Sam Bradford was the last of the "take a quarterback with the first pick, pay him a boat load of money, and hope he isn't a bust" picks. He was given a 78 million dollar deal, the highest a rookie has ever been paid off his rookie contract. Bradford responded with a 7-9 season and an Offensive Rookie of the year award, giving a franchise hope that he was indeed THE guy. However, following the 2010 season Bradford's Rams fell to 2-14 the following year. After that season, the Rams cleaned house and kick started a regime change. Bradford would be working with his THIRD offensive coordinator after only two full seasons under his belt, a big issue for any quarterback trying to develop in this league. Jeff Fisher replaced Steve Spagnuolo as the Head Coach, yielding a 7-8-1 record for his first season. However, due to the level of mediocrity of Bradford's first three seasons (victory-wise), many Rams fans believe this to be a make or break year for Bradford. Sound familiar?
Since Bradford's picking in the 2010 NFL draft, the Rams have selected 17 offensive players: seven wide receivers, three tight ends, three running backs, and three offensive lineman. However, none of these were first round picks until 2013 with Tavon Austin, and four are no longer with the team. Let's break it down the situation here:
Lance Kendricks: 86 receptions, 1,000 yards, 7 TDs (selected 2011, 2nd round)
Austin Pettis: 80 receptions, 751 yards, 8 TDs (selected 2011, third round)
Chris Givens: 59 Receptions, 969 yards, 3 TDs (selected 2012, 4th round)
Brian Quick: 18 receptions, 255 yards, 3 TDs (selected 2012, 2nd round)
Tavon Austin: 24 receptions, 159 yards, 2 TDs (selected 2013, 1st round)
Stedman Bailey: no stats logged (selected 2013. 3rd round)
The biggest knock here is that none of these receivers have been overly productive. The only receiver to breach 1,000 yards is Lance Kendricks and it took him three seasons to do it.
As far as running backs and offensive lineman go, 2013 7th round pick Zac Stacy has supplanted 2012 7th round pick Daryl Richardson, who HAD supplanted 2012 2nd round pick Isaiah Pead. This isn't a knock on Zac Stacy or the Rams, but a seventh round rookie shouldn't be beating out your running backs from a year before, especially not a second round pick. Zac Stacy could be a very good player, but in all likelihood it is that Pead wasn't worth the pick and Richardson is playing like a 7th round rookie is supposed to. As far as o-line goes, Bradford has traditionally had issues with being sacked (averaging 35 sacks a season). He battled injury for a lot of 2011, where the Rams won two games. As an organization, I wouldn't necessarily say they drafted poorly, but in hindsight some of these picks could have been used with better players. But hindsight is 20/20, as always.
The point behind this is that Bradford's supporting cast on offense hasn't been very good. His offensive line has had its issues and the Rams have yet to find him a true number one receiver. Tavon Austin has the ability to be an extremely explosive and scary play maker, and Lance Kendricks has played very well this season. However the Rams lack a true number one receiver. For some teams that isn't a bad thing if everyone is talented enough to BE a number one receiver, but that is not the case in St. Louis. Their picks on defense have been very good, finding the likes of James Laurinaitis, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, Chris Long, Janoris Jenkins etc. But their offense has often paid for it.
Sam Bradford seems to possess all the tools you want in a franchise quarterback; good accuracy, arm power, intangibles, some mobility, etc. But the Rams haven't been able to put it all together. Whether it be a lack-luster offensive line, an improvable group of receivers for his earlier years, or the many coaching and management changes Bradford has faced in his four seasons, I'm not sure. I have a lot of respect for the Rams, I think they have the talent this season to be a contender. But this is the season where it appears to be on the line for Bradford. Jeff Fisher is a new coach to the organization, he didn't draft Bradford. He could easily go in a different direction once Bradford's contract is up and nobody would blame him. Coaches like having their own hand picked players to lead their team.
Cam Newton could very easily go this route. Cam hasn't had nearly as many picks used on offense in his time here. One could argue that Greg Olsen for a third round pick is a lot better than your going to get most of the time, and I'd agree. One could also argue that the corp of Jeremy Shockey, Greg Olsen, Steve Smith (a true number one receiving threat at the time), second year pro Brandon LaFell, and Legedu Naanee are better than Bradford had to work with his rookie year. One could argue that Williams, Stewart, and Tolbert are better than Pead, Richardson, and Stacy. Its all an easy argument, I'd agree with all of it. But both have had about the same success. Cam in his career his currently 15-22. Sam is currently 18-29-1 (though his loss column is a bit lopsided from 2011). Cam has had limited success due to a variety of factors, whether it be a poor defense, poor supporting cast (o-line, not bringing in high profile or high draft position offensive weapons), or poor coaching. Cam could very well be on the path to a "make or break" season. The Panthers will eventually need to bring in a Steve Smith replacement and get Cam the protection he needs to help him succeed.
Sam might currently be in the "win now" hot seat. Cam is starting to get there, with questions of whether Dave Gettleman will stick with him, with a likely regime change coming. This season is important for both teams, both quarterbacks. This game on Sunday could be a big turning point for both teams as well.