The Curious Fall of Teddy Bridgewater
By Adam Hocking
Special to Pro Football Guru
The NFL Draft has grown in popularity to the point that it’s a darn near cultural event. It’s bigger than the playoffs of any other professional sport. It occupies two nights of prime time television and the entire subsequent weekend of ESPN and NFL Network coverage. By any measure the NFL Draft is an institution unto itself, and it’s easy to see why. The NFL is by far the nation’s most beloved sport, and the draft is a live look at the refueling of the league’s talent reservoir. In no uncertain terms, the draft is the future of the league entering through the green room doors.
Inevitably this national obsession has led to the creation of a media hype machine that can’t help but pervert the process. The college football bowl season ends in early January, and nothing fills the time between that and the draft other than the NFL Scouting Combine and pro days. To fill in the boredom vacuum, the media endlessly speculates about prospects, picking all the players apart to their bare bones, and oftentimes forgetting why they are top prospects in the first place: their play on the football field.
The latest victim of the meandering whims of scouts and the sports media is Teddy Bridgewater, quarterback from Louisville. When the season ended Bridgewater was a presumptive top-10 pick and most pundits’ choice as the top quarterback in the draft.
Bridgewater, a three-year starter, had a near flawless final season, posting 31 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions and completing a wildly efficient 71 percent of his passes. In his sophomore and junior seasons, Bridgewater went 23-3 as a starter and won two bowl games. His numbers and production as a starter are unimpeachable.
Yet, as the college football season faded and the NFL speculation season began, scouts, media types, and everyone in between started to slide Bridgewater down their draft boards. First the combine came. It was where Bridgewater opted not to throw or run the 40-yard dash, a common decision for top prospects that have little to gain from performing.
Another top quarterback prospect, Blake Bortles, made the unusual decision to throw, and all of a sudden he was seen as the better competitor, that he wanted to prove himself more than Bridgewater.
Johnny Manziel then had his pro day and pulled one of the more blatant, “look at me,” stunts in the history of pro days, working out in full pads and a helmet as opposed to the normal uniform of shorts and a t-shirt. To me this was a rather transparent attention ploy. The talking heads, however, were immediately enraptured with the zeal and all-business attitude shown by Manziel. Coincidentally or perhaps not, Bridgewater slid a little further down draft boards.
Finally, Bridgewater’s pro day came, and his performance was underwhelming. He ran a decent 4.78 40-yard dash, plenty fast enough for a primarily pocket passer. His throwing session was poor, which Bridgewater blamed on his not wearing his customary glove to help him grip the football.
As Bortles and Manziel have elevated their stock, Bridgewater has now found himself in free fall, some even speculating he could drop to the second round. This is absurd. Most ranked Bridgewater as the top passer immediately after the college football season ended, and many had him as the number-one overall pick based on their evaluation of (you know) his actual play on the football field.
Not one single real football game has been played in the time since Bridgewater was a presumptive top pick to his evaluation now as a guy who could fall out of the first round entirely.
Hand-wringing about his slight frame and so-so pro day performance has ruled the Bridgewater discussion. What’s bizarre is that the size issue isn’t new. Why his lack of bulk hurts him now but wasn’t harped on during the season is curious. His pro day may have been underwhelming, but there’s still three years of real football tape that proves he is an excellent player.
It’s fine to have mega coverage of the draft. It’s fun to talk about the draft until we are all blue in the face. We all love it, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. The thing that shouldn’t happen is drastically changing evaluations of players based on events that tell very little of the story like the combine or a pro day.
The draft process has become a bit like a presidential election, what pundits call “the horse race” as one candidate pulls ahead or falls behind based on not much more than the days of endless media coverage. Stunts, sound bites, and “gotcha” moments tend to take the place of rational discussion and substantive debate over the merits of candidates and draft prospects alike.
In the draft process what really matters tends to get lost, how the player actually performed on the field. All the combine or a pro day can do is to simulate game action the best it can. Call me nuts, but I think watching film of players actually in a game might be a better way to evaluate their readiness for the next level.
Teddy Bridgewater didn’t throw well at his private workout, but do you know where he did? On the football field, for three seasons, with pass rush in his face and his receivers covered. I can’t say with certainty that Bridgewater will be a great player at the NFL level. Nobody can. What I do know is that Bridgewater has done nothing since the close of the college season to drastically alter where he should be drafted.
Adam Hocking is from Saint Paul, Minnesota where he covers the sporting world on his site: The Day in Sports. You can also check out his podcast by searching “The Day in Sports” on iTunes. Follow him on Twitter at @tdis_humblebrag.