The NFL’s Young Guns II have arrived

Is St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford the second coming of John Elway? Bradford was on Sunday – passing for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in a road victory. The last rookie to do that regardless of location was Elway in 1983. I think the comparisons are going to grow, and quickly – not just between those two players, but their respective NFL draft classes.

The 1983 NFL draft shaped the league for the ensuing 16 years. Why? There was a rare glut of quality at a key position that affects game outcomes in the NFL. The “Quarterback Class of 1983” included future Hall of Famers Elway, Dan Marino and Jim Kelly. A record six quarterbacks were picked in the first round that year, and a QB from that group won 11 of the next 16 Super Bowls.

I believe we are seeing another influx of impact quarterbacks. That is bad news for Jon Kitna fans but great for the rest of us. Just the most recent two NFL drafts could rival the ’83 class in the long run. Why? To me, they have three very clear things in common:

  • Chronic winners – This is an unusually large crop of athletes at a game-changing position who have been successful at every level. Any serious owner or GM looks at won-loss record first. So do these QBs. It’s a match made in parity heaven.
  • Given a chance to play early in college – With the limitations in scholarships these days, many were three- or four-year starters. Others chose to go to college football’s middle-tier schools rather than sit for three seasons. Most come into the league with significant playing experience.
  • Given a chance to play early in the pros – Many learned in college how to get up to speed quickly. That means they come to work prepared, interact with teammates well and know how to bounce back from losses. They have been successful because of their work ethic as well as athleticism, so even lower-round NFL picks are getting plenty of playing time around the league as first- and second-year players.                                                                                

At the least we are watching the emergence of the next generation of superstar NFL quarterbacks, especially from the last two drafts. Bradford of the Rams is the poster boy, of course. My thoughts from two earlier posts:

  • In April 2010, on Bradford being the #1 overall pick: “I think Bradford has a chance to be a top-tier pro quarterback. Most important: He can throw deep with accuracy better than anyone in many years. He’s a stud … and a great draft pick for the Rams.”
  • In August 2010, when he won his first game: “I told you he was the real deal. Not just because he’s got good size and came from a top program. The scouts all said he was a very unique blend of accuracy and arm strength. Bottom line: He can throw pinpoint passes downfield with touch. Yep, if he stays healthy (always the big question in the NFL) he’ll be a star.”

That being said, Bradford isn’t the only young gun on the scene. I’ll talk about the others in my next SportS’mores. And I’ll explain why it’s happening.

— Stan Johnston

 

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