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