Right now it's pretty good to be Sam Bradford. Not great; the St. Louis Rams lost 34-17 to the Atlanta Falcons—can say, at best, "It was closer than that"—and remain in second place in a division where the Arizona Cardinals could be in second place. He's on pace to throw for 3453 yards and 22 touchdowns, but he'll do it with a passer rating of 79.0 and 600 attempts.
But there's good news: Nobody's talking about his contract. Nobody's calling him Sam Bradfraud. And he's not any of these first-round quarterbacks.
1. Vince Young: The Crazy One
Vince Young's actually not having a terrible year, or at least he wasn't. But 2006's third overall pick has officially lost his job with the Tennessee Titans after getting into it with the fans, not getting into it with his coach, and throwing his shoulder pads into the stands.
There was a group of people who thought Young's skills wouldn't transfer to the NFL, and if they hadn't that would have been one thing. But what's happened instead has been worse. He's struggled; briefly stopped struggling; been benched in favor of Kerry Collins; displayed suicidal tendencies; won the job back and had what appeared to be a breakout season; and now he's been dismissed in favor of somebody named Rusty Smith for something that has gone completely unexplained to date.
Sam Bradford has not yet thrown his shoulder pads into the stands, and the Rams haven't even acquired Kerry Collins, yet.
2. Matthew Stafford: The Injured One
Matthew Stafford has had three nice games this year! He's just 22, and he's thrown six touchdowns against one interceptions. Unfortunately, the Detroit Lions have played 10 games this year, he's not a guarantee to appear in the last six, either, and 22 is also the number of times he's separated his shoulder since being drafted first overall in 2009.
The Rams really dodged a bullet here. Sam Bradford's shoulder problem from college is one to which Stafford's latest issue has been negatively compared. He appeared in just two games in his third and final year with Oklahoma. Bradford could yet become The Injured One, himself, but so far he's held strong behind an offensive line that's still a work in progress, albeit one with very impressive draft credentials.
3. Alex Smith: The Stagnant One
Alex Smith has been pushed aside by J.T. O'Sullivan, Tim Rattay, Shaun Hill, Ken Dorsey, Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill, Chris Weinke, Shaun Hill, and now Troy Smith. Sometimes he was hurt; sometimes he was just kind of mediocre. He's about even on touchdowns and interceptions, his yards-per-attempt have been flat his entire career, and now he's kind-of-hurt-kind-of-mediocre again.
It's hard to tell about somebody like Alex Smith. He has a lot of tools, he was a great draft prospect, and he either hasn't developed or hadn't had the chance to develop this entire time, five years in.
4. David Carr: The Dizzy One
David Carr was sacked 76, 68, 49, and 41 times in his four full seasons as Houston Sackmeisters starting quarterback, and as it turns out that was not a great system in which to develop, franchise quarterback-wise. He owns the first and third highest sack totals in the history of the NFL—and second-place is Randall Cunningham, for whom being sacked was just part of the game-plan.
Carr had some nice years, but between the expansion team personnel and the Vietnam flashbacks he never had the kind of season the Texans were hoping for, and now he, too, is stuck behind Troy Smith on the depth chart in San Francisco. Bradford's currently eighth in the league in sacks, but then he's sixth in the league in attempts—I can live with that.
5. Jimmy Clausen: The Other One
Mel Kiper was not the only one to love Jimmy Clausen. Being a Rams fan at draft-time I was given advice—apparently people thought I would be in the war room—from all manners of NFL fan about not overvaluing a top prospect at quarterback, or that Clausen would be just as ready, et cetera.
The Carolina Panthers are not the St. Louis Rams—it's wonderful to say it that way and not mean something terrible about the Rams—but it's been clear that he's not Sam Bradford, either.
He wasn't ready to start this season, and so far, pleasantly enough, Bradford has been. With first-rounders that's no sure thing.