The quarterback draft fall is an interesting creature. As is the case with any breath and action a quarterback takes throughout his life, there’s far more attention given to his struggle.
WIth that uber importance and bright spotlight, a miss on a quarterback ends the unemployment of many people (see: Cleveland, Minnesota). This year as we sit currently just over a month away from the draft, a fall for one of the three quarterbacks hovering around the top ten feels inevitable, as does the name of that tumbler: Teddy Bridgewater.
But why him?
Bridgewater hasn’t played in a competitive football game since he finished his final season at Louisville with a bowl game victory over Miami, a game when he completed 77.8 percent of his pass attempts for 447 yards, three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 183.2 (he also rushed for 24 yards and scored on the ground). That game took place on Dec. 28, quite literally last year and way back in a time when stockings were still hung above the fireplace with care.
Bridgewater’s overall numbers this past season were even more impressive: just four interceptions on 427 pass attempts, 9.3 yards per attempt, a 171.0 rating, and a completion rate of 71.0 percent. All he’s done since is throw against air during a meh Pro Day (more on that forthcoming), and that’s it.
Draft season is an odd, murky time when perception builds to become consensus, when in reality Bridgewater may not be falling at all. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, and the result right now is that Bridgewater and confusion are friends. To the mocks…
Mock draft speed round
At CBS, there’s a smattering of opinions, and just as it does elsewhere they amount to a resounding “I dunno”. Courtesy of Pete Prisco and Dane Brugler, Bridgewater goes to the Vikings at No. 8 twice. But then Rob Rang has him falling to No. 26, the Browns’ second of two first-round picks, Pat Kirwin doesn’t list him at all in the first round, and Will Brinson has him at No. 32 after the Jaguars trade back into the round. Rang still calls Bridgewater his “personal top-rated quarterback”, but caved to his building fall momentum.
Then over at NFL.com it’s almost identical. Of the seven who dare to make a mockery of the draft there, four had him in the top 10 — including two in the top five, and one first overall (never stop believing, Chase Goodbread) — one excluded him from the first round entirely, and Daniel Jeremiah slotted him at 26th overall.
As is the case with all mocks, most of those amount to educated guessing, though they provide a gauge of the current popular opinion surrounding Bridgewater. Which is basically that we’re all lost and don’t know what to think.
The exception is Jeremiah, the former Baltimore Ravens scout who’s now an NFL Network draft analyst. Jeremiah therefore has a toe in two turbulent bodies of water, with the scouting background to know what he’s watching when he studies film, and industry connections to have a pulse on front offices evaluations. Here’s how that shaped his Bridgewater perspective:
I still view Bridgewater as the top quarterback in this draft class, but he has failed to generate excitement among the personnel executives I’ve talked to. If he falls past the Titans at pick No. 11, I think it’s realistic he could slide all the way down to this spot.
Loose translation: he has the talent and ability to be a franchise quarterback, and indeed the author thinks he should be the first quarterback selected in this draft. But something isn’t quite fitting right for front offices. That’s why in his rankings of the draft’s prospects that were updated earlier this week, Jeremiah kept Bridgewater as the top rated player at his position.
So what’s really leading to the confusion? It can’t possibly be tied solely to a Pro Day, right?
Bridgewater didn’t didn’t have a good Pro Day. He didn’t have a great Pro Day, and he certainly didn’t have an excellent Pro Day.
But he didn’t have a bad Pro Day either. Hmmm, there’s a word in between those things. Maybe Mayock knows it.
Mike Mayock on Teddy Bridgewater’s Pro Day: “To be honest, I expected a little more. Very average at best.” Now on @nflnetwork.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 17, 2014
Average (or very average) seems about right. He misfired six times, sailing some passes and wobbling a few others. He should have impressed and he fell short, but exactly how far short is a pretty subjective matter, as is the entire draft season.
Not as down on Bridgewater workout as some. Only saw 1 bad throw. Norv Turner told me he thought it was pretty good.
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) March 17, 2014
Bridgewater had a few low throws, but I don’t count that against his accuray (behind, over receiver). His accuracy was fine.
— Gil Brandt (@Gil_Brandt) March 17, 2014
While mechanics and technique can be observed in a scripted environment at a Pro Day, how well that single outing and small sample size predicts future success is limited. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III dazzled at their Pro Days, but so did JaMarcus Russell, Blaine Gabbert, and Geno Smith.
Meanwhile, Bridgewater was average, and he was just OK. What does it all mean? That’s one of life’s great mysteries right now, but turning to the tape and watching him actually play football seems wise.
To the tape
Let’s dabble in some tape study together. Here’s the Bridgewater cut-up from the Russell Athletic Bowl, the aforementioned win over Miami…
And here’s what I see:
- I see him roll out to his left — his weak side — before squaring up while still on the run and make a precision throw to the sideline.
- You want scrambling ability, and the sense to feel and escape a rush? Jump to the 1:08 mark. There he is circling when the pocket breaks, and throwing a strike to the middle of the field while off balance.
- I see him making throws up the seam, and into tight windows between two defenders.
- I see him looking off the safety with pressure coming from his blindside, and then turning to where he now has single coverage deep to uncork a 26-yard touchdown pass to Devante Parker (5:00).
- But the real gem came on another broken play. With pressure coming right into his face, Bridgewater circled back again, drifting about five yards further into the backfield than the distance his backpedal had already taken him. Then he changed direction to the right, and while still being pursued he threw an off-balance, fading lob that travel 27 yards downfield (6:10).
I’m not sure why all of that didn’t show up during his Pro Day, when defenders didn’t exist, and it’s essentially an elaborate game of catch (a ditched glove could have been a factor). But I’m also not willing to let a Pro Day erase a season’s worth of game tape.
The likely ending
The uncertainty created by the difference between in-game Bridgewater and Pro Day Bridgewater could indeed result in a fall, but it may not be a direct reflection on his draft grade. With the Buccaneers and Raiders finding other solutions and the Browns possibly ready to wait on a quarterback and pounce on Sammy Watkins if he falls into their lap, suddenly the number of quarterback needy teams at the top is dwindling.
That’s why much like Aaron Rodgers’ spiral, if Bridgewater falls it’ll simply be a product of Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles sucking back whatever quarterback slots remain in the top 10, if they are indeed graded higher. Once any of those three get past the Vikings at No. 8, barring a trade it’s a long way to the Browns again at No. 26 before we find another team truly desperate for a quarterback.
His evaluation is partly why Bridgewater could fall. But mostly it could just be some dumb luck, and the randomness of the draft.