While it may seem boring to start with the preseason favorite, I’ll be working on a scouting report for every quarterback worth scouting in the NFL draft and it makes sense to use one that has seemingly been falling mock after mock.
It’s difficult to write about Bridgewater without repeating everything that has already been said about the until-recently top prospect. Regardless, it’s important to lay it all out on the table. For the most part, I think it’s useful to break down each skill by skill set, and I hope to do this for every quarterback to make the comparisons easy. Hopefully, this can provide some context for every quarterback when I continue to discuss them.
For the most part, comparisons (unless otherwise noted) will be against NFL starting quarterbacks; so “average” for a particular trait will generally be in reference to the average skill quality of those players who are starting in the NFL.
Accuracy: Accuracy is more difficult to judge for quarterbacks than some may imagine. Completion percentage has increasingly turned out to be a poor indicator of accuracy, often subject to system bias more than quarterback ability. With that, there are different types of accuracy—pocket accuracy throwing short, intermediate and deep as well as accuracy on the run. The definition of accuracy doesn’t usually get discussed, but here can mean not just the ability to get the ball to the receivers (on time), but put in a place that enables receivers both to make for a catchable, safe ball and to create yards after contact.
Completion percentage is often a good measure of the combined effects of a quarterback’s ability, the offensive system, the receiver’s ability and the talent of an opposing defense. “Accuracy,” ideally is only a measure of a quarterback’s ability. The very best throws to look at are the ones where the receiver seems covered and the defense for whatever reason has anticipated the throw. At that point, the “strength of schedule” rarely matters, because a physical body that can block the ball is the same, regardless of the uniform it’s in.
To that effect, Bridgewater is the star of the class. I would go so far as to argue that there has not been a college prospect with his high level of accuracy in years (which is not to say he’s the best prospect in years, but it stands out). Bridgewater is sometimes criticized for not having a “wow” factor, but to me this is it.
His ability to throw on the run is nearly unparalleled (certainly not in this group of quarterbacks), and he can do it running to his dominant and nondominant sides. He can make accurate throws in nearly every situation at nearly every distance (save for particular types of deep passes, which I will address in a moment).
In nearly every 5-yard sample (and every 15-yard sample aside from 30-44, and 35+), Bridgewater beat the average of the eight college quarterback prospects I have data for. He had the highest rate of accurately thrown passes of the quarterbacks I published passing data for a few weeks ago in the following five-yard samples: 0-4 yards, 5-9 yards, 10-14 yards and 20-24 yards.
Bridgewater consistently puts the ball where only his receiver can get it, anticipates receivers getting open and can do this at nearly every distance.
Delivery: Encompassing more than simply a “perfect throwing motion,” delivery is a concept that drives at the warning signs for how a quarterback throws the ball in any situation. It speaks to how integrated the quarterbacks’ skill set is, how natural the quarterback can throw when put in tough spots and whether or not they can adjust their throws to the situation.
Quarterbacks should have a quick release with a compact motion and be able to throw from a variety of platforms. They should have quick feet and square themselves to the target.
I am no expert at assessing or correcting the delivery mechanics of a quarterback, and so I’ll focus on the broader more obvious issues and let the more nuanced evaluators have their day.
In a scouting report full of superlatives, it should be noted that Bridgewater’s mechanics aren’t perfect by any means, but a quarterbacks coach would have no issue putting his tape on as an example to his students. He consistently drives the ball forward and transfers his weight to accelerate the ball.
He’ll improvise as necessary, throwing sidearm, three-quarters or over-the-top when needed and can do so with comfort. On the run, he has the intuitive sense to square his shoulders before throwing and has a natural feel for the kinds of things coaches continue to stress when it comes to quarterbacking: you throw with your entire body. He knows that his footwork, torque and carriage all contribute to the throw and so doesn’t revert to mere arm throws when put under duress—it’s not complete that way.
There are occasions where he’ll lean back as he throws, killing the effect of stepping up and reducing the consistency and speed of the ball coming out, but they are rare enough (except, again, on those deep throws) that it’s not a real concern. The fact that he maintains excellent mechanics when put under pressure is more than enough to indicate that his mechanics won’t degrade.
He dropped back often and his footwork is excellent, providing the consistent timing and foundation for his throws. It’s unusual, but because there were issues giving up pressure from his offensive line, Bridgewater would always start games from under center, then be moved to pistol and shotgun looks while still maintaining the same 3-, 5- and even 7-step drops, making for throws from really deep in the backfield. Because the timing element was so important in his West Coast variant (Basically the Callahan offense that Rich Gannon did well in), they kept the drops but would move him back.
Pocket Presence: One of the more nebulous scouting terms, this is a phrase that has lost meaning in its general ambiguity. Some refer to it as if it meant “poise,” while others use it to determine how well a quarterback senses pressure. For me, it is the ability to bring together several distinct skills that all have to do with a collapsing pocket or the potential for imminent pressure. That means the ability to sense pressure from the edge and interior, the ability to manage that pressure, the ability to avoid that pressure and the willingness to take hits as the game goes on without degrading or reacting before it arrives.
Naturally stepping up in the pocket in response to edge pressure is important, as is sidestepping interior pressure. In that capacity, Bridgewater is talented and he has a feel for when rushers are coming and from where. More impressive is how he deals with it. He doesn’t panic in response, and is willing to make the subtle moves that keep statues like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning upright if need be. More importantly, he keeps his eyes downfield—he negotiates with the problem of pressure, but he doesn’t let it dictate his response.
For some quarterbacks the threat of being hit will begin to consume them, and dominate their game. Some quarterbacks can do well in spite of that, though it’s rare. Instead, treating it like one of many obstacles—a skill Teddy has—allows the quarterback to take the time to do well and keep structure within the offense.
This is related to his willingness to take necessary hits, where he gives himself enough time to throw the ball and complete his followthrough, taking a hit in the process. He can avoid pressure with small moves or big moves, and he uses his ability to throw on the run to his advantage, keeping the play going as he flushes out of the pocket.
In any of the individual skills associated with pocket presence, Bridgewater is probably not elite from an NFL perspective. But the combined skill set is extremely important, and in terms of checking off all the boxes, he’s one of the rare few. Definitely the best pocket presence in the class, and more than capable of finding different and effective ways to stop opposing defenses from changing his play.
Ball Velocity: It’s easy to call this category “arm strength,” but I think it’s more important to see not just the physical tools a player has but the capability to use them appropriately. Arm strength doesn’t just allow a quarterback to throw deep, but also to throw in tight windows. It creates consistency when a quarterback has questionable mechanics and allows the passer to get away with throws he would otherwise be ill-advised to make. Sometimes this means throwing on the run, while at other times it means making a the decision to throw against an unfavorable defensive look.
Quarterbacks also need touch, and should make sure that the ball arrives with catchable speed. Slant routes at 60 miles per hour aren’t great and forcing your receivers to tip the ball will lead to interceptions.
To that end, Bridgewater is an above average quarterback, and he’s certainly underrated in this respect. It’s true that his deep ball tends to float, but his 15-25 yard passes are thrown on a rope and he is such a successful passer on the move. It also contributes to his accuracy and willingness to throw into tight windows, where he can put the ball exactly where it needs to be with the precise speed it needs to avoid defenders and create yards after contact.
He needs to consistently transfer his weight into his deep throws in order to make sure they don’t arc tantalizingly for defenders to snag it, but he certainly can sling it when he needs to.
As for touch, he certainly has it. He seamlessly changes the speed of his throws based on the situation and seems to do it with no regard for his throwing platform, whether in a muddy pocket, a crowded throwing lane or on the move. Generally speaking, when a play breaks down or a passer has to get rid of the ball in a non-ideal situation, they revert to a consistent ball velocity that they’re used to throwing, but Bridgewater varies the speed of those throws despite often having less than half a second to assess how quickly the ball should move.
Field Sense: I only use this term as a way to combine the ability to read defenses, make adjustments and make good, quick decisions with the ball. A player who has a poor ability to read defenses will generally make poor decisions, but a player who can read defenses well will not necessarily make good decisions—an inflated sense of his or his teammates’ ability, for example, can lead to badly thrown balls. Moreover, it’s critical that quarterbacks not just make the right decision, but make that decision with intent and speed.
The amount of responsibility Teddy has in his offense is incredible. Effectively given the “keys to the car” as a sophomore, the Louisville quarterback is one of the most advanced players in college football. He has full authority at the line, from flipping plays to setting the protections.
Generally speaking, he won’t screw around with the called play unless he sees that it really won’t work against the defense as it presents itself. He does have that capability if he wants to, though and he can either move from the first play called in the huddle to the second or third (a hallmark of the Tom Moore system—calling multiple plays in the huddle—has become more and more popular in the NFL but still remains rare in college) or call a new play entirely.
Having an intuitive understanding of how the play will break down from an offensive and defensive perspective and a natural ability to use that to his advantage. There are a number of apocryphal stories about how quickly Bridgewater digests information to the point where it becomes second-hand, but perhaps the easiest one has been described by Greg Bedard of MMQB, who highlights an anecdote from when Bridgewater left high school early in order to win the starting job as a freshman at Louisville:
When Bridgewater got his first glimpse of Watson’s full-field progression offense, he had never seen anything like it. He was overwhelmed. So Watson told Bridgewater to start doodling: take a pad of formations, with just the offensive line printed, and draw the offense. Bridgewater recited a play and then drew it: receivers and routes, he’d identify the movement key (the defensive player they’re reading), what the progression off that movement key is, the alerts, depth of drop—every single detail.
Bridgewater quickly filled up a pad and was bored by it. He needed more competition—another pillar of Bridgewater’s being—so Bridgewater put the entire Louisville offense into his Xbox football game. Then he put in the game plans for each game and threw against the coverages he would see.
For a 17-year-old to instantly call up an entirely new system—effectively the same kind of process that allows humans to learn new languages—with near photographic accuracy and detail after a few weeks of learning is incredible.
The fact that he can do it during a game is what sets him apart, however. Knowing is great, but applying is key. He can use this knowledge to make small or large adjustments in order to create new advantages for his team. Bridgewater not only instantly recognizes coverages, but what route packages they’re weak to and how often they should be used in a game before they start to get stale.
He can also recognize tendencies to blitz and pressure packages to the point where he’ll call more complex protections than most quarterbacks are used to. Fans are becoming familiar with signal-callers identifying the “Mike” (usually middle linebacker, but in the context of protections refers to the fulcrum by which the blocking is assigned), but almost as important is calling types of protections to deal with stunts and twists—using a mix of man and slide protections in order to maximize time in the pocket. These are not just responsibilities he has, but ones he executes extremely well.
For some systems, this is extremely important. Last year, Tyler Wilson was the kind of quarterback who had a lot of physical and mental tools to get the job done. He was accurate, consistent and could throw the ball into tight windows or throw deep with a good trajectory. More often that not, he made the right decision. But Wilson was reportedly cut from the Raiders after they invested a fourth-round pick in him (a spot where it was already a bit odd for him to go) because he couldn’t learn protections quickly enough.
Bridgewater doesn’t just make the right decisions with the ball, but he makes them at the right speed. After the snap, many quarterbacks have a tendency to immediately attack the weakness of a defense. Other passers will wait too long in order to seek confirmation of what they see. Teddy won’t attack a defense until the narrow band of time where he won’t rush his throw but acts without hesitation.
This allows him to use other abilities to manipulate the defense and improve his chances, importantly using his eyes to move defenders around and create larger holes than there were before. This, combined with his ability to disguise his intentions, forces defenses to defend the entire field from the beginning of the snap to the end of the throw and makes zone defense in particular a challenge.
He knows when to throw the ball away, how not to force it and will judiciously use his checkdown options when need be (though he really doesn’t have “checkdowns” in the traditional sense). As an intuitive decisionmaker with good pace and the smarts to both absorb the complexities of an offense and read a defense, Bridgewater has some of the best field sense in the NCAA.
Scrambling/Running: Despite more than adequate athleticism as a scrambler, Bridgewater doesn’t shine here as he does in many other capacities. He’s a smart scrambler that can, again, avoid pressure and give himself the kind of space he needs, but he doesn’t carry the full range of scrambling abilities that many of the more exciting and increasingly effective athletic quarterbacks have. His running vision is adequate but he doesn’t use blockers well as a runner and underestimates the tackling angles of opposing defenders in the open field.
He can use his legs as a threat, but only on occasion unless given an extremely favorable system for it, like Nick Foles did in Philadelphia. The biggest concern is how terrible he is at sliding and protecting himself, and the option to use him as a runner really should be limited until he can get it fixed.
Bridgewater is a decent scrambler and has the tools to be a decent runner, but for now is more like what would happen if Peyton Manning was granted athleticism than a player like Russell Wilson or Johnny Manziel.
Intangibles: Like “pocket presence,” this term suffers from its ambiguity and in doing so can provide even more of a litmus test of an evaluator’s biases than an actual evaluation. Some evaluators will leave it off entirely, while others argue strongly to include it, especially for quarterbacks. I honestly have more sympathy for those who leave it off entirely than those who include it, but I include it here just to provide a complete picture.
I think in this case, it is most useful to describe the interactions of a quarterback and his teammates, and narrowly refer to leadership abilities instead of broadly referring to overall character. This still means I would include things like an infectious work ethic and other character traits, but only to the point where it affects on-field play.
There isn’t much people say about his leadership qualities, and that’s really a shame. He puts in much more time in the film room and at home when it comes to football and consumes it like a religion. His work ethic is unquestionable, and his desire to win has been contagious—constantly competing with his own teammates at everything and pushing them to compete with other teams as often as possible.
There may be a somewhat overrated story about Bridgewater pulling the plug on his own Heisman campaign in order to minimize distractions and focus on team play, but it’s still something one can point to when talking about the kind of player he is.
His toughness is inspiring and his will to play through any situation is the kind of encouraging lead-by-example leadership that NFL Films loves to gush about.
He’s not the kind of charismatic leader that some others are and he doesn’t have a particularly great way with words. But his intangibles are still a great asset, even if he’s not Russell Wilson.
Primary concerns: For me, Bridgewater has three primary concerns, but some will add a fourth: 1) Deep passing, 2) Build, 3) Hand size, 4) Strength of schedule.
Anyone who has been paying attention to Bridgewater or quarterback draft analysis in general knows that he has issues with throwing it deep. It is difficult to properly contextualize—in some ways it is hard to overstate the problem, while in other ways it is necessary to downplay it.
Bridgewater’s misses are so enormous and obvious that if you put together a cutup of all of his deep passes and showed that to evaluators around the league, they’d laugh. It’s almost nauseating.
When people say he has a “problem” with deep passes, think of it as the way an addict has a “problem” instead of the way a student has a “problem” figuring out Shakespeare. His misses passing deep are humongous and by a wide margin.
On the other hand, quarterbacks so rarely need to pass the ball beyond 35 yards that it really is a small part of the game. Pro Football Focus’ advanced statistical tracking reveals that quarterbacks only passed beyond 20 yards 11 percent of the time in 2013 and my general tracking found that almost half of those 20+ yard passes are between 20 and 25 yards. Generously, one can assume that 3-4 percent of passes actually have a target depth beyond 35 yards—which comes out to one pass a game on average.
There are clear issues, but they are more complicated than merely being bad at it. As Sigmund Bloom and Matt Waldman of FootballGuys have pointed out more than once, Bridgewater’s issues in the deep game come from two things: first, he specifically has issues with routes that don’t have a break or timing element to throw open the receiver.
Second, the progression of his offense at Louisville was unique; he would make reads from the shorter routes up instead of the other way around, making the deep threat his “safety valve” and third option overall. When his presnap read determines that the side with the lone receiver running a deep route is the first in his progression, he is as accurate as anywhere else.
Kyle Posey at Draft Chargers makes the case compellingly, and offers a few examples to support the argument (two of which are below). When the deep ball is his first read, he’s spot on. Otherwise, he’s inaccurate.
There are a few reasons this is so significant. The third read in the progression rarely follows the timing elements you find in your first or possibly second read (depending on how long you spent determining whether or not the first read was open) and is often done while the pocket is collapsing and the quarterback needs to get rid of the ball.
There is no hitch step or comfort moment for the third read in the progression as there is in the first, and quarterbacks often throw to spots instead of players as a result. Quarterbacks tend to be significantly less accurate later in their progressions, but it tends to be more high-profile when it happens on a deep pass than a short game, especially as he doesn’t have time to set in order to throw. It is significantly more difficult to throw short-to-deep or deep-to-short.
It is sort of fascinating to see Bridgewater’s mechanics change when throwing deep, but they certainly do. This sort of thing is much more easily correctable than other bad habits that quarterbacks are asked to fix and shouldn’t be a concern going forward.
As for his build, there’s somewhat of a lost history when it comes to his weight and height. For the most part, his build really isn’t much of a concern, especially as he can avoid taking hits very well and has shown incredible durability otherwise. Beyond that, he actually did play a full season at 220 pounds as a sophomore before jaw surgery and forced weight loss in the offseason. By the time he could eat normally again, there was not enough time before the season started to truly bulk up.
Given a real offseason with a nutritionist, this issue should go away and hopefully die.
His Pro Day revealed the importance of routine and also magnified concerns about his hand size that quieted down after measurements at the Combine proved them adequate. Like height, hand size seems to be a silly sticking point for evaluators, but it nevertheless matters. When Jon Gruden asked Johnny Manziel to throw footballs without laces, he was effectively giving Manziel a platform to prove that one’s hands really do matter.
They create a different type of consistency and are useful when it comes to ball handling, consistent trajectory and adaptability. Bridgewater’s hands are large enough, but I don’t think he’ll be playing without a glove any time soon. The fact that he threw at the Pro Day without the glove and did poorly is a real concern, and some people have become too cavalier about dismissing it entirely. But it should be resolved when Bridgewater performs in private workouts and throws like he’s learned to: with a glove.
As for his level of competition, it’s a red herring. There are a number of games where Bridgewater went up against stout defenses and performed admirably. The most notable games are his 2012 Sugar Bowl game and his 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl performance, against Florida and Miami respectively. He performed admirably in both of them.
It should also be noted that evaluators can parse out the types of looks and difficult throws that good defenses can provide, from tight windows to complex reads to quarterback pressure. It’s a far easier thing to correct than people seem to think and there are a number of successful quarterbacks who didn’t have stellar opposing schedules in college and have had success in the NFL. In all honesty, strength-of-schedule is something that helps determines the usefulness of comparing statistics or teams, not the ability to evaluate individual technical skills that one can break down.
Also, if you adjusted his passing statistics for the strength of opposing defense, he’d still come out with the 16th-ranked passing offense in the FBS.
Conclusion: Bridgewater is by far the best quarterback in the class, and it’s not particularly close. There are very few systems he wouldn’t succeed in, and talk of his fall is both baffling and frustrating. Should he fall to number eight for the Vikings and they pass on him, I’ll be beyond bitter.
As it is, I still think he won’t fall past Jacksonville.
Up next: Johnny Manziel.