Man, this delayed draft sucks.
It sucks for everybody. Fans and analysts alike over-analyze players that haven't played games in months. It sucks for the analysts, because they get paid to have something new to say. Nobody cares about Kiper or McShay if they keep their draft board the same all the way through the pre-draft process. Thus, the concept of draft stock is born. We somehow get players becoming better or worse without playing football. We get Johnny Manziel moving back and forth between the number one pick overall and the third round. To be honest, it's insane. Football players aren't being evaluated on playing football. The moved back draft only exacerbates this problem. There's more and more time to scrutinize players by front offices as well as analysts. It's a bunch of draft guys thinking in circles and trying to outsmart each other.
Nobody's been victimized by this process more than Teddy Bridgewater. From the favorite for the number 1 overall pick to a second to third round pick. Everyone has a different idea of what exactly caused this fall, but from my perspective, it came from a bad pro day and a sub-par Wonderlic score. In Mayock's eyes, Bridgewater went from the best QB in the draft to the 5th best because of a bad pro day. To me, this seems ridiculous. Why is tape from 3 years of real football discarded in favor of a glorified practice?
I'm writing this in response to some of the criticism leveled against Bridgewater. I believe that he is (still) the best quarterback in this draft, and he has the ability to develop into a very good NFL starter. What follows is an analysis of a few plays by Bridgewater in order to show what he can/can't do, as well as to address some of the criticism.
Anyway, here we go.
For the first play, I decided to show a quick hitter to the slot receiver in the game against Miami. The incredibly impressive thing about this is his timing. He has to wait for the OLB to run past the receiver on the slant, but has to fit it in before the MLB gets there, all the while throwing it in front of the receiver to avoid the CB. He fits it in a tiny window while showing patience and awareness. The second impressive thing he does on this play is to first look off the MLB. He effectively freezes the MLB, which allows him to keep the window open long enough to get the pass in.
This play isn't neat and pretty like the first one, but it's very effective. As he makes his drop, he stares down the TE on the left, moving the safety to the left side of the field. He hits the end of his drop, hitches forward to avoid the edge rusher, and delivers the ball to his receiver in the end zone. Though it might not be a drop-in-the-bucket type of over the shoulder pass, Bridgewater puts it where his receiver can catch it. Props to the receiver for boxing the CB out, but it took a good throw to get it there with no pick.
This play is one of the best displays of improvising I've ever seen in a quarterback, NFL or college. He makes his drop and at the peak of his drop, he notices the NT shedding the center and coming for him up the middle. He then scrambles back and to the left, changes direction, and floats an absolutely beautiful pass that goes about 30 yards in the air and comes down in the hands of a well covered receiver. He makes that pass on the run without stopping to set his feet. This play is more impressive to me than Manziel's shenanigans against Alabama, just because Bridgewater didn't have the giant that is Mike Evans as a target. There's not much more to say about this one. Just watch it. This play isn't an anomaly either. For more examples of Bridgewater improvising just as well as everybody's favorite A&M QB, go back and watch the first few minutes of the Miami game.
Yet another example of Bridgewater looking off the safety and delivering a great pass. This one just happens to be in the corner of the end zone. He has a little bit of pressure in his face as he throws too. A pattern seems to be developing of Bridgewater looking off defenders. It shows patience, trust in the receivers, and great knowledge of the plays.
Here's a problem throw. In my analysis of Bridgewater, I've found deep ball overthrows to be somewhat common. In this particular instance (and in most others), he just doesn't have his feet going right for the deep ball to work for him. As he hits the end of his drop, he notices the TE pass the defender covering him up the right side. He hitches twice very quickly and overthrows the receiver. He most likely rushes his footwork here in order to fit the pass in before the safety gets there, but it creates a rushed, off target throw. I believe this can be fixed. The problem isn't with arm strength, but with footwork.
Here's another failed deep ball. In this case, he just takes too long to throw the ball. He hits the end of his drop and hitches four times before actually releasing the ball. He then easily puts the ball 50 yards in the air (arm strength?). My guess is that he was going for a one on one jump ball situation, but had Bridgewater anticipated better, he could have put it over the shoulder. From the point that he threw the ball, he would have had to put the ball out of the end zone in order to lead the receiver enough. This throw is interesting to me, because the lack of anticipation doesn't show up anywhere in his game other than the deep ball. For that reason, it doesn't worry me as much as it might if he didn't show anticipation on other routes.
One more throw, this time against Rutgers. This throw follows the formula of many of his other throws. The defense is in zone, Bridgewater freezes multiple defenders by staring down the out route on the right, and then he chucks it 30 yards to an open receiver. This to me is a schematic advantage. Bridgewater saw the single high safety with zone coverage and made the corner choose between the deep route and the out.
While I obviously can't go through every snap Bridgewater took this year in a fanpost, I hope this gives a little insight into the pros and cons of his game. As I see them in his tape:
Patient, very accurate on short and mid range throws, knowledgeable, calm under pressure, good at reading defenses, athletic, great at evading pressure, and fantastic at throwing on the run.
Issues throwing the deep ball. Footwork isn't perfect, especially on deep balls. Good at throwing with touch, but doesn't always do it on sideline throws.
In this section, I'm giving my answers to common questions about Bridgewater's game (or sometimes, something other than his game).
Q: Bridgewater played in a weak conference against bad teams. Should he be rated lower because of the lower talent level of the teams he faced?
A: The ability to play quarterback isn't limited by strength of schedule. If QBs who played the best competition were the best players, we would see much more than 1 elite NFL QB from the SEC in the past 20 years. Lack of high level competition doesn't change the ability of a QB to make accurate throws or read defenses. Oh, and Bridgewater's best two games of his college career were in bowl games against Miami and Florida (the two best teams he played).
Q: Bridgewater scored a 20 on his Wonderlic test. Shouldn't intelligence factor into playing QB? And at the very least, shouldn't he have studied for a test he knew he had to take?
A: The Wonderlic test was developed to measure skills in math and logic in 1936. At that point, Freud was still alive, and people were bought into his long since antiquated views on psychology. My point is that times change, and along with it, the way intelligence is viewed has changed. It was originally adopted by the US Navy during WWII to evaluate fighter pilots. While being able to do mathematical calculations mentally in the field is important for pilots, the correlation to playing football is weak. As for the notion that he should have studied harder, I personally have bombed tests that I've studied for extensively. Studying doesn't guarantee anything. But all that being said, I'd much rather he was practicing football than studying for a football-irrelevant test. Bridgewater shows his intelligence through his play on the field.
Q: That pro day sucked. Isn't that a problem?
A: To answer that question, I'd like to point to Cam Newton. His pro day sucked too. It also hasn't held him back at all playing in the NFL. To use an out-of-game workout to define a prospect is to deny what they will actually do while playing in the league. To me, anything done in shorts is worth a fraction of a percent of the actual tape. Pro days aren't football. Football is football.
Q: Bridgewater has a weak arm/small hands/small knees/height problems/weight problems/small elbows/girly ankles. Does he really have the physical tools to play QB in the NFL?
A: All these issues seem like severe over-analyses. Drew Brees and Russell Wilson are shorter than Bridgewater. Tom Brady never had a cannon for an arm, and Peyton Manning sure doesn't have anything resembling that now. Brady didn't even look like a college football player coming into the league in terms of weight and body composition. Know who else has "small hands"? Our very own Alex Smith. The small knees thing I'm not addressing because it's remarkably stupid. These are all severe nitpicking on things that might matter but probably won't. When people start to fall in love with physical characteristics, you get Gabbert. This is also why Tom Savage is soaring up draft boards at the moment. Get back to me in a couple years and we'll revisit where he is as a rocket armed giant of a man (who can't really play QB effectively).
I believe Bridgewater has the ability to be a VERY good quarterback in the NFL, and I believe that he's a victim of the constant media and front office scrutiny of the unreliable pre-draft process. He's not without his issues, but I rarely hear much legitimate criticism against him, critics opting instead for rhetoric about non-football activities. Only time will tell, but I wouldn't have any problem with Teddy Bridgewater leading my team.