Here's an easy one, as we begin our series on Hall of Fame careers Sam Bradford could still emulate: Troy Aikman, the first overall pick of the 1989 NFL Draft, went 0-11 in his Dallas Cowboys debut, and looked the part. Throwing twice as many interceptions-18-as touchdowns, the eventually super-accurate Aikman completed just over half his passes and did what little damage he managed on the ground, where he was flushed out of the pocket for 302 yards on 38 attempts. Already 23, the UCLA alum wasn't supposed to be a work-in-progress, but in 1989 he didn't even look much like a work.
Aikman-like Bradford-was an immensely talented quarterback, and probably would have gotten better eventually no matter what happened. But the Cowboys took a shortcut to quarterback fame as Super Bowl glory-selecting Emmitt Smith in the 1990 NFL Draft. With Michael Irvin, 1988's first rounder, Aikman suddenly had all the offensive weapons he could hope for. In 1991 he and the Cowboys turned the corner, and three Super Bowls later Aikman was a Hall of Famer.
This shows just how important the Rams' drafting will be to Bradford's future-and how much of a mess it's been so far. If Jason Smith had been the anchor we expected, maybe Bradford wouldn't have spent all of 2011 being reintroduced to the Edward Jones Dome's artificial turf; if Justin Blackmon or whomever the Rams select in 2012 is more America's Team than Billy Devaney's Team, maybe things will turn around in a hurry.
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