Bradford was acquired by the Vikings four days after Teddy Bridgewater went down with a multiple torn ligaments in his left knee on Aug. 30 and had 15 days to learn Norv Turner’s numbers-based offensive system before making his first start in Minnesota against the divisional rival Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings gave up a 2017 first-round draft pick and a conditional 2018 draft pick that will be anywhere between a fourth- and second-rounder, depending on Bradford and the Vikings’ success. But, to date, there is little doubt he has been worth the investment for a team that had Super Bowl aspirations before Bridgewater’s season-ending injury.
“Our guys in the front office, they do a pretty good job of getting to know people and understand them. He did have a pretty good pedigree,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “We keep him healthy, we keep him upright then he’ll continue to do good things. Guys are believing in him, making good catches. He’s making good checks at the line of scrimmage. He’s doing good.”
Yes, he is.
Bradford has the second-best passer rating among qualifying quarterbacks at 109.8, the second-best completion percentage at 70.4 and has yet to throw an interception or fumble the ball.
No doubt other quarterback are putting up more gaudier yardage numbers than Bradford’s 247.5 yards per game, but his efficiency has come with a makeshift – at best – offensive line and a receiving corps that has featured different players in and out of the lineup.
“The things he’s done is mind-blowing,” said Cordarrelle Patterson, who is experiencing an offensive awakening with Bradford in the lineup. “To come in that quick and just do the things he’s been doing, that’s really something … I just hope he keeps doing what he’s been doing.”
So do the Vikings.
They have only the 23rd-ranked passing offense, but Bradford hasn’t been a problem, despite his still relatively short immersion with the offense.
To wit, some of his top-five rankings:
- Fifth in percentage of first downs per attempt (39.2)
- Third in percentage of passes completed in close games (73.2)
- Second in percentage of passes completed in the fourth quarter (76.2)
- First in percentage of passes for first downs in third-and-medium (3-7 yards; 72.7 percent)
- Tied for third in percentage of touchdowns per attempt inside the 10 (60)
- Second in passer rating in the second half (123.0)
- Third in passer rating in the fourth quarter (119.3)
- Second in passer rating inside the opponent’s 20 (125.0)
- Third in passer rating in the shotgun (112.0)
There are other top-10 ratings for him, too, but he is dispelling the notion that the Vikings can’t go deep effectively. Bradford is averaging 7.92 yards per attempt, eighth among qualifying quarterbacks, and he has connected on five of his first six throws of 25 or more yards this season (including two touchdowns), according to ESPN Stats and Information.
“Coming into our building, and with an unbelievable job that Norv and Scott Turner have done with him, and the background and information and knowledge that Pat Shurmur had on him … he’s come in and performed well to date,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “Now, we still have a long season left. But right now, I would say we’re pretty happy with the returns we’ve got at this point. You’re not going to know honestly until the end of the year.”
That’s fair, as Bradford only has four starts as a Viking, but there is little doubt he has picked up the offense quickly, despite it being the first time in his career he has dealt with a numbers-based system of calling plays.
Perhaps his lack of knowledge of the Vikings’ pass-catching options before his arrival in Minnesota has helped him spread the ball around and keep defenses guessing.
“I think just us being together, learning how we play together,” Bradford said. “I think a little bit of it too is when you lose Adrian (Peterson) against Green Bay, that kind of changed things a little bit. I think you’ve seen more spread from us. I think you’ve seen some of the gun runs, more of the quick-game passing attacks from the shotgun. I think that’s a little bit different than what the offense has done in the past. I think it’s just us getting to know each other, us getting familiar with where we’re going as an offense. But I think it’s just guys buying in.”
The Vikings obviously bought in, too, but they had some first-hand knowledge of his capabilities. Zimmer might not have known a lot about Bradford before he was acquired, but Shurmur, the tight ends coach, was with Bradford in Philadelphia last year.
Once Bradford became comfortable with that system, he started to thrive there, too, in the second half of the season. According to ESPN Stats and Information, he has the seventh-highest passer rating in the league (101.2) since Week 8 last year.
“I know the way Pat Shurmur described him was exactly what came into this building. He’s an extremely hard worker,” Spielman said. “I know all the tape that we watched, if you watch him, like I’ve said in the past, the last three or four games of last season with Philadelphia and how he played in the preseason when he played, you see all the things he is doing now for us.”