarkson’s conveyer belt of QB talent. Whereas Bradford’s detractors focus on his arm and durability, Clausen’s cynics label him an immature and cocky golden boy, taking issue with his personality rather than his talent.
If first impressions are to be believed Jimmy Clausen is an over-hyped frat-boy with a middling record of success. An average physique and unspectacular arm, it was only in his final season that he really lit it up in college. When he was punched on a night out outside a local bar the media showed him no sympathy and portrayed him as of deserving of his black eyes. So how is it even possible that Clausen can be seen as a legitimate contender to be #1 overall?
It is because Jimmy Clausen has ice in his veins. It is not always easy being in the limelight and since a very young age Clausen has been marked out for success. There have always been expectations and Clausen’s ability to continually achieve them is testament to his excellent football IQ and on-field ability. These intangibles and ability to perform under constant pressure are just part of the reason that he is seen as the most NFL-ready quarterback in the ’10 class. The other is his three years of experience in a Charlie Weiss pro-style offence with snaps under centre and reading multiple coverages, something Bradford doesn’t have. His profile is not dissimilar to Bradford in the fact he possesses a medium powered arm but excellent accuracy, well matched for Shurmur’s WCO. Clausen is also blessed with top-notch accuracy which saw him complete 68% (28TDs – 4INTs) in his last season at Notre Dame as he notably matured under our eyes, before hitting 57/59 at his Pro Day.
Cases can certainly made for both prospects, for and against. Bradford’s scored a very respectable 36 on the Wonderlic test and did run play-action passes in college which goes some way to allay fears that he cannot handle a NFL playbook. However, one thing we can’t know is whether his body can withstand an NFL-sized pounding week in week out. That’s not to suggest his arm isn’t repaired, but rather that his body simply hasn’t got the durability to last a full NFL season. As for Clausen, his negatives appear to be more about perception rather than talent. I’d suggest his supposed ‘air of entitlement’ is as more of a result of his stubborn success in the face of omnipresent expectation than it is in any real personality trait. So who is going have the better NFL career?
Experts are always using comparisons when discussing QB prospects and recently Sam Bradford has been compared to Eli Manning with the caveat that he may refuse to sign for the Rams if they select him with the first overall pick. I’d like to suggest that in fact Eli Manning is a better comparison for Jimmy Clausen. Eli may not be the most athletically gifted QB, or have the biggest arm, but he has an ice-cool nerve and 4th quarter comeback prowess. Expectations for him have always been huge being the son of Archie and brother of Peyton. He also plays in hotbed of football with a hungry media waiting to pounce on any mistake. Sound familiar to a certain prospect from Notre Dame? The hit rate (bust rate!) for QBs in the top half of the first round is roughly 50/50, which means it’s highly likely one of Bradford and Clausen will be a flop. If I were going to place a $40m bet on one of them to lead the Rams out of adversity, I’d bet on Clausen.