"Hey, remember me?"
That's not a real quote from Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but it certainly could be.
He was the early pick of many to be the top quarterback in the 2014 draft after a noteworthy sophomore season with the Cardinals in 2012, one in which the Miami, Fla. native completed 68.5 percent of his passes for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns with just eight interceptions, culminating in a 20-for-32, 266-yard, two-touchdown, one-interception thrashing of the Florida Gators in an Allstate Sugar Bowl victory in January of 2013.
This past year, Bridgewater avoided a Matt Barkley-esque plummet down draft boards. In fact, he demonstrated vast improvement.
He completed 71 percent of his throws for for 3,970 yards with 31 touchdowns and a mere four picks.
Bridgewater may have been the most NFL-ready quarterback a year ago, and he did nothing to create worry about his pro potential as a junior.
But when Louisville lost 38-35 at home to Central Florida in October, its BCS hopes were dashed. Charlie Strong's team did finish, though, with a resounding Citrus Bowl win over the University of Miami on Dec. 28.
Meanwhile, UCF quarterback Blake Bortles led his team to a Fiesta Bowl berth and 52-42 win over Baylor on New Year's Day. The more refined Texas A&M quarterback and media lightning rod Johnny Manziel orchestrated a ferocious comeback against an upstart Duke team in the Chick-fil-A Bowl inside the Georgia Dome on New Year's Eve.
By Jan. 2, Bridgewater had become somewhat of an afterthought.
Though many draft evaluators and mainstream media members didn't waver on their stance of the Louisville signal-caller as the top quarterback in the 2014 class, some baffling gripes started to fly in.
I have Bridgewater as a top 10 talent in this draft but I know several teams that don't view him as a 1st round player.—Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) January 15, 2014
Here's what ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. wrote about Bridgewater in his first mock draft of the year (Insider subscription required):
On the NFL Network set during Super Bowl Week, Jeremiah, a well-respected draft analyst, added the following:
The thing with Bridgewater is he is solid in all areas, but he doesn't have that wow characteristic...He doesn't have off-the-charts size. He doesn't have a humungous arm. He's not a great athlete. He's good, he is proficient in all these different areas.
While it's never an intelligent practice to bash one's view of a prospect just because it differs from yours, "draft stock" fluctuations after the games are played and before the combine are foolhardy and, in all likelihood, solely media driven.
Bridgewater doesn't have a Heisman Trophy to his name. He isn't a rock star like Johnny Manziel, and he didn't end his final collegiate season with a 52-point outburst in a BCS game.
He appears to be rather low-key, which, in this day and age, isn't necessarily helpful.
On Feb. 4, Russ Lande of SportsOnEarth.com wrote the following about the Houston Texans upcoming No. 1 overall selection: "According to trusted sources, the Texans are initially leaning towards taking either Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel with the top pick."
He didn't mention Bridgewater being in play for Bill O'Brien's team, and—what do we know?—maybe that's truly the case.
In 2012, the running quarterback and the read-option sent the NFL and its fans into an unprecedented state of wonderment that centered around how the limitless possibilities of these legitimately dual-threat signal-callers might transform the NFL.
All that came crashing down to Earth in 2013, relatively speaking.
After being remarkably successful as runners in their debut professional campaigns, both Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick weren't as dynamic from a scrambling standpoint in 2013, and both regressed considerably as passers en route to somewhat disappointing sophomore seasons.
While athleticism and mobility are luxury attributes for quarterbacks in the NFL, throwing accurately and making sound decisions on a consistent basis will never, ever go out of style and will remain the foundation of long-term viability and prosperity at the game's most vital position.
The Louisville quarterback can move, but Bortles and Manziel are much more proficient improvisers and appear to be more athletically gifted.
Some NFL organizations may believe Bortles and Manziel have higher ceilings than Bridgewater, but passing from the pocket with pinpoint precision is quite clearly the Louisville quarterback's strong suit.
It's an area in which he appears to be, almost inarguably, ahead of Bortles and Manziel at this point.
Maybe, as the pre-draft process picks up steam with the combine in late February, hits full stride with pro days in March and April, Bridgewater will reemerge as the top quarterback in the 2014 class.
Heck, maybe the knocks and leaked interest in other signal-callers are all semblances of smoke screens that annually arise this time of year and are purposely intended to divert attention away from certain prospects, usually elite ones.
But right now Teddy Bridgewater, the quarterback who seems to be the finest pocket passer with the lowest profile of the incoming rookie class, is astonishingly becoming a forgotten man.
Watch, though—the Houston Texans will sprint his name up to the podium the moment they go on the clock to begin the 2014 NFL draft.
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