There is little debate that Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford has the talent to become an elite NFL quarterback. A Heisman Trophy run in 2008 that featured a whopping 50 touchdown passes and 4,720 yards are sufficient evidence of his ability.
The bigger issue is what happens as a result of the horrific three-week span early in the 2009 season, when he suffered two shoulder injuries and was done for the year. Even now, after successful surgery to repair the AC joint in his throwing shoulder, there's no guarantee that it won't happen again.
No matter to the 22-year-old. Bradford has made a full recovery, he aced his pro day test last month by completing all but one pass attempt, and all that remains is what happens Thursday night when the draft begins. Chances are he will be called on the first pick, and chances are he'll be playing for the St. Louis Rams.
"I think everybody dreams about being No. 1," Bradford said in a recent interview. "Through this process, I'm preparing myself. But at the end of the day, it's up to the teams. So I'm really not worried about what I can't control."
But it would be a shock if Bradford isn't the top pick, and it would be only slightly less surprising if the Rams aren't making the selection. Unlike most years, when the team picking first actively engages in negotiations with the top selection, the Rams have decided not to negotiate with Bradford or any of the other top prospects.
"We're keeping all options open," Devaney said. "We'll see what happens."
It's hard to imagine Devaney not going for a quarterback who can be the building block for a team that has lost 42 of its last 48 games. Bulger was mostly dreadful and/or injured during that span, and the team needs an infusion at the position in the worst way. Sure, it's tempting for head coach Steve Spagnuolo, a defensive coach by trade, to lobby for one of the top two defensive tackles in the draft: Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy. And yes, it's tempting to trade down and acquire extra picks to flesh out the roster. But without a franchise quarterback, no amount of picks can make up for the vacuum.
The question is whether the Rams believe Bradford is that guy.
"To me, the physical skills are almost the easy part now for these kids," Devaney said. "There's so much that goes into being a quarterback in the NFL. The work ethic that you have to have. The leadership. The time that you put in. The media scrutiny. If you can't handle all that, you're going to have a hard time performing on the field."
Devaney should know. He was Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard's assistant in 1998 when the team traded up to get Ryan Leaf of Washington State with the second overall pick behind Peyton Manning.
Didn't quite work out; Leaf turned into one of the NFL's biggest all-time busts.
"That's why, with the history of quarterbacks, the guys that didn't pan out, it's the intangibles," Devaney said.
Bradford should put those doubts to rest, shoulder questions and all. If there's one thing he is, it's a leader. And as long as he's physically able to stand up to the NFL grind, then there's no reason to think Bradford won't be the answer in St. Louis.
"If you ask any of my teammates at Oklahoma, they'll tell you I was one of the leaders on our team," Bradford said. "I can be vocal. I think a lot of people questioned that, but they don't see our practices. I'll get after guys when I need to, and I lead by example. If you don't practice what you preach, then no one's going to follow you."
Time for the Rams to follow Bradford. This one's a no-brainer.