There are a number of elite prospects at various positions in the 2014 NFL draft, but you can bet that only one position is getting the bulk of the attention: the quarterback. There are a number of QB-needy teams at the top of the draft, but there is plenty of debate about which quarterback prospect should be No. 1 on everyone’s big board. That debate will seem silly after the NFL scouting combine—Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater will end the conversation once and for all.
Bridgewater entered the 2013 college season as the No. 1 QB in the class, but you know what happens when you’re the consensus No. 1 in whatever sport at whatever level? You attract a lot of attention. With that attention comes plenty of people nit-picking your game and finding a reason to knock you off that top spot. Just ask Jadeveon Clowney or Andrew Wiggins.
The Louisville product’s biggest challenger at the quarterback position was Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, but he—and a number of other highly coveted gunslingers—chose to stay in school so the cream of the quarterback crop has been whittled down to where we are right now.
The general consensus is that there are three quarterbacks that form the top tier of this year’s QB class: Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater.
What’s so fascinating about this group is that they couldn’t be more different.
Let’s start with Blake Bortles, the proverbial diamond in the rough—that needs a lot of polishing.
The UCF signal-caller certainly looks the part. At 6’4” and 230 pounds, he’s a big, strapping quarterback with all the physical tools to become one of the game’s best. He’s also very athletic with the potential to develop into a back-breaking scrambler in the Cam Newton mold.
But a team that selects Bortles is drafting for the future and not the present—not that there’s anything wrong with that. Bortles could stand to tighten up his mechanics and footwork as well as his understanding of the game.
That lack of mechanics means that, while Bortles has the strength and size to develop a cannon arm, he's not there quite yet and his arm power suffers as a result:
He was only a two-year starter for the Black Knights, so his game tape is full of questionable decision-making in the face of pressure and the failure to work through progressions.
Even his college coach at UCF admits that Bortles is a project and will need time to learn the game and develop:
Then, there’s Johnny Manziel.
The man they call “Johnny Football” is hands down the most electrifying and exciting player in the entire draft, with the improvisational skills to consistently make jaw-dropping plays.
It sounds stupid to have this phrase in a scouting report, but Manziel is a “football player.” He’s not a traditional quarterback in terms of size or playing style, but he makes football plays, steps up in big moments and wins games.
Furthermore, his improvement as a pocket passer over his sophomore year was impressive and convinced scouts that he is capable of continuing that development and becoming a reliable NFL passer in addition to his dynamic abilities as a runner.
But while that awe-inspiring playmaking ability jumps off the film, there are also some underlying problems that could hinder his develop if they aren’t fixed. Manziel gets a little too eager to make plays with his feet, and his smaller frame makes him more vulnerable on a field with NFL giants gunning for him.
Additionally, there is a lot of frightening decision-making on his game film and he won’t be able to get away with those choices in the pros.
And that brings us to Teddy Bridgewater—a player that former NFL scout and NFL.com analyst Daniel Jeremiah said lacked the Wow factor:
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.
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement is it?
And it’s not an uncommon opinion around the league either. According to Russ Lande of Sports on Earth, the Houston Texans are leaning towards Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel with the first overall pick in the draft.
Jeremiah is right about everything he talks about, but he also neglects some other important characteristics of an NFL quarterback.
What about Bridgewater’s accuracy? He’s the most accurate quarterback in the draft when it comes to short and intermediate throws (admittedly, he could improve on his deep-ball accuracy). More importantly, he utilizes his terrific anticipation and intelligence to see plays before they happen and throw his receivers open.
He might not boast elite arm strength on the deep ball, but neither do any of these top three quarterbacks. Bridgewater uses technically sound footwork and mechanics to get good zip on the ball and he’s capable of throwing every pass and route in an NFL playbook.
Bridgewater is also more than capable of extending plays with his feet. He falls into the Aaron Rodgers category of athletic quarterbacks in that he often uses his feet to extend plays as opposed to scramble.
That may seem like a drawback to some, but when you’re investing millions of dollars in your franchise quarterback, you want him on the field. Even though they possess similar body frames, Johnny Manziel’s style of play puts him at a greater risk of injury than Bridgewater.
But we’ve made it this far and haven’t even touched on Bridgewater’s biggest selling point: his intelligence.
He’s a student of the game, and no quarterback prospect in this draft comes close to being as pro-ready as Teddy Bridgewater. Whether it be meaningful experience playing under center (which Bortles and Manziel lack), the ability to dissect defenses or even the savvy to truly sell play-action fakes, Bridgewater does everything you need of an experienced NFL quarterback.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com broke down Bridgewater’s high football IQ in his quarterback rankings—where Bridgewater was No. 1 on his list:
Few college quarterbacks enter the NFL with as much experience directing the show at the line of scrimmage. From executing checks and adjustments based on the defensive front or coverage to hitting receivers on hot routes to nullify a blitz, Bridgewater has played the game like a pro since his arrival at Louisville.
When you combine the total package—the accuracy, the mobility, the intelligence—there is no quarterback in this class that compares to Bridgewater.
That’s what NFL teams will see at the scouting combine. When they sit down and talk to Bridgewater, they’ll find a student of the game with the leadership ability of a team captain and the thirst to learn more about how to be a professional quarterback.
When they watch him take the field for the passing drills, they’ll see a guy that has the anticipation to connect with receivers that he’s never worked with before—a common complaint that quarterbacks use when they choose not to throw at the event.
Right now, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will be the first quarterback off the board. But first quarterback taken doesn’t necessarily mean the best.
And as this pre-draft process continues, it’s going to become abundantly clear that Teddy Bridgewater is head and shoulders above the rest of his class.
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