Two No. 1 overall draft choices will start at quarterback for NFC West teams in Week 14.
One of them, Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers, has lived the classic cautionary tale for quarterbacks drafted in the first round. Organizational instability, bad luck, sometimes shaky supporting personnel and occasionally unhealthy relationships with head coaches have marked his NFL career.
The other top pick, Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams, spends each Tuesday night meeting personally with his head coach for strategy sessions. He enjoys the full support and counsel of Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson, a player Bradford identified Wednesday as possessing the most commanding presence he has encountered in a locker room.
Smith tossed one touchdown pass with 11 interceptions during his rookie season. He started seven games, played in nine and averaged nearly four sacks per start. He's been in and out of the lineup for injury and performance issues ever since. He could be playing out his final four games with the 49ers.
Bradford, meanwhile, heads to New Orleans in Week 14 with 17 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and an 81.0 rating. The Rams are 6-6 and leading the NFC West after going 6-42 over their previous three seasons.
Bradford won over the Rams' locker room right away and has validated teammates' first impressions.
"He is a tough kid, man, and he is way more of an athlete than I think people realize," guard Jacob Bell said Sunday following the Rams' 19-6 victory at Arizona.
The NFL made Bradford available on a national media conference call Wednesday. He sees receiver Danario Alexander giving the offense a downfield threat that doesn't exist otherwise. He misses injured tight end Mike Hoomanwanui's knack for finding soft spots in zones. He appreciates the way receiver Danny Amendola understands concepts, particularly on third down.
I was most struck by what Bradford said about Jackson, the Rams' Pro Bowl running back, and second-year head coach Steve Spagnuolo. Young franchise quarterbacks need strong support from their organizations. Bradford seems to be getting that support in St. Louis.
"We could be here all day if you wanted to talk bout everything 'Jack' means to me and this football team," Bradford said. "I don’t know if I've ever been around anyone with such a commanding presence on a team. He walks in a room and there is silence. You hear horror stories about rookies coming in and vets big-timing them. Steven Jackson has been the opposite."
Bradford's relationship with Spagnuolo seems a little unusual given their philosophical orientations. Spagnuolo makes a point to coach the entire team, not just the defense, but he planted his NFL roots as a secondary coach and defensive coordinator. Bradford values the fresh perspective. His defensive-minded coach at Oklahoma, Bob Stoops, also offered insights, but NCAA time limits made regular strategy sessions impractical.
Spaguolo puts together video clips to review with Bradford, often focusing on specific aspects of an upcoming opponent.
"He notices techniques, the way people are playing -- their defensive coordinator teaches this style for a corner," Bradford said.
The 49ers' Smith has never enjoyed that type of relationship with his head coach. He sometimes feuded with former coach Mike Nolan. He has expressed respect for current coach Mike Singletary and an appreciation for Singletary's honesty. But he has also said he would prefer a lower-keyed approach during games in particular. The fit appears imperfect.
Winning helps, of course. The Rams head to New Orleans controlling their playoff destiny.
"It’s the best-case scenario for us," Bradford said.