When it comes to the 2014 NFL draft, no quarterback has been receiving as much hype and attention as Louisville Cardinals field general Teddy Bridgewater. He's one of the best pocket passers in recent memory, but due to Louisville's lackluster schedule in the American Athletic Conference, there is reason to be unconvinced.
Look for Bridgewater to dazzle NFL scouts and Heisman voters against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on national television and put an end to the doubt.
Louisville has the benefit of playing in multiple Thursday and Friday night football games, and Week 7 is no exception. Unfortunately for Bridgewater, the level of competition that he faces isn't quite the make-or-break kind.
Even still, NFL scouts will be out in full force on Thursday night.
At least 26 NFL scouts, including 3 from Jacksonville, expected to watch Teddy Bridgewater at UofL-Rutgers Thursday. http://t.co/Jrcv3HyvKL— WDRB News (@WDRBNews) October 9, 2013
Per Rick Bozich of WDRB News, the current number of scouts is 26 from 20 teams, including Jacksonville Jaguars general manager David Caldwell.
In a draft class that has seen few quarterbacks rise up as potential franchise players, Bridgewater's name has been consistently referenced. That's not a surprising fact considering Bridgewater has thrown for 43 touchdowns to just nine interceptions in his past 18 games.
If he's to maintain his high draft stock, Bridgewater will need to continue that consistently brilliant play throughout the season. Unlike other players who have used postseason events to shine, Bridgewater isn't eligible for one of the biggest games of all: the Senior Bowl.
That's life for a third-year junior.
While nation's eyes will be on Rutgers @ Louisville, remember QB Teddy Bridgewater is only 3rd year JR, so not eligible for @seniorbowl.— Phil Savage (@SeniorBowlPhil) October 10, 2013
Every game places a heavy amount of pressure on Bridgewater's NFL future, but don't think that'll be too much for him to handle.
Over the course of the past two seasons, the Cardinals' quarterback has developed into, arguably, the best pocket passer in college football. Whether against lackluster in-conference competition or the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl, he's been magnificent.
All in all, it's been so far, so good.
So Far, So Good
For all that's been made about the level of competition he's faced, Bridgewater is playing as well as anyone possibly could. Through five games, Bridgewater has 1,562 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and one interception on a completion percentage of 71.7.
Most impressively, he's posting these extraordinary numbers in games that he rarely plays a full four quarters.
Is Teddy Bridgewater the best quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft class?
This isn't a fluke, as Bridgewater threw for 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions on a completion percentage of 68.5 in 2012. That level of consistency is what created his Heisman and NFL hype, and in 2013, he's done nothing but back it up.
As we all know, however, college quarterbacks who post monster numbers aren't guaranteed to experience NFL success. Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Carson Palmer may have won the Heisman Trophy, but so did Eric Crouch, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith, Tim Tebow, Chris Weinke and Jason White.
It cannot be stressed enough: Elite college quarterback play doesn't often translate to the NFL level.
The key for Bridgewater are the intangibles, as he stands at 6'3" and 196 pounds with NFL-caliber instincts. He plays in a pro-style offense, sees the entire field when he drops back, has the arm strength to make deep throws, the accuracy to find any receiver at any time and the elusiveness to stretch the pocket.
On Thursday, when Louisville plays Rutgers, every one of those skills will be placed on full display.
What He Needs to Do
Over the course of the next two weeks, Bridgewater and Louisville will play the two most significant games of their season. After playing the 4-1 Scarlet Knights on national television, Louisville will return to ESPN with a game against the 4-1 UCF Knights on Friday, Oct. 18.
Bridgewater needs to put on performances to remember in both of those games. And he will.
Which player should be the No. 1 overall draft choice in 2014?
Rutgers may not be a high-profile opponent, but it does own a 28-24 win over SEC foe Arkansas and lost its only game by a count of 52-51 in overtime against No. 21 Fresno State Bulldogs. Perhaps more significantly, Rutgers has a quarterback in Gary Nova who has 13 touchdowns to four interceptions.
If we've learned anything from Bridgewater, it's that he knows how to shine under pressure.
The following week, the Cardinals will face a UCF team that lost 28-25 to the No. 14 South Carolina Gamecocks. The fast-rising Knights are more than capable of pulling out the upset with an opportunistic defense and a star quarterback in Blake Bortles, who has 34 touchdowns to 10 interceptions since 2012.
For Bridgewater to remain a legitimate Heisman Trophy and No. 1 overall draft choice contender, he'll need to be at his best.
It appears to be understood that Bridgewater has NFL potential, but the conversation is now whether or not he's worth the No. 1 overall draft choice. Comparing him to Jadeveon Clowney is one conversation, but before scouts get that far, it's all about understanding what Bridgewater can and can't do.
Expect all 26 reported scout attendees to be impressed on Thursday Night Football.