Sam Bradford needs to prove he’s more than just a Chip Kelly chess piece

From an analytical standpoint, the last 12 months have been some of the most interesting in the Eagles’ recent history. From Chip Kelly’s battle with power to the rise and fall of Sam Bradford, the discussions and headlines never seem to fade. Two of the most polarizing figures in the NFL stand at the center of it all and whilst Bradford remains as prominent as it Bradford that’s demanding the attention..or just another Chip Kelly chess piece?

Whether you like him or hate him, Chip Kelly’s system worked. His ability to manage players and ego may have been his downfall, but his up-tempo Offense worked wonders considering the Eagles were a 4-12 team before he took the reigns.

His system was so successful, that it’s changed our perception of Sam Bradford entirely. If you’re a regular reader of the content on this site then you’ll know that I am a strong believer in Bradford’s ability as a player. But we can’t run away from the facts..Chip Kelly has utilized Quarterbacks widely regarded as “average” and made them appear much better.

Here are what the stat lines of all four starting Quarterbacks from Chip’s reign look like when you focus on the games played in his system.

Games Comp % Yards TD INT FUM
Bradford 14 65 3,725 19 14 6
Sanchez 13 64.25 3,034 18 15 4
Foles 21 61.9 5,054 40 12 5
Vick 7 54.6 1,215 5 3 3

The most striking thing about this is how close Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez are on paper. With just one more game under his belt, Bradford has a pass completion rate just 0.75% higher, recording just one more touchdown and one less interception. Yet when Mark Sanchez took to the field in Bradford’s absence, we panicked and prepared for the worst. Why do we see Mark Sanchez in a completely different light to the one we now see Sam Bradford?

When you take these games out of their overall stat lines, an entirely different story emerges.

Games Comp % Yards TD INT FUM
Bradford (2010-2013) 49 58.64 11,065 59 38 18
Sanchez (2009-2012) 62 55.06 12,092 69 69 26
Foles (2012/ 2015) 18 58.3 3,751 13 15 8
Vick (2011-2012, 2014-2015) 38 61.3 6,640 35 27 11

With the exception of Vick (who by this point in his career was an established and experienced yet controversial Quarterback), everyone else improved drastically under Chip Kelly. But the two Quarterbacks who look like the same player under Kelly are binary opposites when playing away from his system.

Sam Bradford is a good Quarterback. He may not be Tom Brady but his accolades speak for themselves. A former AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, Heisman Trophy winner and first overall pick, Bradford wasn’t terrible prior to joining the Eagles. Plagued with injuries, hampered by a lack of weapons and sacked a total of 120 times in 49 games..Bradford was never in a situation that allowed him to spread his wings.

So, what changed? The same ghosts that have haunted Bradford throughout his professional career followed him to Philadelphia, from the drops to a leaky Offensive Line..not much changed in terms of his surroundings. What did change however was the system.

Yes, Sam Bradford had an impressive seven game stretch and he performed much more efficiently than the generic stats suggest, but Chip’s Offense was a massive part of that.

If there’s one thing Sam Bradford is and has been throughout his career, it’s accurate. Chip’s Offense is one that relied on accuracy and quick reads, two of Bradfords most valuable assets. Because of this, Bradford was by far the most efficient Quarterback to play under Chip Kelly.

In 2015, Sam Bradford:

Threw the sixth least interceptable passes of any Quarterback
Had the second lowest Interceptable pass rate in the league
Had the sixth highest amount of receptions of these passes in the league
Lost the seventh highest amount of yards in the league
Averaged the sixth highest yards thrown before a failure
Completed the 12th most “Simple YAC” passes of any Quarterback.

Nick Foles had an explosive 2013 season, but if you look at the year after in which he began to lose weapons and the rushing game began to lose it’s did his form. Fast forward one more year to his time in St. Louis and that all but cemented that his standout season in Philadelphia can be largely put down to Chip’s systematic success.

But now Chip Kelly has gone. The Quarterback isn’t just a piece who makes quick reads in Doug Pederson’s system. It’s a Quarterback who’s trusted to make audibles at the line of scrimmage and who has a much bigger effect on the success of the Offense. Much like the expectations of Nick Foles going into 2014, the world is waiting to see how Sam Bradford follows up his impressive end tot he 2015 season..especially after all of the controversy that has ensued during the offseason.

Chip’s system played to Bradford’s strengths. Short, zippy passes in tight windows to keep the Offense moving. The Eagles were stuck between a rock and a hard place but were almost forced to give Bradford a generous deal as no other realistic free agent had demonstrated the consistency he had in the latter stages of the season and no rookie could come in and play to the level he can.

With the bar now incredibly high for Bradford, he’s going into an Offense that is being built with a long term vision of having someone else calling the plays and one that still lacks fire power where he needs it most. The difference is that he’s no longer a piece that will do as Chip instructs..he HAS to become the Quarterback we believe him to be and if he doesn’t, there’s a fiery young man from North Dakota State waiting for his opportunity.

If it wasn’t for Kelly’s Offense and it’s structure, Sam Bradford may have never gotten a shot in Philadelphia in the first place, let alone performed well enough to warrant a short-term extension. With the man who effectively breathed new life into Bradford’s career by using him as nothing more than a chess piece now gone, Bradford will either show the world that he’s worth the contract handed to him by Howie Roseman..or crumble under the unrealistic expectation placed on his shoulders in the same way Nick Foles did when he arrived in St Louis.