Louisville Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has a problem.
Should he return to school, where he'll be a local and national star, a Heisman Trophy candidate and in the race for the national title? Or should he head off to the NFL draft, where he'll almost surely be a top-five pick?
That's a pretty nice problem to have, huh?
It is a debate that the Louisville junior has been considering all season long, but one he'll wait to make until after Louisville's Russell Athletic Bowl tilt with Miami (Fla.), as he told The Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer:
At the beginning of this season, I knew I had a decision to make. I wanted to make it through this season first and then take care of what’s down the road.
When you have your priorities in order and you know what you want to accomplish, it’s not difficult at all.
But I still have one more game to play this season.
While the answer to that parley might already be made, no decision has been announced one way or another by Bridgewater and won't be until after the Cardinals close out their 2013 campaign.
Until then, we'll take a look at some of the reasons why he should go pro, as well as a few reasons why coming back to Louisville would be beneficial.
Will Probably Be a Top-5 Pick
Bridgewater is almost as close to a lock to be a top-five pick as possible.
Even if he returns and has an incredible senior season, his stock can't improve all that much.
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller recently projected the Louisville signal-caller to be the first quarterback off the board at pick No. 4. Other draft pundits see him going even higher.
With plenty of talk swirling around the star junior, it appears as though he might be taking notice at just how high his stock is for this draft. He pressed the enter key on a cryptic tweet last Friday, which could be taken to indicate that he'll be heading toward the personal glory of being a top pick in May.
It's a tough decision that Bridgewater is mulling: Return to the school he loves, or head to the NFL. But a sure top-five landing spot makes the decision easier.
No Risk of Injury or Poor Season
One of the chief concerns for any highly touted NFL prospect is injury. Whenever a player decides to return to college, he runs the risk of suffering an injury that will jeopardize his professional career.
The Miami native has some history with injury in the past, including a broken wrist and sprained ankle in 2012. At 6'3", 205 pounds, Bridgewater isn't exactly a towering, durable quarterback, making the risk of injury apparent.
Bridgewater might still be the country's most coveted quarterback prospect a year from now were he to return for his senior season at Louisville. But with his diploma already in hand, with his draft stock screaming "sell," and with career-ending concussions becoming increasingly common in football, Bridgewater would be almost foolish to tempt fate.
Today, Bridgewater has a good head on his shoulders. The problem with playing quarterback is that you can't always count on tomorrow.
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The tomorrow is the biggest concern for all prospects in Teddy's shoes, but might be even more for the UL field general. As the Cardinals head to the ACC, Bridgewater will no longer take on soft AAC foes and runs the risk of actually regressing next year.
While his stock really has no room to rise, it has plenty of room to fall, whether that happens due to injury or a new environment.
Could Find Success on a Talented Texans Team
With the Houston Texans heading into their final game with an NFL-worst record of 2-13, they'll likely take the No. 1 overall pick and at least consider drafting Bridgewater.
Recently, Greer quoted ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay projecting the Texans to take Bridgewater with that top pick:
ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, in his first “mock draft” for 2014, projects Bridgewater as the top pick in the 2014 draft, selected by the Texans.
“The question for the Texans is going to be this: Do you have a player at another position who grades out considerably higher?” McShay wrote. “If not, given their need at QB and the importance of that position, my guess is that they’d talk themselves into taking Bridgewater.”
While this season was a nightmare for Houston, that doesn't make the franchise a total loss. The Texans won two straight AFC South titles before this injury-riddled disaster of a season.
Even through this rough season, the Texans boasted a top-10 defense. They lost star running back Arian Foster for the season and the offense struggled through poor quarterback play by Matt Schaub.
With a little health and help and the quarterback position, they could be right back in the playoff hunt next year. Bridgewater would be throwing to a potential Hall of Fame receiver in Andre Johnson, as well as speedy former first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins, who will be in his second year in the league.
It would also help that Bridgewater would enter a weak AFC South division that features just one team above .500. As far as No. 1 overall selections go, the situation couldn't be much better for Bridgewater, if that is his fate.
Might Not be No. 1 Pick Next Year
While Bridgewater is nearly a lock to be the top pick this year, he might not be in the same position a year from now.
Even if he returns, has another solid season and does nothing to hurt his draft stock, he could be passed up in the draft pecking order.
Florida State's Jameis Winston will be eligible for the NFL draft next season and many believe he'll be the No. 1 overall pick.
While Winston's draft value is likely to eclipse that of Bridgewater, the UL quarterback could also be passed up by Oregon's Marcus Mariota. With Mariota returning, he also stands to raise his stock above Bridgewater's.
Bridgewater will almost assuredly be the top quarterback taken this year, but he could fall to third or worse next time around.
Will Miss out on ACC Exposure
Louisville's move to the ACC is a big question mark for next season. As previously mentioned, the move could bring struggle, as it has for several other programs through the recent conference realignment.
On the other hand, it could also bring immense prosperity to Bridgewater and the Cardinals. Against more respectable competition, if Bridgewater continues to find success, he could have NFL squads fighting over him in next year's draft.
The Cards will have an early taste of what they can expect in the ACC in this year's Russell Athletic Bowl, where they will take on Miami (Fla.). Recently, UL head coach Charlie Strong pointed to that contest as a measuring stick going forward, per Ken Hornack of Fox Sports:
We're playing a quality opponent. We're playing an opponent who will be on our schedule next year with us going into the ACC. And that's big. It's a program that has a lot of tradition. We're trying to get there. And we're going to use this as a measuring stick to see how far we need to come.
If Louisville comes out with a strong performance against an ACC contender in Miami, it could be a preview of success next year.
And success in the ACC would take Bridgewater much further than success from his days in the Big East and AAC.
Will Be a Heisman Favorite Upon Return
With that ACC exposure would also come a new Heisman Trophy campaign for Bridgewater.
He began 2013 on the short list of Heisman favorites but saw his run for the award derail in an early-season loss to Central Florida.
If he returns, he'll be right back in the conversation, though it will be crowded with Winston and Mariota returning. However, Bridgewater is no stranger to making Heisman-caliber plays and will be in great position to win the award in the ACC.
If he can best Winston and win the conference, he'll have an outstanding chance at taking the Heisman.
Could be in National Title Hunt
Louisville had an outside shot at the national title this season, though its weak schedule would've made the run a challenge.
Next year, that won't be the case. Florida State proved as much this season by winning the ACC and earning a berth in the national title game.
While the Cardinals would have likely been passed up by one-loss SEC champion Auburn this season, they won't miss out on the first College Football Playoff if they take care of business next season.
With Bridgewater linking up with top receiver DeVante Parker once again, the UL offense will be dangerous. Additionally, the Cardinals finished the regular season No. 2 in total defense, though several key players will be gone off that unit.
Regardless, Bridgewater and Strong have been the key cogs for the Cardinals—and if both return, they'll be national contenders.
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