As we prepare for the 2013 college football season, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is emerging as the heavy favorite to be the top available quarterback prospect eligible for the 2014 NFL draft.
So let's take a look at a few of Bridgewater's attributes which have caught the attention of the draft experts and make him one of the elite prospects at this very early stage of the evaluation process.
As NFL offenses continue to evolve, mobile quarterbacks are becoming a hot commodity. The early successes of Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaenernick are challenging conventional wisdom when it comes to evaluating signal-callers.
Bridgewater is more than just your average athletic quarterback, however. The NFL has seen plenty of elite scramblers fail to excel at the next level. The ones that make it are the ones that can use their athleticism as a supplement to their standard quarterbacking duties, which is an area in which Bridgewater already excels.
Rarely does Bridgewater bolt from the pocket at the first sign of pressure. His first move, when possible, is to maneuver within the pocket to buy himself some time. When forced to roll out, he consistently keeps his eyes downfield and only takes off running when it is clearly his best option.
While Bridgewater doesn't showcase his athleticism often, he does have the skill set to run a read-option in the NFL. His combination of athleticism and skills within the pocket compares favorably to Griffin and, assuming he continues to develop during his junior year, should earn him similar grades during the evaluation process.
Cool Under Pressure
It's tough to teach a young quarterback to stand tall in the pocket, especially when he possesses the athleticism to easily outrun a closing defensive lineman. Yet Bridgewater is already willing to stand in the pocket and fire the ball down the field with linemen barreling towards him.
Bridgewater's toughness stood out throughout Lousville's upset of Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. In the play featured below, Bridgewater clearly sees Florida lineman Dominique Easley (No. 2) closing fast, but stands in the pocket and fires a strike for a first down on 3rd-and-14.
An underrated aspect of the evaluation process is watching how the prospect has developed over the course of his career.
Take Landry Jones for example. After experiencing immediate success at Oklahoma, Jones was viewed as a potential future first-round selection. But after four years as the Sooners’ starter, he had shown only marginal improvements from his freshman to senior year. This was cause for concern, and factored into his slide to the third day of the 2013 NFL draft.
Bridgewater, on the other hand, improved by leaps and bounds from his freshman to sophomore year at Louisville.
At this stage of the process, due to his status as an underclassman, scouts have limited insight into his work ethic and leadership skills because they are only allowed to openly scout and ask questions about seniors. But when a player makes obvious adjustments in his game from one year to the next, it speaks volumes about how he spent his offseason and his ability to accept coaching and implement changes.
Ultimately Bridgewater needs to follow up his impressive sophomore campaign with a strong performance in 2013 in order to solidify his spot atop draft boards.
He isn't the next Andrew Luck and shouldn't be considered a sure thing at this stage of the process. But all the tools are there and his early success may only be a sign of things to come.