Sam Bradford and How He Lost The "It" Factor
Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford
Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford
Posted Oct 22, 2009

With Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford suffering more problems with his shoulder, he has lost the "It" factor when it comes to the NFL scouts. By coming back for the 2009 season, Bradford showed why it's important for top pro prospects to go the NFL while they're hot.

Sam Bradford's Shoulder

The Loss of the "It" Factor

By Pete Fiutak

For being such a great decision maker on the field, Sam Bradford appears to be awfully confused off of it. There's one thing, though, that's for certain in his world that's currently full of question marks: this isn't nine months ago, and he can't press the rewind button. He tempted fate and logic by returning for another year at Oklahoma, and now he's suffering the consequences.

NFL scouts, the real ones and not the guys who play them on TV, tend to find flaws in everyone and everything; that's their job. These are people who aren't talking about Shakira when they refer to a nice hip snap, and if you bring up the importance of a bubble butt, they think you're referring to a 320-pound sweaty man and not Kim Kardashian. If they like a player, they create a motion and a momentum that takes on a life of its own, and all of a sudden, a prospect can go from being just another brick in the wall to an "it" guy that every NFL team wants to have.

Bradford was an "it" guy, but now he's a red-flag prospect complete with negatives and real concerns that aren't going to go away between now and April. Along the way he taught future top prospects a valuable lesson: Don't make the scouts start to question you, or they will pounce. If you're in their good graces, you have to take advantage of the small window of opportunity.

The "it" prospects have something beyond the normal skills, and they are the ones that the scouting community tends to make excuses for. In 2005, that "it" guy was Matt Leinart, who didn't have much of an arm and needed more experience, but he was the quarterback everyone had to have after a magical Heisman-winning season. He chose to return for his senior year, the bloom was off the rose, for no real reason other than a subsided buzz, and San Francisco took Alex Smith with the No. 1 pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. Smith signed for $49.5 million with $24 million of it guaranteed. In 2006, Leinart went 10th overall to the Arizona Cardinals and signed a $50.8 million deal, but only $14 million of it was guaranteed (and the guaranteed money is all that really matters in an NFL deal).

In this year's draft, Michael Crabtree was an "it" guy, even though he isn't blazing fast and has a penchant for being hurt, but the scouts loved him anyway and he ended up with $17 million in guaranteed dough. Mark Sanchez also became an "it" guy, even though he had little experience, doesn't have a big-time arm, and had his coach, Pete Carroll, go out of his way to point out the lack of polish. Sanchez signed a $60 million deal with $28 million in guaranteed money. The other big "it" guy was Bradford, who would've been snapped up by the New York Jets in a heartbeat over Sanchez at the fifth slot, and had an outside chance of being taken No. 1 overall by the Detroit Lions instead of Matthew Stafford, who signed a $78 million deal with close to $42 million in guaranteed money. But, of course, Bradford chose to return for another year, and for his troubles, he got a banged up shoulder and a ton of future headaches for all the questions he'll have to answer about his durability.

Part of being an "it" guy is timing. Scouts were willing to overlook Vince Young's inability to throw at a pro level because they saw him run through USC for the national title. Scouts were able to gloss over the screaming warning signs about JaMarcus Russell's weight and work ethic because of an arm that could throw a pea through a 2x4. And scouts across the board didn't appear to care about the question marks about Bradford.

Was he durable enough? Who knows? He hadn't ever been hurt. Could he handle himself against a top pass rush or was he so good because he played behind the best offensive line in college football? Who knows? All he was doing was setting record after record with an ultra-accurate arm as he lit up the college football world at a never before seen pace. In the end, Bradford wasn't going to go No. 1 overall, Detroit fell in love with the maturity and the arm strength of Stafford, but he was definitely going to be taken in the top five, and he likely would've been taken by the St. Louis Rams with the No. 2 overall selection. And now there's a problem.

Just nine months after being all set up to be on his way to NFL stardom, Bradford has question marks and concerns, mainly because the last time anyone saw him in an Oklahoma uniform he was writhing around in agonizing pain … again. Now, Bradford has become one of a slew of great quarterback prospects that include Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen (who isn't expected to come out early but is being talked about as a possible top ten pick), Colt McCoy of Texas, Florida's Tim Tebow (who isn't really a top quarterback prospect but will be drafted like one), Ryan Mallett of Arkansas (who's eligible as a third-year sophomore), and current "it" guy, Washington's Jake Locker (who has all the tools but misses more passes the Steve Phillips … Too soon! Too soon!).

It shouldn't matter too much, Bradford is still expected to be a top 15 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft (he's expected to skip his senior year), and he'll still wow everyone in workouts with his accuracy, his quick arm, and his decision-making ability. But he's not going to be the No. 1 overall pick this year, he's likely to lose at least $15 million in guaranteed money, and he's not going to have the salary he would've made this year developing in the NFL, rather than being on the sidelines for the Sooners, and he has lost a season he'll never get back.

In hindsight it was a mistake for Bradford to come back for another year financially and developmentally, and that's the lesson. This is football, and on any given play that lottery ticket that a top prospect is dangling around so carelessly by playing college football could get damaged or even destroyed. If the NFL, or anyone, is ready to give you tens of millions of dollars to do what you've always dreamed of doing, you go. Now.