Jimmy Clausen vs. Sam Bradford: Who's the Better Prospect?
By Matt McGuire
One hot 2010 NFL Draft debate is whether Jimmy Clausen or Sam Bradford will be the better NFL quarterback. Comparing all of the attributes of the two signal-callers is the best way to truly analyze this debate. Below is a player profile for both Clausen and Bradford, including a comparison of 21 attributes.
Jimmy Clausen Profile: Clausen came into Notre Dame as one of the most hyped quarterback prospects ever. He was the consensus No. 1 prospect in the country, but rubbed many off with his diva demeanor as an 18-year-old kid.
Clausen was recruited by all the top schools, but chose Notre Dame because of one man: Charlie Weis. Weis coached up one of the greatest ever in Tom Brady and won multiple Super Bowls in New England. Clausen had a rough start to his career in South Bend - however, this should be expected from a very young quarterback in a West Coast offense.
Clausen showed solid improvement in his sophomore season starting every game, but was hampered by a poor offensive coordinator who was eventually fired. Clausen struggled with mediocre talent around him - particularly on the offensive line. As a junior, Clausen had an outstanding campaign and really lived up to all of his potential and then some. He played most of the year with torn tendons in his toe and displayed toughness that you rarely see out of college players.
Some question Clausen's leadership as a teammate, but his head coach and teammates have raved about him. Clausen played under center a lot in college and this will benefit him greatly early in his NFL career.
Sam Bradford Profile: Sam Bradford wasn't a very heavily recruited prospect out of Oklahoma City, but he came to Norman and redshirted his true freshman year. In his redshirt freshman season, he started every game and dominated very early in the season. Bradford finished his freshman campaign completing 70 percent of his passes for more than 3,100 yards and 36 touchdowns to only eight interceptions.
Bradford ran the no-huddle offense as a sophomore, which then inflated his statistics. As a junior, he couldn't stay healthy and missed the majority of the season. Bradford's calling card is his elite level of accuracy.
Circumstances Breakdown: Jimmy Clausen played in a West Coast offense with little talent around him. Sure, he had Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph and Golden Tate as a junior, but Floyd and Rudolph were on the field together for only four games. Clausen had no running game, defense, and little pass protection.
Sam Bradford, on the other hand, had three All-Big 12 offensive linemen as a freshman and four as a sophomore including receivers such as Malcolm Kelly, Jermaine Gresham, Juaquin Iglesias, and Manuel Johnson - not to mention one of the best defenses in the nation against far inferior competition in the Big XII.
Bradford had a huge advantage operating in a shotgun spread offense for most of his career. He was rarely touched under center and simply didn't overcome much adversity when compared to Clausen. When Bradford didn't have an NFL offensive line in front of him as a junior, he was very quickly injured and showed highly questionable durability.
I ask you this - do you honestly think Bradford would have been as productive if he played at Notre Dame with no offensive line, running game or defense? I doubt it. Still, Bradford is a very talented quarterback and he is certainly not entirely a product of the system or talent around him. I just need to make it clear that these different circumstances (talent, offensive scheme, etc.) are taken into account in these evaluations.
Intermediate Accuracy: I give both quarterbacks extremely high marks for their intermediate accuracy. Jimmy Clausen places the ball in front of his receiver to maximize the yards after the catch. Receivers don't have to adjust often, and Clausen shows very good touch. Bradford also has an elite level of intermediate accuracy and really excels on the out route. Not many differences here, but Clausen throws a better slant and Bradford throws a superior fade.
Deep Accuracy: I have to give Sam Bradford the edge here - however you just have to wonder how much better his accuracy would be if he had Notre Dame's offensive line; his accuracy simply won't be as good in the NFL because he won't have the passing lanes or time that he did at Oklahoma. Clausen tends to hang the ball up a bit, but that is not much of a concern to me. Bradford has Greg Maddux-type accuracy deep. Clausen is very good in this area, but again, Bradford throws a consistent deep ball and sets the receiver up to track it on time without much adjustment.
Arm Strength: Jimmy Clausen isn't Matt Stafford, but then again Peyton Manning doesn't have Stafford's arm either. Clausen has a very strong arm and at times he will just put the ball out on a frozen rope on the 18-yard comeback, out and post. He can fit the ball in tight windows and throws the ball with velocity without sacrificing touch. Sam Bradford has an average arm by NFL standards; he reminds me of Eli Manning. Manning can make the throws, but any Giant fan will tell you he doesn't have a strong arm. If Bradford doesn't get the ball out early, he'll struggle to fit into the tighter windows at the next level.
Decision-Making: No issues with Clausen here - he is an elite decision-maker. He had a 7:1 touchdown-intercpetion ratio in a West Coast offense as a junior, which is just incredible. He does a great job of taking what the defense gives him, but he also isn't overly conservative as a checkdown machine. Sam Bradford is a great decision-maker too, but decisions are more easily made when you have an All-Big XII offensive line blocking for you in a shotgun spread. Clausen understands how to read coverage and had great tutelage under Charlie Weis. You can spout off Bradford's statistics all you want and yes they are better than Clausen's, but there is uncertainty with Bradford here at the next level that you just don't have with Clausen.
Release: Clausen has a bit of a three-quarter release, but plenty of quarterbacks in the NFL excel if they drop it down a little lower. His motion is very compact and extremely quick. He does a great job of getting hip torque in the throw to maximize power and speed of getting the ball out. Bradford short arms the ball a little bit for me, which takes some power off his throws. He has a quick release, but Clausen seems to generate more power out of his motion.
Footwork: Clausen really improved this as a junior, but at times it is a little shaky. Sam Bradford should have better feet as he gets acclimated to working under center. At times, Clausen will be off balance or out of alignment, throwing off his accuracy. Slight edge to Bradford in this area.
Awareness: At times, Clausen will be too sensitive to the pass rush and get the ball slightly earlier than he should and do a better job letting routes develop. Bradford seems to have a better sense for the pocket, but Clausen also does a good job stepping up or outside to get the throw off. I'm a little uncertain here with Bradford because he always had an elite offensive line in front of him, but I see a couple minor issues here with Clausen.
Size: Clausen is close to 6-3 at 222 pounds. Sam Bradford is slightly taller than 6-4 and has bulked up to 236 pounds carrying the weight well. Size isn't an issue for Clausen, but Bradford is obviously closer to the prototype (which would be a Josh Freeman). Clausen's hand size is below average.
Football I.Q: For those who don't know, football intelligence is the little things a player does that shows a very profound knowledge for the game. For example, throwing the ball away when you are outside the pocket and all receivers are blanketed displays impressive football I.Q. Being aware of a first down marker for an offensive skill position player is football I.Q. Knowing the four- and two-minute offense and being aware of how to use timeouts is football I.Q. Understanding pass protection and its audible is critical for offensive linemen and quarterbacks.
Jimmy Clausen grades out at an extremely high level in this area. He understands the nuances of the West Coast offense, and while Bradford doesn't have a low football I.Q. he just never benefitted from learning under Charlie Weis. I love how Clausen makes extremely quick decisions, shows an impressive knowledge of the 2-minute offense under pressure and throws the ball away very quickly when he's supposed to.
Competitiveness: This is a very difficult intangible to measure, but Clausen wins with flying colors. I just can't give this to Bradford. Sure he won more in college, but he also had an All-Big XII offensive line, great receivers and one of the best defenses in the country. Clausen really won me over by having four comeback victories last year including a game-winning drive against Purdue on a bad toe... and he didn't even take one snap prior in the second half!
After being down by 20 points against USC in the fourth quarter, Clausen brought back Notre Dame to the point where they were a yard away from tying the game. I just don't see the same kind of fire and ice-in-veins that I see in Bradford when the game is one the line. Bradford is competitive, but Clausen proved last season he's on a different level in this area when faced with much more adversity.
Work Ethic: Both Bradford and Clausen work very hard off the field, and they will win the respect of their teammates in this area.
Leadership: Notre Dame players and coaches raved about Clausen's leadership. You would see him on the sidelines encouraging his teammates when he was injured against Purdue. He took charge as the field general and really carried the team. Bradford also has great leadership and can certainly lead a franchise in this department.
Toughness: When Sam Bradford sprained his shoulder against BYU, he didn't return and play through the pain. Jimmy Clausen tore two ligaments in his right big toe against Michigan State in the second quarter, but still managed to finish the game. He also played the remaining nine games in the season on what was diagnosed as a turf toe. You can't get much mentally tougher than this - think Philip Rivers. Bradford was also rarely hit at Oklahoma because of his great offensive line and playing in the spread.
Durability: If you can play nine games on a bad toe, which is extremely painful especially for a quarterback because that's how he generates power from his lower body, then you are very durable. Bradford demonstrated little to no durability at Oklahoma.
Production: I'm not going to hold the spread offense against Bradford at Oklahoma in terms of production. He did as well as he could. I'm also not going to hold Clausen accountable for his first two years at Notre Dame because you shouldn't expect a freshman or sophomore to thrive in a West Coast offense because it's much more difficult to execute. Clausen had outstanding production as a junior with a poor offensive line, defense and running game. So you think he had "great receivers?" Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd missed a combine eight games. Bradford had a much better supporting cast, but I'm not holding that against him here.
Mobility: Clausen has decent mobility. I don't think he's a very fluid athlete, but he will step out of the pocket to make a throw if he needs to. Bradford is a little better with his pocket presence and getting outside the pocket.
NFL-Readiness: Clausen made NFL coverage reads and was an elite decision-maker in the same offense Tom Brady played in. He has great field vision and is highly comfortable dropping back under center. Bradford will have a learning curve at the next level. I also think Clausen had more adversity at Notre Dame when you consider an inferior supporting cast (especially on the offensive line) and therefore is more equipped to psychologically handle the rigors of an NFL season. Bradford played under center some as a freshman, but he executed a relatively simple offense against Big XII defenses with an elite supporting cast. He'll struggle in his first year or two, while I think Clausen can produce right away if he gets a solid offensive line.
Upside: When I evaluate a quarterback's upside, arm strength is the biggest variable. A very good arm can allow a quarterback to fit a ball through very tight windows and make up for being a split-second slow in progression reads. Bradford is a little more athletic and is a little bigger, but Clausen is by no means small and definitely has an NFL-frame. Sure, Bradford might have more room to grow as a quarterback, but that isn't fair to Clausen. Are you better off not being polished as opposed to being pre-packaged ready? I also think Clausen's intangible makeup (competitiveness, toughness) gives him more upside than Bradford.
Touch: Both quarterbacks throw a tight spiral, and know when to let the ball go. They know when to take a little velocity off the ball to help out their receivers.
Timing: Clausen has a major edge here because he has the footwork and under-center experience. He also understands the details of a West Coast offense more than Bradford. He also does a better job of getting the ball out before the receiver breaks into his route. Bradford isn't bad in this area, but there is room for him to develop.
Athleticism: Bradford looks a little more natural running in the open field and seems to have more flexibility. Unfortunately, we don't have the measurable on Clausen due to injury to compare to Bradford. On tape, Bradford is without a doubt the better athlete, but I maintain that athleticism is a little overrated at the quarterback position (look at Peyton/Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, etc. None of these guys are great athletes).
Verdict: Clausen's biggest advantages over Bradford include arm strength (one of the most important for a quarterback), competitiveness, toughness and durability. Bradford's biggest edges are size, mobility and athleticism. In my comparison of 21 quarterback attributes, Clausen wins 10-6, with five ties.
I give Clausen some edge over Bradford, but not a tremendous amount. Clausen is No. 5 overall on my 2010 NFL Draft Big Board, while Bradford ranks in at No. 14.
So, if Jimmy Clausen is the better prospect, why won't he be the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft? For answers, make sure you read the article, Jimmy Clausen is an Alien Wizard.