Posted February 22, 2014

Teddy Bridgewater has everything the NFL wants, so why all the worry?

2014 Scouting Combine, NFL Draft
Teddy Bridgewater took questions from reporters at his combine press conference. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Teddy Bridgewater took questions from reporters at his combine press conference. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — It all seems pretty simple when it comes to Teddy Bridgewater. And maybe that’s the problem.

Johnny Manziel is the thrill-a-minute mystery among the 2014 quarterback draft class. Blake Bortles is the untapped talent, perhaps the passer with the highest upside.

Bridgewater, at least by comparison to those two, is a known quantity. Does that somehow make him less desirable to NFL teams as they dream about what Manziel or Bortles could one day be? It certainly felt that way Saturday when Bridgewater stepped to the podium for his combine press conference and had to explain what exactly made him stand out above his competition.

“The biggest thing, I think, is my accuracy,” Bridgewater began. “This past season, I was able to complete 71 percent of my passes. My third-down completion percentage was pretty much off the charts, my pocket presence. … That separates me.”

All the positives are there, clear as day on Bridgewater’s resume: The 71-percent completion rate he mentioned, a 31:4 TD-to-INT differential, the 2012 Big East Player of the Year award, a bowl win over Miami, a BCS victory over Florida. Bridgewater entered this past season as the presumptive top-ranked quarterback and a possible No. 1 pick, then improved.

That ought to be enough, right?

“No doubt, I feel that I’m the best quarterback in this draft,” Bridgewater said. “I’m not going to just say it. Obviously, actions have to back up these words, and I’m just confident in myself and my capability to play this position. I’m going to go out there and prove that I’m the best guy.”

The 2013 college season began with Bridgewater a clear Heisman Trophy favorite and Louisville a darkhorse national-title threat. Both dreams essentially died with a loss to a Bortles-led Central Florida team in October. That solitary loss cost the Cardinals an AAC championship and a shot at the BCS, while Bridgewater’s numbers dipped — if we can even call it that — down the stretch.

Louisville still won its final five regular-season games, and Bridgewater still completed 67.9 percent of his passes for an average of 262 yards per outing. All the while, good times and bad, Bridgewater maintained total control over an explosive offense.

“I just feel,” Bridgewater said, “that the system that I played at at the University of Louisville prepared me for some of the things an NFL quarterback has to do nowadays — making checks at the line of scrimmage, sliding protection, identifying the [middle linebacker], signaling hot routes to wide receivers. It shows how much trust the coaches had in me.”

That so-called “trust” also emphasizes one of the main reasons Bridgewater was a coveted prospect to begin with: He’s ahead of the curve compared to the usual maturation of incoming rookie quarterbacks.

“I gave him the keys to the car as a sophomore,” Louisville offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson told The MMQB’s Greg Bedard. “I had never done that before.”

The 365-day cycle of the NFL draft leaves plenty of time to build up prospects, break them down and build them up once more. Along the way, situations change. Bortles, for instance, barely stood on the 2014 draft radar prior to the season, only to emerge as the next Ben Roethlisberger during a scintillating final season.

Grabbing an early hold on a perceived top ranking and maintaining that grip for 12 months is a brutally tough proposition. Jadeveon Clowney barely has made it thus far amid the constant attacks on his work ethic. Matt Barkley did not even come close, dropping from a possible top-five pick in 2012 to a fourth-rounder a year later.

Without a catastrophe (or a nightmarish Pro Day) in the coming weeks, Bridgewater will get through the gauntlet. That he has a little company up top now should do nothing to overshadow his efforts.

“I don’t pay any attention to what’s going on right now,” Bridgewater said. “All I can control is what I can control — that’s how hard I work each day, continuing to play at a consistent level.”

Is Bridgewater’s game perfect? Hardly. And calling him a “sure thing” ignores that, aside from the occasional Andrew Luck, there really is no such thing. Heck, a year from now, Manziel or Bortles or Derek Carr might be sitting at home with a Rookie of the Year trophy on his shelf.

But at some point, the Bridgewater criticisms become nitpicking just for the sake of nitpicking. Bridgewater was asked multiple questions about his hand size (9 1/4-inch, well shy of Manziel’s 9 7/8) and if that might hold him back. He had to answer for his weight (214 pounds now, up from 205 at Louisville).

Can you hold onto the ball in cold weather? Will you keep wearing gloves? Are you going to get bigger?

Bridgewater constantly issued reassurance. I played in the cold at Louisville, he said, and completed all types of throws while wearing gloves. There’s room to add more weight, he mentioned, and no concerns that the 16-game NFL schedule will be too much.

Few questions even touched on what Bridgewater has shown on the field.

“I remember one pass,” said Bridgewater at one point, “we were playing Cincinnati sophomore year. I was in the pocket, everything broke down, we had a double-move route on the outside. Damien Copeland ran a nice take-off route. I stepped up in the pocket and threw off my back foot 55 yards.

“That throw told me I might be ready.”

Pretty much everything he has done since ought to have convinced the NFL, as well. So why are we still wondering if Teddy Bridgewater is worthy of that No. 1 pick?

5 comments
Katude1
Katude1

the difference is the medias love fest with "johnny football"

WilliamNadler
WilliamNadler

This is a pretty bad QB class I dont get the hype on these guys at all.  Teddy is by far the best but even he is no better then Geno was last year.  Yeah he is worth a 1st but isnt even close to being the best player in this draft.  Blake and Carr are both worth looking at early but not top 10.  As far as Manziel I wouldnt take him as a QB in the 3rd much less top ten.  Not sure what people see in him but he would have to be the biggest reach pick ever IMO just to hit the 1st.  Not saying he cant be good he just doesnt have a very high upside as a pro.  

GTT
GTT

I'd take him over either Manziel or Bortles. He's better between the ears and has more than adequate physical tools.

Rob25
Rob25

Well atleast teams dont have to sell the franchise anymore to draft "unproven" college players into the NFL.  I think alot of prospects(quarterbacks especially) are ruined by getting drafted by poorly run teams and thrown to the wolves basically.  Maybe 1 in 10 players are NFL ready and can play at a high level and have an immediate impact.  The rest should sit and learn for a year or two and success stories would probably be a little more common with these kids.  Think of all the promising careers that have been ruined over the years by placing near impossible expectations on alot of these guys and expecting them to carry an entire franchise on their shoulders from day one.

JimSmith4
JimSmith4

@GTT  


I am not sure that he is better than Bortles or Manziel between the ears.  I think he is definitely a great QB that, as they state in the article, is ahead of the curve in terms of managing the game.  Bortles and Manziel have shown that they can play at a high level when the pressure is on without a ton of talent around them.  Save for the 2012 Florida game Bridgewater's only knock has more to do with the level of competition his team played against on a consistent basis.  Bortles is in that same boat with his team beating Baylor and Louisville.  Say what you want about Manziel, but let's face it he played for the most part very well against top SEC defenses for the last two years.  Bridgewater had a great game against Florida in 2012, but you can't compare that to playing against top competition week in and week out.    That's why it is so tough to decide which QB to pick.  Can Manziel hold up in the NFL?  Will Bortles and Bridgewater be just as good against consistently tougher competition?  And what about the QBs from UCLA and Georgia?  No one knows until they play the games.