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​The Vikings Are 3-0 Because Sam Bradford Was Never That Bad

Sam Bradford is playing well because he's finally on a team with a functional offense.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

When Minnesota traded for Sam Bradford before the season, it was a lightning-rod deal. The Vikings already had Teddy Bridgewater, even if Bridgewater wasn't guaranteed to come into the 2017 season healthy. They surrendered a first-round pick, something that is fetishized by the "build your team the right way" crowd even though late first-round picks are more of a 50/50 proposition than a sure thing.


And, most important, Bradford has been statistically unimpressive for his entire career. He has never gone better than .500 as a starter in a season and, despite what was supposed to be a Chip Kelly-influenced orgy of scoring in Philadelphia last year, he threw 14 interceptions in 14 starts andfinished just 24th in Football Outsiders' DVOA for 2015. That many years of bad statistical output will have you labeled a bust no matter how well you play.

Little known fact about football statistics, though: they're very context-dependent. The Vikings weren't acquiring Sam Bradford and his whole offense; they were just acquiring Sam Bradford. That means they don't take the seasons where Chris Givens and Nelson Agholor were main targets. They don't have to watch aging Steven Jackson and misused DeMarco Murray plow ahead for gains smaller than a powder room. They don't have to install Greg Robinson at left tackle. The Vikings don't even have to deal with Bradford coming off injury, since he completed one of his rare mostly-healthy seasons. They just got the actual football player Sam Bradford, and it turns out he's still pretty OK once plucked away from dysfunction.

On their way to a 3-0 start, the Vikings have torn up a pair of pretty capable defenses in Green Bay and Carolina. Bradford is completing a career-high 67.8 percent of his passes. Minnesota has a bad offensive line, but Adrian Peterson's injury has taken the pressure off because the Vikings no longer identify as a power run team. They're back to the roots of the Norv Turner offense, with Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph proving capable receivers once they are actually allowed to play those roles rather than be blockers.

It's true that a lot of Minnesota's early success is due to factors outside of Bradford's control, like Peterson's injury forcing the offense to adjust and the Vikings defense being ferocious. But for once, those factors are creating the kind of scenario tape-watchers have been telling us about for years: the scenario where Sam Bradford is a good quarterback on a good team, because he can hit all the throws. All he needed was a functional offense around him.

This start is a prime example of why scouting and statistics are imperfect bedfellows. Bradford's narrative overwrote what was actually happening on the field. And while Bradford is always an injury risk on his own, it's hard to argue that the Vikings aren't a contender as long as he's healthy.