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In Defense of Teddy Bridgewater, the NFL Scout's New Favorite Target

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In Defense of Teddy Bridgewater, the NFL Scout's New Favorite Target
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I suppose a defense of Teddy Bridgewater should begin with one of the best throws I’ve ever seen a quarterback make at any level.

Building a resume off a single moment is a ridiculous, anti-scout thing to do, but then again, this was quite a throw. It came on December 5 of last year against Cincinnati. Louisville was down four points halfway through the fourth quarter when the Bearcats called a well-timed blitz and the pocket collapsed before it ever formed.

From there, Bridgewater delivered the spectacular throw. I remember shrieking like a child on Christmas morning and then frantically saving the replay to my DVR. It’s still there.

Mechanically, it was a mess because it had to be a mess. The fact that there was any play at all still boggles the mind. In the scouting world, however, such magnificent improvisation will be—and likely has been—docked accordingly.

“Well, goodness, look at how far his arm dipped on that pass. Horrendous mechanics.”

“I can’t believe while being swarmed by roughly 35 defenders he didn’t execute his reads accordingly.”

“That’s a pretty selfish way to score a touchdown; clearly, there’s an attitude problem.”

As ridiculous as these criticisms might seem, we’re approaching this threshold with Bridgewater.

One of the most consistent, accurate and downright productive quarterbacks to leave the college ranks in quite some time is quickly becoming one of the most polarizing players in the draft. There’s no reason this should be the case, of course, but the scouting process often targets a select few like an overzealous bacteria with no antidote to speak of.

In the case of Bridgewater, the contrarian opinion has gone mainstream. It’s no longer different enough to be different—it’s how different are you. And taking the stance that one of the best college quarterbacks in recent years is actually pretty good is slowly—and shockingly—becoming the minority.

This chatter began with his average-to-below-average pro day, one that received a fair amount of backlash from notable draft personalities.

ESPN’s Todd McShay provided his thoughts on Bridgewater’s performance (via ESPN.com's Michael DiRocco):

In coming to these pro day workouts for 14-15 years, the vast majority of them, almost all of them, the QB ends up outperforming what you see on tape. There's no defense. There's no pass rush. You're in shorts and a T-shirt and it's a scripted workout that you've been working on for 30-40 days with your wide receiver. So to see Bridgewater come out here today and be the exception to the rule ... this is a rare occurrence for a QB in his pro day, who is not nearly as efficient and effective when he is when studying his tape.

It’s only a pro day, although the conversations surrounding his lackluster performance, at least by some, were reasonable. This depends a great deal on how much you value pro days (hopefully not much), but the feedback from this glorified backyard throwing session was at least understood. You may not agree with it, but you understand it.

Where we’re headed next, however, is where the ship veers off course and crashes into the nearest iceberg.

Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller tackled this topic in the latest Scouting Notebook when he spoke to an anonymous scout about the sudden Bridgewater shift. While Miller loves Bridgewater—he has him at No. 1 on his latest Big Board—the unnamed individual he talked to felt differently.

"What am I missing?" was my question to him. The answer? "(I'm) not high on him, honestly. Biggest concerns on him are the mental and inconsistencies in mechanics. In my opinion, you don't see him go through many progressions, a lot of primary, target-only reads. Mechanics-wise, I think he has good feel for pressure in the pocket but drops his elbow too often. He definitely flashes elite ability, but the lack of consistency is alarming."

Let’s dive deeper. Former NFL scout John Middlekauff, who now works for 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, took this one step further when talking about Bridgewater’s potential draft prospects.

More specifically, he took the idea that Bridgewater could still be the No. 1 overall pick and smashed it with an industrial-sized hammer.

Middlekauff then followed up with the scouting equivalent of a 99.5-yard touchdown pass that bounced off the scoreboard and then the mascot’s groin.

That’s right: Former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage and Teddy Bridgewater are now being lumped together in one of the strangest and unforeseen taste tests imaginable.

Before my brain explodes and the column ends abruptly, let’s go back to where we started: the remarkable touchdown pass from late last season against Cincinnati (or, "The Day My DVR Stood Still").

The spectacular for Bridgewater in this particular moment identifies the canyon between anatomical perfection and production. There’s nothing about this that should be taught to young QBs. In fact, you cannot teach it. But when you see something like this happen—something completely absent from the scouting handbook—it makes an impression.

Of course, the scouting process never boils down to one moment, throw or game. In fact, if you assess NFL worth based off this limited sample size, you’ll likely be doing so as a hobby for the foreseeable future.

For Bridgewater—and like every college QB who has come through the system—the collective performance wasn’t always perfection. But I cannot imagine telling someone with a straight face, with the utmost seriousness, that his “consistency is alarming.”

Just, no.

This includes the days when Bridgewater was backing up the lovable Will Stein at about 175 pounds—soaking wet—coming in off the bench with very little idea of what he was doing at the position. Even then, in his rawest of form, he had promise. Since then, he added about 30 pounds, learned an offense and made his gorgeous wrist-flick throwing motion slightly more potent.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

My defense of Bridgewater is by no means a guarantee that he’ll be the next (insert choice NFL quarterback with promise here). Projecting NFL quarterbacks is like playing darts after a long night at the bar. You’ll hit sometimes, certainly, but you’ll also miss the board—maybe taking out a patron every now and then—despite exhibiting the utmost confidence on each throw. It’s one of the most difficult assignments in all of sports with absolutely no blueprint to follow.

Yet there’s also a legitimate way to approach a player’s faults and potential holes.

In the case of Bridgewater—and the countless others who are often taken apart and left disassembled for no reason at all—the over-the-top criticisms don’t match up with authentic areas of concern.

I watched far too much bad American Athletic Conference and Big East football to sit quietly on the sidelines for this particular argument. While “scout” is nowhere to be found on my business card, you don’t have to be a football projection wizard to understand that Bridgewater is an exceptional talent who does a lot of things exceptionally well.

If you don’t believe his game will translate to the NFL, that’s fair. But at the very least, let’s assess why with more evidence than hand size, shirt-and-shorts box scores and bogus bullet points. He deserves so much better than that, and I have the DVR to prove it.

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