Teddy Bridgewater may have been the third quarterback taken in the 2014 NFL draft, but he'll finish top of his class by year's end.
With the league moving the date of the draft back a bit, it allowed the whole process to eat itself by the time Jadeveon Clowney was taken with the first overall pick. Few players felt the wrath of scheming anonymous scouts and team officials more than Bridgewater.
He went from being the possible top overall pick to the next Willie Beamen:
It all worked out in the end, with the Minnesota Vikings getting one of the best QBs in the draft, and Bridgewater arriving in a situation where he should experience early success. No other rookie signal-caller is more set up to thrive in his debut season than the former Louisville standout.
After all of the predraft mud-slinging, it's easy to forget that during last season, Bridgewater was widely considered as either the best or second-best QB in the upcoming draft class. Everything then took a turn toward the absurd in the months leading to the first round.
What's not to like about Bridgewater? He's got a good arm, is accurate with his throws and knows how to read the game.
Bleacher Report's Cian Fahey did a great job in April of explaining why Bridgewater was so highly regarded. He analyzed every aspect of the QB's game. In particular, the rookie's impressive pocket presence shone through:
Bridgewater is considered the boring quarterback of the top three—the quarterback who doesn't have an incredibly high ceiling because he doesn't make crazy plays like Manziel and doesn't have major mechanical flaws that allow for growth like Blake Bortles.
Because he can do the more difficult things before he releases the ball, Bridgewater's throws are often less highlight-worthy because they come with a lower degree of difficulty.
He plays within his offense exceptionally well, a trait that every team wants from their quarterback.
ESPN.com's Sharon Katz also commended Bridgewater for his ability to remain calm in the face of pressure:
Bridgewater’s completion percentage when under duress was 53.5 percent, third-best among AQ quarterbacks. To put that into perspective, the average completion percentage in such situations was 35 percent.
Sending extra pass-rushers did not faze Bridgewater. He ranked second among AQ quarterbacks in completion percentage when blitzed (70.1 percent) and threw 15 touchdowns and just one interception when facing five or more pass-rushers.
Among the class of 2014, three quarterbacks look like possibilities—barring injury—to start a majority of the regular season: Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles.
Simply put, neither of the other two is more NFL-ready than Bridgewater.
Bortles has all the tools to become a franchise quarterback, but he remains a work in progress. One of the knocks on him going into the draft was that he'd need a few years before he put it all together.
Manziel improved as a passer in his second year at College Station, but it remains to be seen whether he can cut it in the NFL. His ability to read the field remains a bit questionable.
Bridgewater may lack the potential upside of Bortles or the explosiveness of Manziel, but he's the kind of quarterback who can step on the field and produce immediate results. The guy we watched light up opposing defenses in college hasn't all of a sudden become a marginal QB.
In the Vikings' first preseason game, Bridgewater was outperformed by the incumbent starter, Matt Cassel. Cassel went 5-of-6 for 62 yards, while Bridgewater went 6-of-13 for 49 yards.
"There were a couple times in the game where he just didn't act like a veteran," Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer said after the game, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "Things happened that he hadn't seen before. So those are all great experiences for him. But he made some great throws."
Nobody should expect Bridgewater to be John Elway in his very first preseason game. If you really look at how he played, as B/R's Zach Kruse did, you likely walked away with more positives than negatives to say about Bridgewater's game.
That 10-6 win was more about getting his feet wet anyway. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner didn't want to push Bridgewater into the deep end. He's letting the 21-year-old slowly become accustomed to NFL play-calling and defenses.
By the time Week 4 of the preseason rolls around, the player you saw last Friday will look very different than the one you will be watching.
What's also working in Bridgewater's favor is the offense around him.
The Vikings are still a bad team, but at least offensively, they've got the pieces around Bridgewater to set him up well. He'll hand the ball off to one of the best running backs in football. Greg Jennings remains a steady pass-catcher, even if a bit overpaid, while Cordarrelle Patterson looks poised for a breakout.
Without Josh Gordon, the Cleveland Browns' receiving corps is a complete mess. Miles Austin, Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson aren't exactly going to send chills down the spines of opposing secondaries. Manziel can't throw to Jordan Cameron on every down.
Bortles is in the same boat. Maybe Cecil Shorts can take the next step toward becoming a No. 1 wideout, but he hasn't shown that yet, while the Jags are relying on two other rookies, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, to become focal points of the passing game.
In terms of immediate impact, Bridgewater's not going to lead a franchise transformation like Andrew Luck did with the Indianapolis Colts or Griffin with the Washington Redskins. But he will give Vikings fans hope for the future and prove Minnesota right for waiting until the end of the first round to draft a QB.