Top 20 NFL Sooners, No. 19: Sam Bradford
John. E. Hoover
In the past 20 years, the Oklahoma Sooners have experienced arguably their most productive era ever in the NFL Draft.
From the 2000 to 2019 drafts — the entirety of the Bob Stoops and Lincoln Riley years — OU has had 95 players drafted.
Using today’s 7-round comparison, that’s more than any other two-decade era in school history. In the 1970s and ‘80s, OU had 131 players drafted, but only 88 were selected in the first seven rounds.
In the last 20 years, the Sooners have produced some historically good players. Every day leading up to this year’s NFL Draft (April 23-25), SI Sooners presents the Top 20 NFL Sooners of the last 20 years.
No. 19: Sam Bradford
Sooner Nation will always wonder how good Sam Bradford’s NFL career might have been if he was drafted somewhere other than the St. Louis Rams.
One of the league’s most downtrodden franchises for most of the previous decade when Bradford went there in 2010 as the No. 1 overall pick, the Rams were riddled with front-office strife and coaching changes throughout Bradford’s five seasons, and his pro career never got off to the kind of promise he showed at Oklahoma.
Bradford was a freshman All-American in 2007, then set college football’s record books ablaze in 2008 when he won the Heisman Trophy, led the Sooners to the national championship game and shattered numerous NCAA records.
But as a junior at OU, he got hurt to start the 2009 season and began down a scar-crossed road from which he never really returned.
Learning from three different offensive coordinators in his first three seasons did nothing to help. But that’s the peril of playing for one of the league’s worst franchises — no consistency.
Bradford was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010 as he led the moribund Rams to a 7-9 record — just outside the playoffs. He threw for 3,512 yards as a rookie, completing 60 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
But that would be one of only two times in his NFL career in which he played all 16 games.
A high ankle sprain wrecked his second season in St. Louis. After a nice bounceback year in 2012, in which Bradford again played all 16 games, guided the Rams to a 7-8-1 record (just short of the playoffs), threw for 3,702 yards and 21 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, things seemed to steady a bit for him in 2013.
Bradford finally had the same offensive coordinator (Brian Schottenheimer) and was posting career numbers (1,687 yards, 14 TDs, 4 INTs, a 60.7 completion percentage) when, seven games in, he blew out his left knee running from pressure.
He reinjured the same knee in the 2014 preseason, and his time with St. Louis was over. The Rams traded him to Philadelphia for Nick Foles.
In 2014, Bradford played in 14 games under Chip Kelly, led the Eagles to a 7-7 record (again, just outside the playoff picture) and threw for 3,725 yards, 19 touchdowns and 14 INTs.
But then the Eagles traded Bradford to Minnesota (a move that set up their future Super Bowl run), and as a Viking, Bradford had the best year of his career: an NFL-best .716 completion percentage, a career-high 3,877 yards, 20 TDs and just five interceptions as the Vikings went 7-8 under Bradford and narrowly missed the playoffs.
It was the kind of efficiency and productivity everyone predicted for Bradford six years earlier.
But Bradford reinjured his left knee two games into the 2017 season (coach Mike Zimmer called it “degenerative”), missed the rest of the year and was eventually picked up in free agency by Arizona during the 2018 offseason. He played three games for the Cardinals, was released in November and hasn’t played since — but hasn’t formally announced his retirement.
Injuries, average roster talent and coaching inconsistencies never allowed Bradford to reach the level many expected he would in the NFL. He did get paid about $130 million for his troubles, including an all-time record rookie signing bonus of $50 million.
It was that bonus — based on one of the best college seasons any quarterback ever had, and a Pro Day showing most scouts said was the best they’d ever seen — that showed the kind of promise and potential that ultimately went unfulfilled in Bradford’s NFL career.
Our Top 20 list was chosen by five voters: SI Sooners publisher John Hoover, deputy editor Parker Thune, long-time OU fan and amateur Sooner historian Anthony Jumper, OU school of journalism student Caroline Grace, and OU history and stats expert Steven Smith (aka Blinkin Riley).
The criteria was simple: former Sooners who played at OU during the last 20 years and went on to an NFL career. The rest, i.e, their NFL career, was purely subjective. Players received 20 points for a first-place vote, 19 for second, etc., down to 1 point for 20th. A total of 28 players received votes.
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