I am an NFL writer first and foremost. I spend most of my time watching tape of NFL players because my job is to ignore the narrative and find specific evidence to support any claims. Because my NFL work takes up almost all of my time, I don’t get much time to pay attention to the college game. Over the last few years, I have relied on a number of very talented draft experts to help inform me of incoming prospects, but this year I’m going to try and do some of my own analysis during the NFL season.
Because I am limited for time, I am going to focus on players who are all but guaranteed to be drafted in the first round.
For that reason, I will start with soon to be 21-year-old Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater appears to be the consensus top quarterback and the prospective number one pick next year despite the talent of Jadeveon Clowney. Bridgewater is one of the few college players who I become familiar with before his final season. Last year, while casually watching Louisville’s bowl game against Florida, it was impossible to ignore what he did on the field.
However, for this analysis, I watched each of Bridgewater’s 2013 games and ignored any previous thoughts that had come to me from the 2012 season.
Scouting reports typically start with strengths, but I’d rather touch on Bridgewater’s weaknesses before touching on his strengths because those strengths are far more prevalent in his game.
From a sheer technical standpoint, Bridgewater’s deep ball is the only flaw in his game. He missed too many throws down the field when his receiver had escaped the attention of the cornerback and he was throwing from a clean pocket. In the NFL, deep accuracy can be compensated for with bigger, more athletic wide receivers, but he also won’t be able to get away with leaving points on the field and will be more susceptible to turnovers against faster, more physical cornerbacks. This is the main area where Bridgewater needs to improve.
Outside of his need to improve throwing the ball deep down the field, the only other issue with Bridgewater is his inconsistency throwing the football. He has no notable flaws in terms of diagnosing defenses, decision-making or setting himself up to throw, but there were many throws that were simply inaccurate for no real reason. If he simply didn’t have the ability to throw accurate passes, this would be a major problem, but because he also threw many perfect passes into tight windows it’s more about finding consistency.
A recent report pointed to concerns about the size of Bridgewater’s hands. This could be a reason why he is missing throws, but he also could just be inconsistent because he is still a developing player. Understanding that Bridgewater isn’t Andrew Luck doesn’t mean that he can’t someday catch up to him, but if he wants to, his inconsistency throwing the ball needs to be a result of his relative youth rather than the size of his hands.
It may seem like very high praise, but many of Bridgewater’s traits remind me of Peyton Manning. Obviously Manning is doing it at a different level and doesn’t have the notable weaknesses from above, but his ability to set up throws is incredible.
If you concentrate on everything leading up to the actual throw on each play, you find that he can consistently keep his eyes downfield while recognizing and avoiding pressure. Teams consistently threw disguised coverages and blitzes at Bridgewater, but rarely ever was he unable to immediately diagnose the play and make the right decision. His eyes don’t drop under pressure and he can throw with a hand in his face or an unclean pocket. While he is very good at moving to avoid pressure, he doesn’t force throws on the move. Instead, he keeps his poise and uses his quick feet to reset himself and throw from a strong base.
On this play, the defense is threatening to blitz before the snap with two of their linebackers. They have three defensive linemen, with off coverage outside and one defender closer to the line of scrimmage over the slot receiver. Only the middle linebacker for the defense isn’t threatening to come after the quarterback at the snap.
At the snap, the middle linebacker attacks the right guard, while the left outside linebacker drops into coverage with the tight end who releases into the flat. The left defensive end drops into the spot that the middle linebacker left, while the right outside linebacker comes from the other side with the other two defensive linemen. Despite all of the movement, the defense only rushes four players.
Bridgewater understands that he has five offensive linemen and a running back who will stay into block, so he can hold onto the ball and trust that his pass protection holds up.
As Bridgewater gets the ball, he immediately looks to the left side of the field to scan the coverage and find out if either of his receivers are going to come free. His eyes don’t linger too long on that side of the field, before he begins to scan the rest of the defense. However, while he is scanning the defense, he subtly sidesteps away from the incoming pressure on his blindside. As quick as he has moved away from the pressure, he has reset his feet to put him in a position to throw the ball down the field.
After scanning the defense, Bridgewater is able to locate a receiver down the sideline. As he releases the ball, the defensive lineman jumps into the air to break his line of sight. Bridgewater is still able to fit the ball over the defensive back for the big play down the field.
Scanning the defense while moving in the pocket is something Bridgewater does better than any young quarterback I’ve ever watched. While the game may move quicker at the professional level and there are more complex defenses, his level of poise and comfort is something that eclipses most of the young quarterbacks who have played in the NFL in recent years.
This isn’t just a rare occurrence either. Avoiding pressure, keeping his feet under him and scanning the defense at the same time is a trait that permeates through almost every play of Bridgewater’s. It reflects his balance, intelligence and athleticism rolled into one and is very reminiscent of what Peyton Manning does on the next level.
When he is forced to throw under pressure, he is well able to do it.
While the young pro prospect needs to develop more consistency as a passer, there are many throws that show off his touch, velocity, strength and ability to throw receivers open with his anticipation. While you’re not drafting an immediate star such as Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck, you are drafting a player who has already plays the quarterback position to a very high level.
Bridgewater needs to be refined, but the talent is obvious for all to see.
In terms of sheer athleticism, Bridgewater is more of a Tony Romo than a Robert Griffin III. He has plenty of escapability and can take advantage of open grass in front of him to convert long third downs, but he won’t be consistently making defenders miss and breaking off big runs at any level.
Instead of being an athlete who makes plays with his feet, Bridgewater’s athleticism reveals itself when he is passing the ball. He is exceptionally quick dropping back to pass, he strafes comfortably in the pocket and has the arm strength to throw the ball down the field, across his body while running at speed outside of the pocket.
There are some concerns over Bridgewater’s size. His durability will need to be proved on the next level, but he should be able to bulk up more on a professional diet and he has taken many big hits during his spell at Louisville without being affected aversely.
Images in this article were taken from videos provided by www.draftbreakdown.com