Setting Expectations: What Makes a “Good” Season for Sam Bradford?

This question interrupted a little debate between Wynnde and I, and got me thinking. We all are pinning our hopes on Brian Schottenheimer to resurrect Sam Bradford's rookie promise, and get him back on the "rising young quarterbacks" path. We all want him to have a successful season, but what makes a season successful for a quarterback? Especially one who is expected (and was drafted) to become one of the game's elites?

4,000 yards passing?

There were ten quarterbacks in the NFL last year to crack four grand. And for the first time ever, three QBs rung the 5,000-yard bell. (In a sign of how devalued yards might have become, one of them was somehow left off the Pro Bowl roster.)

However, let's back off from this ledge a bit. Not only would it be a challenge for Bradford to immediately become a top-ten QB working in his third offense in as many years, there might be a scheme mismatch that holds him back from this plateau. Of the ten QBs at this level, only one (Matt Ryan) plays in an offense that in any way resembles a West Coast scheme, and he has three elite weapons in Roddy White, Julio ("sigh") Jones and Tony Gonzalez to work with.

Moreover, Joe Montana and Steve Young — working in the original West Coast Offense with the greatest WR in the history of the game — reached 4,000 passing yards only two times combined in their careers. 

30 touchdowns?

Once again, we're setting lofty goals here, but why not dream big while we're dreaming, right? Only five quarterbacks cracked 30 passing TDs last season. (A truer measure of a "top ten quarterback" would be 25 TDs.)

If we take it on good faith that 4,000 yards is an unrealistic yardstick, how realistic is this number? Only five times in the last ten years has a quarterback thrown 30 scores with less than 4,000 yards passing. For three of those QBs (starred), it was their best season ever.

Tom Brady (2010 – age 33): 3,900 yards, 36 TDs. The year the Pats gave up on Randy Moss.
* Ben Roethlisberger (2007 – age 25): 3,154 yards, 32 TDs. Santonio Holmes' first year as a starter.
* Carson Palmer (2005 – age 26): 3,836 yards, 32 TDs. Breakout years for Chad Johnson, Housh & Rudi Johnson.
* Donovan McNabb (2004 – age 28): 3,875 yards, 31 TDs. The Terrell Owens-Super Bowl year.
Brett Favre (2003 – age 34): 3,361 yards 32 TDs. Javon Walker's breakout year.

Each of these presents an interesting comparable. Brady was an elite quarterback working with sub-elite weapons in creative ways. Roethlisberger had to take on more responsibility for scoring with the Steeler's run game in decline. Palmer and McNabb (working with TO and Bryant Westbrook) quite simply hit the lottery in terms of surrounding talent.

But Brett Favre, the old gunslinger, might offer the most interesting comparable. He had jack in terms of receiving talent to work with, but was working in a comfortable offense designed by Tom Rossley (who traces his roots up through Mike Sherman to the Mike Holmgren coaching tree) that prized efficiency and daring in equal parts. Favre hit the 3000-yard, 30-TD bell twice during Rossley's tenure despite the fact that his best receivers were sixth- and seventh-round picks in Bill Schroeder and Donald Driver.

Give Bradford a few years in this offense, and let his chemistry build with his young receivers, and we could see him hit this mark. But probably not in 2012.

3,000 yards, 20 TDs and his health?

Now we're talking about a reachable goal, schematically and talent-wise (including his supporting cast). The Rams haven't had a quarterback hit this mark since Marc Bulger in 2006 (yes, Marc Bulger used to be pretty good, before he signed that contract and watched the rest of his team fall apart).

Brian Schottenheimer's offense appears to be particularly good in the red zone, even working with a scattershot passer like Mark Sanchez. Over the last two seasons, as the Jets slowly took the reins off Sanchez, the young quarterback averaged 3,380 yards and 21.5 TDs. And that's with a 55% completion percentage. 

Combine those stats with Jeff Fisher's track record of keeping his quarterbacks' uniforms clean, and you have an early peg on what an ideal comeback season might look like for Bradford.