FanPost

The Fall of Bridgewater

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

My name is Matt Weston and I write for Battle Red Blog, the Texans SB Nation Site. Today I wrote about Bridgewater's free fall in the NFL draft and I thought it maybe something you guys might enjoy.

I hate the NFL draft.

Scratch that. I hate NFL draft coverage. Oh, how I loathe every mock draft that is as fulfilling to read as cotton candy is to eat for breakfast, every smokescreen lie to beat reporters who think they are screaming the truth from the mountain top and every thin nonsensical #connection. For every article breaking a down a player's performance with substantial analysis there are hundreds of these cavity pieces swarming around cyberspace. Even then, most providing analysis are sordid hipsters who are doing so for the benefit of exclaiming, "Well I knew he was going to great since the beginning," only to be outdone by those who mocked this same prospect as a first round pick in their 2014 mock draft they wrote in 2010.

Their goal is not to teach and entertain, but to bloat themselves up with their own pompous snuff.

An event filled with infinite possibilities and intrigue turns into a contest of "I thought of him firsts" and plenty of "Eh, he's not that great anyways". The goal is not to talk intelligently, but to be the one who wrote about player X before everyone else. It reminds me of this past March when I hiked Guadalupe Peak. 95% of me was falling in love with the beauty of this vast planet we live on and the other 5% was hoping the group behind me was going to run out of water and have to turn back around. After a few hours, we finally reached the top. I marveled at how if you stare far enough the horizon slowly melts into the sky.

Joining me and those who sadly did not see their water leap off the trail was an oblong metal tin. I opened it up and inside lay a journal for those who reached the highest altitude in Texas to write their names and leave messages. In it were dozens of names conjoined with phrases like "I love Jessica" and the all-time classic "Mike Waz Here". I wanted to piss all over it. I wanted to throw it off the mountain top. Inside the identities of people were scribbled, the same people who plastered their names onto the rocks scattered across the peak and howled with displeasure that their panoramic picture could not upload to Facebook at that particular moment in time. Dozens of names of people, who in my mind, just don't get it. In reality they weren't doing anything wrong. All they did was dilute my sense of accomplishment and the feelings of awe that swarmed through my flesh at the time. This is a disgusting way to think of things, but we all fall victim to it in various degrees.

From a media stand point, the NFL draft is a bunch of people on top of a mountain hating everyone else for being on top of the same mountain. Its one single glob of people doing everything they can to differentiate themselves. Its no different than that friend of yours who stopped listening to Modest Mouse once Float On hit VH1 or the guy at your office who's claim to fame is watching Breaking Bad since the first episode or those who eat Bit-O-Honey because other candy is too mainstream.

As a result of this PBR guzzling, fart wafting smugness we top prospects berated because it becomes too uncool to enjoy his game. You can't be original or contemporary if everyone agrees that player X is the best in his class. Instead, they reach for straws to be the one wearing a neon yellow shirt at a Slipknot concert. No one is immune to this treatment and even the ineffable Andrew Luck was criticized by Phil Simms for for not having a strong enough arm.

"There’s a lot to him. I think his best quality, by far, is he’s big and strong and he’s going to be able to move and run in the NFL. There’s no question. I mean, this guy is strong. The throwing? He manages a game. I see all that.

"But the one thing I don’t see, I just don’t see big time NFL throws. I don’t care what anybody says. I’ve watched a lot of him. He never takes it and rips it in there. And you can say what you want but, man, you’ve got to be able to crease that ball every once in a while. We see it every week in these games. Hey, he can develop it but even in the USC game, you know, he’s very careful with it, guides it a lot, Rich. That’s what I see. There’s not a lot of rotation on the ball and there’s not a tremendous amount of power. Not that you need to have that power arm. I’m not saying you’ve got to have that exclusively but, man, it sure helps when you can do that because there’s four or five plays a game it is about arm strength. And sometimes quarterbacks who don’t have it, they pass those plays up. Why? Well, they go, ‘I don’t know if I can make that throw,’ so they throw it short. That’s why I’m a little more reserved in my judgment than everybody else.

The same Andrew Luck who is making throws like this at the professional level.

I highly doubt he even completely believed what he said, but I do know the CBS announcer wanted to feel different than the crowd. He had to be different just for the sake of being different.

"That’s why I’m a little more reserved in my judgment than everybody else."

This year we observed the same thing happen to Teddy Bridgewater and Jadeveon Clowney (who can't escape the lazy label), both of whom were can't miss number one picks last season. I don't watch much college football, but I heard about both of these two during the 2013 bowl season. Then after the 2013 draft their names began to flourish and bloom. They became the early favorites for the number one pick. However, since quarterbacks remain king Bridgewater had the spotlight on him going into the 2013 season. Even though its a Bleacher Report article, it encapsulates the mindset of "draftsters" last August:

And it wasn’t because they decided to skip out on the festivities, either. They were true sophomores, players only two years out of high school, and thus ineligible to make the pilgrimage under the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement.

Nearly every sports fan—no matter how laissez-faire they are in their fandom—knows of the first player, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. He’s arguably the most famous defensive end in the world, a human highlight film that makes you want watch All-22 film until your eyes bleed.

The other top prospect isn’t as well known in the mainstream yet. But the fervor around Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is starting to pick up, and it’s only going to spike even higher between now and next April.

What has happened since then? Clowney achieved his goal by escaping 2013 injury-free and Bridgewater supplanted himself as the best quarterback in this year's class by putting up the following numbers:

Year G Cmp Att Cmp% Yds Y/A AY/A TD INT Rate
2011 13 191 296 64.5% 2129 7.2 6.3 14 12 132.4
2012 13 287 419 68.5% 3718 8.9 9.3 27 8 160.5
2013 13 303 427 71.0% 3970 9.3 10.3 31 4 171.1

Mock drafts had Teddy or Clowney going to Houston for the better part of two months. Then it slowly it became uncool to like Bridgewater. Everyone was smoking American Spirits Yellows so some began to inhale the succulent nicotine from the slender sticks that arrived in a teal box. Then glove gate happened. The spark to hatred was there and Birdgewater's Pro Day exacerbated the uncoolness. Three years of throws were flushed down the toilet thanks to sixty-five throws in shorts and a t-shirt. All of the sudden Bridgewater began to show cracks in the armor. He became too skinny, too weak minded, and lacked arm strength, despite being the same person. "Experts" questioned his ability to be the face of the franchise. Some thought he had already reached his ceiling and preferred the limitless potential of Blake Bortles. Most of these clefts were imagined due to re-watching his tape through the shattered, purple lenses of Chuckie Finster's glasses.

After the Combine, his NFL draft profile was listed with the following weaknesses:

Has a very lean, narrow frame with limited bulk and small hands

Remember when Kevin Durant was laughed at for not being able to bench press 185 pounds at the NBA combine? Remember when Russell Wilson was too short? Remember when a quarterback is not allowed to touch a Lombardi trophy if his hands are not larger than 9 1/4"? Remember when Johnny Manziel was lambasted for his size in this year's scouting process? Bridgewater is 6'2" 215 pounds at twenty-one years old. I doubt his weight stays the same as he adds years to his age.

When it comes to quarterback play size is important. However, it becomes less of an issue if a quarterback excels at other aspects of the position like decision making, pocket presence, accuracy, and intelligence. All of these traits are what Bridgewater excels at. Coincidentally, these are more detrimental to a player's success than height, weight, and finger width.

Does not drive the ball with velocity down the field and can be affected by cold and windy conditions

This is the same thing as the previous statement. Arm strength is not as important as touch and passing the ball. If quarterbacks were measured by how far they threw the ball we might as well be drafting Olympians with gold medals in the shot put or discus. Bridgewater still has a good arm and its nothing close to Mark Sanchez's pea shooter. He played every home game outside with Louisville and played very well outside last year in wins on the road against Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Temple. Additionally, he's going to continue to get stronger and his arm strength should improve along the way.

Can improve placement and touch on the deep ball

This is a statement I can get on board with. The only egregious knock I see in Bridgewater's game is his deep passing ability. He tends to toss the ball up rather than aim for spot on the field. He consistently over and under threw the ball and seemed to lack touch and feel for passes down field. That being said, its also inferred that this can be attributed to the offense Louisville ran. I'll let the great Matt Waldman explain since he can articulate it better then I can.

The Louisville offense, according to Smart Football blogger and Grantland contributor Chris Brown, is a system rooted in West Coast principles with its coordinator influenced by coaches like Bill Callahan and Mike White. West Coast offenses have a number of reads where the priority is short to deep rather than deep to short.

"In my opinion, it’s not as natural for your eyes to refocus this way and the timing is off for receivers downfield," says Brown, who explains why he thinks it’s difficult to go short to deep. "It’s easier on corner routes and deep posts as you hold the safeties on the shorter options first, but it is really hard to pull off on true vertical routes."

Without the luxury to speak with Louisville’s offense coordinator, I can only speculate that the Cardinals used a lot of short-to-deep reads. However, it is something I’ve noted on a number of inaccurate deep throws that I’ve seen from Bridgewater. A scout I spoke with agreed that the Louisville system "was not conducive towards deep shots."

Let's take a look at the top quarterbacks according to DYAR and compare their yards per attempt from their college and professional careers.

Player Pro Y/A College Y/A
Peyton Manning 7.7 8.1
Philip Rivers 7.9 7.9
Drew Brees 7.5 7.0
Matt Ryan 7.1 6.9
Nick Foles 7.9 7.2
Tom Brady 7.5 7.5
Tony Romo 7.2 8.7
Colin Kaepernick 8.1 7.9
Russell WIlson 8.3 7.9
Aaron Rodgers 8.2 8.2

I know its a rough estimate, but as we see here quarterbacks usually improve at throwing the deep ball as they get older. When we combine the offense he ran at Louisville and the previous table it makes me confident Bridgewater will improve on his touch on deep passes as he progresses through his career.

Is not an overly elusive scrambler -- struggles escaping the rush and buying a second chance with his feet vs. pressure.

Yep, I totally see this point.

Teddy_b__feet

One of Bridgewater's greatest strengths is his confidence in the pocket. No matter how great the pass rush is he always has is eyes down field and on his receivers. Additionally, he has the quickness and footwork to deal with both interior and exterior pressure. I'm guessing this description is a result of Bridgewater not looking to run once he escapes the pocket. In his career at Louisville he ran for only 170 yards on 226 attempts. After getting away from pressure his eyes are always up the field and he is looking to throw the ball rather than run.

Passing stats are padded from operating a passing game that relies heavily on short, lateral tosses

We can actually measure this one. Thanks to the game charting done by Greg Peshek.

Where_they_threw_the_ball_medium

Bridgewater did throw the highest amount of passes in the 1-5 yard range, but he threw the lowest amount of screen passes. When we combine passes from screens to five yards we see the following percentages.

Target Bridgewater Carr Bortles Manziel
0-5 Yards 42.55% 59.61% 48.43% 46.85%

Then we combine throws six yards and greater we see this.

Target Bridgewater Carr Bortles Manziel
+6 Yards 57.45% 40.39% 51.57% 53.15%

Teddy Bridgewater relied less on short passes than his counterparts did.

Long-term durability could become a concern without continued strength and weight gains.

Bridgewater took one of the most violent hits I've seen without being injured against Florida and missed a total of zero games in his college career.

Bridgewater_hitii

In the 2012 season he even broke his wrist in a loss against Connecticut while playing with a sprained ankle. He still played the next week against Rutgers to clinch the Big East Championship and a Sugar Bowl berth against Florida. If he missed a few games here and there I could get on board with this statement, but again, he missed zero games and did not let monstrous hits like this phase him.

The national writers and television men on major networks came out and took their turns blasting Bridgewater. After the glove debacle Mike Mayock became the biggest critic of Bridgewater and the leader of the Teddy to the Second Round Crusade.

"I would say in general, tape is worth about 85 percent of an overall grade, and the rest of the process is set up for red flags, and to go back and watch more tape to try to confirm what you saw or didn’t see," Mayock said. "I saw about four of his tapes prior to the combine, and I really liked him. I thought he had a chance to be a franchise quarterback from what I saw on the tape. . . . Except you’ve got to see the quarterbacks throw the ball live. I’ve never seen a top-level quarterback in the last 10 years have a bad pro day, until Teddy Bridgewater. He had no accuracy, the ball came out funny, the arm strength wasn’t there, and it made me question everything I saw on tape because this was live."

So let's throw out the 85% and knock him down to the second round for failing an open book test.

"As far as a face of the franchise, sometimes, that’s not definable. I look at Johnny Manziel, and whatever ‘it’ is, he has it. I know that on Saturday or Sunday, or whatever day you play, he’s gonna show up with an edge about him, thinking he’s the best guy on the field, and he’s going to elevate the play of those around him. I believe that. I also struggle a little bit with [Manziel's] off-the-field antics. With Bridgewater, I don’t feel an ‘it factor.’ I see a really nice kid, a kid I’m rooting for and I hope he becomes a good player, but I don’t know if he’s ready to be the guy. Because of that, I think he’s going to need at least a year to get used to that environment. A redshirt year, in other words. And if you need a redshirt year, you’re probably going to get drafted at a different level.

Mel Kiper agreed and dropped Bridgewater, despite Teddy being the best quarterback on his board.

Analysis: In terms of his ability as a passer, Bridgewater could go higher. But while I currently have him rated as the top QB on my Big Board, Bridgewater will need to prove to teams that he can command an NFL huddle and be the face of a franchise. I think he has the necessary physical tools to succeed, and shows an advanced approach with his footwork, anticipation, pre-snap command and ability to improvise. He's a very good value here for a team with a huge need at the position. Whether he can start right away is a question we'll need more time to answer.

Mock # Date Published Draft Position
1 1/16/14 8th:Minnesota
2 2/6/14 4th:Cleveland
3 3/13/14 5th:Oakland
4 4/17/14 33rd
5 4/29/14 N/A (Not in 1st Round)

Mayock's second statement is what infuriated me more than the short and t-shirt noise. Toughness and IT is more than being loud, brash and having a,"Let's go mother ___ attitude." Most who act like this are covering up for their inadequacies and are usually feigning a confidence that is not there. They need to draw attention to themselves to mask their underlying weaknesses. Jason Parks wrote about fortitude regarding pitchers at Baseball Prospectus and much of it is similar to the nonsense Mayock describes. The entire piece is worth reading and the link is here.

"Do I prefer pitchers that shove it down a hitter’s throat or do I prefer pitchers that let the hitter dictate the emotion of the at-bat? Can it be that simple? I don’t need a loud jerk on the mound—those rarely can maintain the necessary composure to remain in control of situations. But I don’t like soft arms, pitchers that are already behind the curve before they even throw the first pitch. Intimidation matters. Psychology matters, I will absolutely discount a pitcher that lacks fortitude on the mound. What does that look like? To me, it looks like command of a situation with intent to destroy. You asked me if that could occur in a more controlled, strong/silent manner. My answer is yes and no, because you can always see it, even when a pitcher goes about his task without a lot of fanfare. You can see it when a pitcher owns the plate. When he attacks from an elevated position of authority. It’s not about being a character as much as its about showing character, and in a pitcher, I want to see the guy who isn’t afraid to let you know—through his actions—that he is the superior competitor."

In a scouting/real world paradox, we search for premium characteristics of strength in players—both in a physical and emotional sense—yet often discount the archetypal strong, silent types in favor of the ones that wear their aggression on their sleeves, as if we need a visual indicator on the field to appreciate their intent. Fortitude is found in all forms, regardless of how we come to discover it, but as mere mortals we often expect our modern superheroes to posses all the courageous qualities that we struggle to find in our own daily lives. We want to see a player step up in a warrior situation and provide us with an alpha display that requires no deeper explanation. We seek the obvious. We seek simplicity in perceived chaos. We seek a mound visit between Roger Dorn and Ricky Vaughn, with a straight-forward and easily understandable objective of "strike this m*therfucker out," and then we reach orgasmic levels when the desired outcome actually occurs, accompanied by a powerful fist reaction and vocal expression. That’s fortitude, the ability to take control of a substantial situation and emerge victorious. It’s fortitude because I could see that it was fortitude, and seeing is believing, right?

With Bridgewater we don't see a guy with his chest cut open and his heart dangling from its Atriums. He's a player who is quite, calculated, and in control of his surroundings. A player described by his coaches at Louisville as being the smartest player in the room who outworks everyone, a football maniac. But since we don't see him screaming and running down the field into the endzone after every touchdown he becomes feeble and weak minded. Just because we can't easily see fortitude does not mean it is not in there.

The circus has come fill circle. The clowns have run out of pies and have crammed each of their sixteen comrades into a Smart Car, and Bridgewater is now a possible second day pick. He's fallen from a 1.1 to the Canadian Football League because he had a bad day in shorts and lacks "sack", size, and zip.

When in reality he's fallen in mocks and the media disowned him because it just wasn't cool to praise Bridgewater anymore. Its not contrarian enough for the best quarterback prospect to remain the best quarterback prospect for an entire year. Its not cool to have a rough pro day when your peers have a former president and first lady at theirs. Its not cool to wear khaki pants and a t-shirt with a front pocket.

If you don't like Bridgewater as a NFL quarterback, that's fine with me. I just hope it's for football related reasons you saw. It should be because of the issues you see when he throws the ball deep rather than hating his pro day and thinking, "Well, if Mike Mayock won't take him in the first round, neither would I". If you like Manziel, Bortles, or Clowney more, it should be because you see a player who's creative and does things on the field no one else can, or you think Bortles is a tremendous athlete who needs a few tweaks to become great, or you see a once in a generation freak who will terrorize offenses for years to come. It should not be because you were mistaken by faux analysis masquerading as the truth.

However, if draft day comes and he falls to 33, I will be the first to write Kiper and Mayock a love letter about why Weezer's Blue album is better than Pinkerton and why 1980s British disco blows.

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