During the 2013 college football season, there was little doubt that Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater was the best pro quarterback prospect. The only question was which NFL team would be in position to draft him, and whether the No. 1 overall team would pass on super-prospect Jadeveon Clowney to do it.
In the weeks since college football teams hung up their cleats, NFL draftniks and media seem to be convinced the Houston Texans are taking a quarterback, but the debate has flipped: Which one will they take?
Will it be athletic spark plug and controversy lightning rod Johnny Manziel? Blake Bortles, the classic big-framed pocket passer? Might they even make (and repeat) history by drafting Derek Carr, the little brother of 2002 No. 1 overall pick David Carr?
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Bridgewater had a golden opportunity to remind NFL scouts and executives that there's a reason why he had an autumnal death grip on the No. 1 overall pick: He's the best passer in this draft class.
Unfortunately, as he told Jim Corbett of USA TODAY Sports, he's passing that opportunity up.
Ready for His Close-Up
Bridgewater's talent as a passer has always been evident.
Rivals.com rated him as their No. 6 dual-threat quarterback recruit in 2011. When it came time to break down what made him a 4-star recruit, however, Rivals football recruiting analyst Barry Every gushed not about his legs, but his arm and head:
Bridgewater has excellent arm strength, but can also put touch on the ball when needed. He has great pocket presence and the ability to make yards with his feet. He is most dangerous buying time in the pocket while the coverage breaks down. Bridgewater has tremendous confidence in his abilities and is a natural leader.
After coming in as an injury replacement in the third game of his true freshman season, Bridgewater started every remaining game of his three-season collegiate career.
Over 37 starts (and 39 games played), per College Football Reference, Bridgewater completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 8.6 average yards per attempt, 72 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. Here's how his raw career numbers stack up against the other three top quarterbacks:
|Top Four NFL Draft QB Prospects|
|Name||Comp %||Yds/Att||TD/INT||QB Rating|
Of course, it's hard to compare college statistics directly because of wildly differing schemes and competition levels.
Bridgewater, for example, didn't play with a receiver of Texas A&M's Mike Evans' caliber, nor did he have a blindside protector like Jake Matthews, nor was his offensive scheme as potent and innovative as the Aggies' was.
Even so, Bridgewater's numbers are neck-and-neck with Manziel's, and they're a cut above Bortles' and Carr's.
The Door Is Wide-Open
Manziel, per his agent Erik Burkhardt, won't be throwing at the combine.
Carr, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport, won't be throwing either.
Bortles, via his verified Twitter feed, will be throwing. With Bridgewater no-showing, the door is wide open for Bortles to blow away the competition at the combine—and cement in scouts' and executives' minds that he's worthy of the top pick.
As Bleacher Report NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller explained, though, Bridgewater's not only the most gifted thrower in this class. His decision-making and football IQ set him apart:
To fans, the combine is a way to nitpick every aspect of these players' physical game: height, weight, speed, explosiveness and positional skill. To NFL teams, though, the great value of the combine is in the ability to peek behind the curtain: real height and weight measurements, complete medical workouts and individual interviews.
According to Miller, though, Bridgewater has appeared "aloof" during interviews, while Bortles has "owned" the whiteboard:
Between the Lines
When evaluators go back to the film of these quarterbacks actually playing football, they'll see that Bridgewater stands head and shoulders above the taller Bortles.
Bridgewater throws the entire passing tree with a rare combination of velocity, accuracy and touch. Watch this cut-up of his performance against Rutgers, courtesy of the draft video maestros at DraftBreakdown.com:
He zips the ball to all areas of the field with accuracy and touch. Check out the 35-yard corner route at the 1:45 mark, a beautifully catchable ball dropped into a bucket.
Perhaps most impressive is his footwork. He's fast and solid on his dropback, and he plants and throws when he has a man open. When he doesn't, he stays on the balls of his feet as he moves around the pocket and is fast and decisive when he breaks down to run.
He can throw on the move to either side with little loss in accuracy. Like Russell Wilson, Bridgewater runs primarily to buy time and set up a downfield throw, not forward for yards.
Some evaluators have knocked him for his lack of elite size, and therefore possibly being an injury risk like another sub-200-pound quarterback, Washington's Robert Griffin III. Bridgewater surprised many, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin, by weighing in at 6'2", 214 pounds—a lean 18 pounds heavier than he was listed at by Louisville.
"I'm willing to outwork anyone," Bridgewater told Jim Corbett of USA Today, "to prove why I should be that top guy."
Then why, NFL scouts and executives must be wondering, isn't he willing to work out for them?