Bradford makes strong case for No. 1

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NORMAN, Okla. – When Sam Bradford heard the Troy Aikman workout comparison from an analyst, he had to be forgiven for his slight shrug. Twelve days after watching some hyperbolic television snippets following Tim Tebow’s workout at the University of Florida, Bradford knew what to expect if he performed to his capabilities.

So when the former Oklahoma Sooners quarterback wrapped his largely flawless 63-pass effort in front of more than 50 NFL coaches, scouts and executives, he girded himself for some of the hype that was bound to come with it. Tebow can have the circus. Bradford will take the business. And judging by the direction he’s headed, business will open with him becoming the No. 1 pick in April’s NFL draft.

Bradford gets in a laugh prior to Monday's workout.
(Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo)

“When it’s all said and done, I know it’s just a workout,” Bradford said, leaning against a wall inside Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium. “But I know that for me, it might have been more important than usual because I got hurt this year. People haven’t seen me throw and play in a while. I think there were a lot of questions about how my arm was going to come back from the [shoulder] surgery.”

Where it concerns workload and health, Bradford whisked through his latest benchmark, stretching his scheduled 50-ball regimen to a briskly paced 63 passes. And by the time he was through, he’d gone through the entire route tree with only one pass hitting the turf. And as one NFC assistant pointed out, “That one could have been caught.” The workout included all the passes coaches expected to see, including a handful of deep outs and deep posts that put plenty of stress on the throwing (right) shoulder that Dr. James Andrews surgically repaired last October.

While analysts are prone to placing grandiose labels on what such a workout means, there may not have been a single person more dialed into reality than Bradford. He’d rather be measured against healthy, 2008 Heisman Trophy-winning Sam Bradford before the proclamations move on to someone even bigger.

“This was just me answering questions,” said Bradford, who was limited to just three games in 2009. “And I felt like I answered a lot about my arm strength, my accuracy, my throwing motion. I feel like everything came back the way I expected it to. I feel good about my arm. Now hopefully I won’t have to answer questions about my shoulder anymore.”

Even with his latest showing, that’s not likely. One NFC executive said any personal workout with Bradford – and he’s got them scheduled with the Washington Redskins and St. Louis Rams – will include a more rigorous run than Monday’s script. That means more out routes, more posts, more throwing on the run and plenty of snaps from an actual center, rather than the simulated ones he has been taking.

“If it was me, there is still more I would want to see,” the NFC executive said. “And that will happen.”

And yet, there is nothing to indicate Bradford hasn’t lived up to his billing as a No. 1 pick. One NFC representative on hand said that after watching the Sooners product extensively, he believed he was as worthy a No. 1 pick as anyone in the last 10 years of the draft. And he called the “total package” disparity between Bradford and Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen “a big difference.”

All of which bodes well for the St. Louis Rams, who hold the first choice and are in need of a young quarterback. The Rams sent a quartet to Bradford’s workout, including coach Steve Spagnuolo and general manager Billy Devaney. The quarterback had breakfast with Spagnuolo on Monday, as well as quarterback coach Dick Curl and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. But that meeting was less about football and more about Bradford and his thoughts about the Rams. The grit of the football end will come next month, when the Rams host and work out Bradford privately. Not that they didn’t walk away from Monday’s performance pleased.

“This is shocking – the guy is really accurate. Oh my God!,” Devaney said sarcastically afterward. “What I liked was that he was throwing at the end [of the workout] just like he was in the beginning. There wasn’t any drop-off at all. There was no arm fatigue. He looked as strong at the end of the workout as he did in the beginning. … Early on, just even soft-tossing, it looked like he’s got zip on the ball.”

Bradford shows off his arm and healthy shoulder.
(Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo)

Added Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren, “[Fatigue] didn’t affect his accuracy. He moved very well in his last few throws. They asked him to move out of the pocket and he had a lot of juice left. If you were coming down here to learn anything that you didn’t already know, I think you probably came away saying ‘Hey, he’s the guy I thought he was.’ ”

That assessment fits with what most front offices are seeing at the top of this year’s draft. In one vein, economics have almost made Bradford the de facto No. 1 pick, seeing as the draft slot will pay out quarterback money to whoever gets selected there – a contract that one NFC executive said on Monday will land with around $44 million in guaranteed money and $80 million overall.

That’s a massive financial risk for one of the prime defensive tackles at the top of the draft: Ndamukong Suh from Nebraska or former Sooner Gerald McCoy. But it’s a manageable financial leap for a healthy potential franchise changing quarterback, if that’s what the Rams believe Bradford is. And one major hurdle later, there isn’t anything that should have given the Rams pause.

Said an AFC representative on hand Monday: “If it’s a tie between those three players, it’s not really a tie at all – you always go with the quarterback in that situation. But I don’t think this is a tie. [Bradford] looks like everything you’d want.”

Charles Robinson is the senior investigative reporter for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Charles a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Mar 29, 2010