Can Teddy Bridgewater Lead the Next Wave of Elite NFL Quarterbacks?

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistJuly 14, 2015

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) throws during the team's NFL football team's practice, Thursday, June 11, 2015, in Eden Prairie, Minn.  (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Jim Mone/Associated Press

It's no secret, nor is it often disputed, that the NFL possesses more franchises than franchise quarterbacks. And recent trends have only highlighted the scarcity of elite signal-callers breaking into the league. 

Earlier this offseason, Bleacher Report's Ty Schalter noted as part of in-depth analysis regarding the quality of emerging quarterbacks that with the "grand old generation of today's top quarterbacks" (guys such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo) all nearing the end of their careers, "the NFL has never been hungrier for good quarterbacks."

We haven't had a first- or second-team All-Pro quarterback not named Rodgers, Manning, Brady, Brees, Romo or Favre since 2003 (Steve McNair). And only six of the 14 quarterbacks drafted in the first round between 2009 and 2013 are currently expected to be Week 1 starters in 2015 (Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III). 

Among the six quarterbacks who made the Pro Bowl last season (not including replacements), only Luck entered the league after 2005. But back up exactly a decade to the 2004 season, and all six Pro Bowl pivots—Manning, Brady, Brees, Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper and Michael Vick—had been in the league fewer than eight seasons. 

And looking at the 17 quarterbacks taken in the first round since '09, no more than three of them (Luck, Tannehill and maybe Stafford) had what I’d call good 2014 campaigns:  

First-round QBs since 2009, sorted by 2014 passer rating
Blaine Gabbert0100.0
Andrew Luck1696.5
Ryan Tannehill1692.8
Mark Sanchez888.4
Robert Griffin786.9
Matthew Stafford1685.7
Brandon Weeden185.7
Teddy Bridgewater1285.2
Cam Newton1482.1
EJ Manuel480.3
Jake Locker570.9
Blake Bortles1369.5
Christian Ponder145.8
Johnny Manziel242.0
Sam Bradford0N/A
Josh Freeman0N/A
Tim Tebow0N/A
Pro Football Reference
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It's enough to cause you to wonder if it isn't a complete coincidence that a record-low seven quarterbacks were drafted this spring. 

Still, we know there's hope for the next generation of quarterbacks thanks mainly to Luck (who three years into his career is the 16th-highest-rated qualified passer in NFL history) and Russell Wilson (who has already won a Super Bowl and two NFC championships and would have the second-highest passer rating of all time if he had enough attempts to qualify). 

The most intriguing young wild card beyond that duo is Teddy Bridgewater of the Minnesota Vikings

On the surface and when stacked up against legends from that Hall of Fame-bound group of 30-somethings including Rodgers, Brady, Manning, Roethlisberger and Brees, it doesn't look as though Bridgewater had a particularly special rookie season (14 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, the league's sixth-highest qualified sack rate and a passer rating that ranked 22nd among 33 qualifiers).

But among quarterbacks with at least 10 starts, that 85.2 rating still registers as the fifth-highest rookie rating in modern NFL history (post-1970 merger), and his first-year completion percentage of 64.4 ranks third on the all-time rookie charts. 

Highest rookie completion percentages in NFL history
1. Ben Roethlisberger200466.498.1
2. Robert Griffin III201265.7102.4
3. Teddy Bridgewater201464.485.2
4. Russell Wilson201264.1100
5. Matt Ryan200861.187.7
Pro Football Reference (min. 10 starts)

For what it's worth, the 2014 first-round pick's rookie numbers blew Luck's and Tannehill's out of the water and were also better than those put up by Manning as a rook in 1998 and Brees during his first full season in 2002. He also compared relatively well to Tom Brady during his first full campaign in 2001. 

Comparing first full seasons
QuarterbackComp.%TD-INT ratioYPARating
Russell Wilson64.12.67.9100.0
Tom Brady63.91.56.986.5
Teddy Bridgewater64.41.27.385.2
Drew Brees60.
Andrew Luck54.
Ryan Tannehill58.30.96.876.1
Peyton Manning56.70.96.571.2
Pro Football Reference

And that still doesn't do justice to Bridgewater's career trajectory, because during the final five weeks of the year, the 22-year-old was the league's second-highest-rated qualified passer, behind only Romo. He completed 72.1 percent of his passes and averaged 8.8 yards per attempt, winning three of five games during that span. 

Highest-rated passers, final five weeks of 2014
1. Tony Romo72.18.5117.1
2. Teddy Bridgewater72.18.8103.0
3. Eli Manning64.68.1100.7
4. Russell Wilson61.99.099.4
5. Ben Roethlisberger64.68.699.1
Min. 100 attempts

This despite the fact that Bridgewater was quarterbacking a mediocre football team. Adrian Peterson, the All-Pro running back Bridgewater spent the summer working with, was inactive for virtually the entire regular season, causing the Vikes to lose half a yard per carry from their 2013 average while taking a major step backward across the board in that category. 

Vikings: Offensive run support
YearRush yardsYards/carryTD
Pro Football Reference

What's more, according to Pro Football Focus, the offensive line was responsible for a league-high 36 of the 51 sacks surrendered by Bridgewater and fellow quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. In terms of pass protection, that unit ranked dead last in the league at PFF and 27th at Football Outsiders

NFL's worst pass-blocking efficiency ratings, 2014
Offensive lineSacks allowedPBE
Pro Football Focus

The defense was good, ranking slightly above the middle of the pack in terms of yards and points allowed, but not good enough to carry this team. The Vikings improved their win total from five to seven primarily because of what Bridgewater was able to accomplish during his 12 starts under center. 

Advanced stats give us more insight as to how that happened. For example:

  • Among quarterbacks with at least 25 red-zone pass attempts, Bridgewater led the NFL with a completion percentage of 73.1 inside his opponent's 20-yard line. His touchdown-to-interception ratio under those circumstances was 9-to-1. 
Highest red-zone completion percentages, 2014
1. Teddy Bridgewater73.19-16.2112.5
2. Austin Davis65.57-04.1113.2
3. Peyton Manning65.125-14.3110.1
4. Drew Brees65.125-34.399.2
5. Matt Ryan63.119-03.4108.3
Min. 25 attempts
  • Among quarterbacks with at least 50 third-down pass attempts, he led the NFL with a completion percentage of 68.5 on that down. And before you assume that might have been because the Vikings were babying him, consider that he also ranked seventh among qualified quarterbacks with a yards-per-attempt average of 8.5 under those circumstances. 
Highest third-down completion percentages, 2014
1. Teddy Bridgewater7.768.2
2. Tony Romo8.567.2
4. Alex Smith7.766.9
4. Carson Palmer9.265.3
5. Andy Dalton7.464.8
Min. 50 attempts
  • Only four of his 12 interceptions came in the second half, and only one in the fourth quarter. 
Lowest fourth-quarter interception rates, 2014
1. Ben Roethlisberger6300.0%
2. Kyle Orton6200.0%
3. Matt Ryan6000.0%
4. Joe Flacco8911.1%
5. Teddy Bridgewater7711.3%
6. Matthew Stafford7511.3%
Min. 50 attempts
  • PFF deemed Bridgewater to be the third-most accurate passer in football, and had he thrown enough passes beyond 20 yards to qualify, he would have ranked seventh among 25 quarterbacks in terms of deep accuracy. 
PFF: Most accurate passers, 2014
QuarterbackAccuracy %
1. Drew Brees80.2
2. Alex Smith79.8
3.Teddy Bridgewater77.3
4. Matt Ryan76.4
5. Russell Wilson76
Pro Football Focus
  • PFF deemed him to be the most accurate qualified passer in the league while under pressure. 
PFF: Most accurate passers under pressure, 2014
QuarterbackPressure %Accuracy %
1. Teddy Bridgewater39.975.2
2. Drew Brees32.973.3
3. Ben Roethlisberger27.370.2
4. Jay Cutler30.969.5
5. Matt Ryan35.369.4
Pro Football Focus

PFF also generates an "adjusted completion percentage" total that takes uncontrollable factors like drops, throwaways, spikes, batted passes and passes on which the quarterback was hit as he threw into account. But they take it one step further by creating an "expected adjusted completion percentage" total by factoring in a quarterback's average depth of target. What this essentially does is account for how far each quarterback typically throws the ball.

The difference between your adjusted completion percentage and your expected adjusted completion percentage indicates how much more or less accurate you've been than the league average with depth of passes factored in.

And in 2014, Bridgewater ranked fifth in the league in that category (plus-3.6 percent), well ahead of fellow youngsters such as Wilson (plus-3.3 percent), Tannehill (plus-2.6 percent) and Luck (plus-1.5 percent).

Depth-adjusted completion percentage leaders, 2014
QuarterbackaDOTActual aC%Expected aC%+/-
1. Drew Brees8.174%67%7.1%
2. Tony Romo9.569%65%4.1%
3. Philip Rivers9.069%65%4.0%
4. Carson Palmer9.269%65%3.6%
5. Teddy Bridgewater7.971%67%3.6%
6. Matt Ryan8.270%66%3.5%
Pro Football Focus

We already know Bridgewater possesses the natural ability to succeed at the NFL level. That he has already become so efficient and smart with the football is an incredibly positive sign, because that's often the trait that prevents good quarterbacks from becoming great. 

Bridgewater appears to have all the necessary tools to succeed at a cerebral position in which arm strength is overrated. Now, with Peterson back and the defense looking even stronger, he'll have a chance to make a huge leap forward in his first full season under center as part of a team on the rise. 

And if that happens, don't be surprised if Bridgewater winds up joining the likes of Luck and Wilson as a leader of the pack among the next wave of superstar NFL quarterbacks. 

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.


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