Louisville’s schedule has certainly impacted Teddy Bridgewater’s scouting debate this year. He hadn’t had the opportunity to play a top caliber defense before the Thursday’s showdown with Rutgers, putting up impressive numbers each week and leading his team to five wins by an average margin of 37.6 points per game.
The Rutgers defense was the most talented he faced thus far in 2013, and likely will end the regular season as the best he’ll face all year. And with a primetime spot on Thursday night for the country to see, and with most NFL teams in attendance (including two GMs), Bridgewater had ample pressure to perform well.
And despite his somewhat lackluster stat-line, Bridgewater did just that.
The debate on what makes a “franchise quarterback” prospect has certainly not been won by any party yet, which is why so many teams struggle to find theirs. However, in my opinion, it stems from two core principles: the quarterback needs to have an elite skill that they’re NFL elite in already, and they need to have the confidence to weather the struggles every NFL quarterback goes through.
As far as confidence goes, he possesses ample confidence in his offense and himself to make plays, especially after poor throws or interceptions. Rarely rattled by a bad streak of play by himself /his team or by pressure on a consistent basis, Bridgewater certainly possess the mental toughness to be an ever-growing NFL quarterback from an in-game perspective.
As far as the rare skill set, it’s his accuracy and ball placement that make him unique and likely one of the best deep ball throwers in the NFL the day after he’s drafted. Able to generate ample velocity on his shorter throws, Bridgewater possesses plus “velocity control”, a skill set that I value highly when it comes to NFL success early on.
Velocity control is a trait that many college passers can’t comfortably utilize. It’s the ability to change speeds on throws without drastically changing your mechanics or tipping off the defense. Bridgewater’s able to fastball quick slants or deep comebacks with the velocity required, and he’ll step into and deliver strikes downfield in man coverage. But it’s his ability to change his release point and velocity smoothly between high velocity hitch routes and deep fades between Cover 2 defenses (a skill he displayed plenty of against Rutgers).
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Bridgewater still needs to clean up his footwork (over-steps, takes too many gather steps, throws off balance on the move too often) before he can step in as an NFL passer, and he’ll need to adjust to NFL speed (very calm yet at times too patient), but he’s NFL ready in more areas than most passers entering the league.
On that note, let’s look at a few plays that Bridgewater showed his strengths (and weaknesses) in the Louisville win over Rutgers.
Play #1 – Confidence in Offense, Wise Decision Making
This first play actually isn’t of Bridgewater throwing, but his decision to not force the ball downfield. While he had an interception in this game (next play), and almost another due to a miscommunication, Bridgewater is known for a high football IQ and trusting in himself and his offense to “live to play another down” and make a player later instead of forcing a throw downfield.
In this play, you’ll see Teddy work to his left. Downfield, he has a one-on-one match-up with his receiver running vertically to his side and a safety picking him up. Instead of over-trusting his arm strength to test vertically, Bridgewater runs for a first down that’s opened by the defense’s vertical coverage. Again, not sexy, but it’s Bridgewater “taking what the defense is giving him”, and not forcing the ball unnecessarily.
Play #2 – Doesn’t Move Safety with Eyes Enough, Leads to Interception
A very un-Bridgewater-like throw, this play was easily his worst decision of the game. With Rutgers showing six rushers on the line of scrimmage (only four rush), Bridgewater sees that he’ll have man on the outside and just one single-high safety (Jeremy Deering, not shown initially). As you’ll see, he checks right side first, but only to attempt to move the deep safety away from the one-on-one match-up on his left side.
However, Bridgewater “rushes” his eye movement, the safety doesn’t bite at all the way Bridgewater expected, and it leads to an interception on a throw that very well could have been a touchdown had Deering not attacked on time.
Play #3 and #4 – Diagnosis Cover 2 Pre-Snap, Showcases Touch and Timing
The Rutgers defense ran a straight Cover 2 defense quite a bit in this match-up, something Louisville expected to see throughout the game and planned accordingly. Bridgewater’s combination of plus post-snap reads and ball placement vertically was enough to toast the Rutgers defense on multiple occasions with his eye movement.
On the first play below, Bridgewater immediately reads the Cover 2 shell, stares straight at the right-side safety, and watches his receiver burn him to the outside a double move, to which Bridgewater places a perfect ball for the corner-route touchdown.
And on the play below, Bridgewater reads the pressure pre-snap, understands he’s going to take a hit, but is patient as he waits for his receiver to get the separation he needs. On 3rd and 9, Bridgewater delivers a perfect throw to keep the drive going that eventually leads to a touchdown.
Play #5 – Adequate Mobility, Composure Under Pressure
And finally, this play is a testament again to Bridgewater’s composure under pressure, and his control on the move. Not the sexist of throws or footwork, Bridgewater uses the adequate (but not elite) running ability to escape right and find his receiver for a first down.
Bridgewater still has ample footwork issues to clean up, and his decision making isn’t perfect. But it’s his confidence, composure, and elite accuracy that likely had all 26 teams in attendance impressed after the game finished.
As far as a prospect, Bridgewater will likely end the season (and his college career), as one of the top three quarterback prospects I’ve graded in the past ten years. With Andrew Luck the best of the three (and Phillip Rivers the other), that comparison alone will get NFL teams excited for his NFL future, especially the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are the odds on favorite to end up with Bridgewater in my mind (whether or not they have the first overall pick).
But no matter who gets “Teddy Big Game” during the 2014 season, Bridgewater has shown enough in his career and this year so far that he’s very much worthy of being the top quarterback in this class. And likely the top player selected overall come draft day.