While the news out of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's pro day may not be the best, Bridgewater is still the best quarterback in this draft class.
Now, when it comes to NFL draft buzz, things have been awfully quiet around Bridgewater...almost too quiet. Unless, of course, someone has something negative to say—then things seem to pick up.
As teams prepare for May's draft festivities, pro days are just a small piece of the puzzle—far smaller, even, than the combine and all-star games. For quarterbacks who elect not to throw in Indianapolis, however, a pro day is the only real chance to see a quarterback throw, unless a team is interested enough to bring the prospect in for an official visit.
For Bridgewater—along with the other top quarterbacks—every single aspect of the process will be picked apart thanks to the tremendous importance of the position, along with the fact that three different quarterbacks are trying to be slated in that top slot to the Houston Texans.
Yet with Bridgewater more than Central Florida quarterback prospect Blake Bortles or Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, that criticism seems to stick.
People complain that Bridgewater didn't play against elite competition, forgetting that Bortles plays in the same conference. Critics worry about Bridgewater's size or frame, forgetting that Manziel is a couple inches shorter and a few pounds lighter. Even strong advocates of "tape watching" hem and haw about Bridgewater's deep-ball accuracy without ever, apparently, watching either of the other two.
Following a pro day in which many apparently expected more, Bridgewater may have given his most ardent critics a reason to put him No. 2 or 3 on their list of the top three quarterbacks, but that would be a mistake.
Frankly, Bridgewater's pro day was awfully nondescript. The most notable pieces of news were what he weighed (207, down from 214 at the combine thanks to a cold), what he ran (4.78 via Louisville's official Twitter account), and who was there (six NFL head coaches, according to NFL.com).
The only other news at the pro day wasn't really news, but a general malaise about the throwing session. Most who watched—from NFL Network's Kurt Warner and Mike Mayock to anonymous scouts—came away either overtly disappointed or with a general "meh" feeling after wanting to be wowed.
When it comes to the things NFL quarterbacks need to do, Bridgewater excels at just about all of it and is head and shoulders above the other two.
The first thing I watch when it comes to quarterbacks—a position I've coached at both the high school and the collegiate level—is their accuracy. Accuracy is not simply a function of mechanics and scheme as some make it out to be. NFL scouts talk about accuracy as an innate skill that is less teachable and more physical.
Arm strength—the most overblown quarterback trait—almost always increases at the NFL level. Simply throwing more often as football becomes more of a job and less of an after-school activity helps that for most quarterbacks.
Also, being inserted in offenses that throw more difficult, down-the-field routes leads to quarterbacks becoming more comfortable with longer throws and trusting their arm more.
Accuracy, though, rarely gets better in the NFL. Completion percentage might, but accuracy is more than just a number on a stat sheet. Accuracy is also ball placement, how a QB needs to be bailed out by his receivers, how catchable his throws are and whether or not he gives his receiver a place to go after a catch in stride.
I have big accuracy questions with both Bortles and Manziel. With Bridgewater, his deep ball could be better, yes, but his deep-ball issues aren't anywhere as bad as Manziel's or Bortles'. In fact, Bridgewater's deep ball is the best I've seen out of a prospect since Andrew Luck.
Manziel, like Robert Griffin III and many college quarterbacks in Air Raid-style offenses, tends to throw down the field to a spot. Since the offense doesn't emphasize longer routes (outside of four verticals), the quarterback like Manziel is simply telling his receivers to "go and get it." When you have Mike Evans in college, that's a winnable throw most of the time. Against NFL safeties, not so much.
Bortles, more so than both Bridgewater and Manziel, throws a very wobbly deep ball that tends to sail places he'd rather it not go. In college, it's not a deal breaker. In the NFL, any time a quarterback fails to spin the ball efficiently, it gives defensive backs that much more of a chance on it.
Bridgewater's short to intermediate accuracy holds true in terms of being better than his counterparts, only the margin isn't quite so severe.
Accuracy is often lumped into arm talent, which can be many different things depending on which evaluator one talks to. For me, arm talent is a little accuracy, a little strength and largely a subjective measurement of how a quarterback gets the ball to his receivers when things don't go his way. Can the passer throw accurately when perfect mechanics aren't an option? Can the quarterback force the ball accurately down the field off his back foot? Can he throw on the run?
Bridgewater, though he pales in comparison to Manziel's ability to throw on the run, has the best arm talent in the draft. His mechanics are the best in the class, but when the rush gets there, he has the ability to get rid of the ball from a number of arm slots and different stages of his mechanics and still deliver a very catchable ball.
I will admit, however, that Manziel has made up a lot of ground in the "arm talent" department this past season since working with QB guru George Whitfield. The margin is very slim between these two, and both are a large step ahead of Bortles.
Finally, I look at a quarterback's command of the game. How much does a quarterback have mastery of his offense? Can he progress through his reads at a reasonable pace, even in the face of pressure? Is a quarterback allowed to audible at the line or change his protections?
Most of all, I watch a quarterback's poise on the field. Does he command his team like an NFL franchise quarterback should? Or is he simply a cog in the team machine run more by a coach on the sideline?
Again, in this final "big" piece of evaluation, I rank the quarterbacks Bridgewater, Manziel and then Bortles.
Note that very little in terms of true accuracy, arm talent or command can be measured at a pro day. Nor can these traits be seen by box score stats or in combine drills. Instead, the quarterback needs to be watched ad nauseam. While some scouts are content with three games per year on a prospect, many teams break down every single throw from a quarterback because the position is so important.
Based on the games these three top quarterbacks have played, Bridgewater is the clear-cut No. 1 prospect, and his pro day didn't change that one bit.