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The case for Teddy Bridgewater

Starting rookie quarterbacks early isn't a foolproof method to achieve success in the NFL, but Teddy Bridgewater certainly seems as if he'll be ready sooner than later.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

It's a natural reaction for fans to root for someone other than the incumbent when it comes to the quarterback position on a team with a bad record from the previous season. That's why it's only taken Jaguars fans and media a couple of games to proclaim that it's time to throw out the team's plans to sit Blake Bortles for a season and consider him for the starting job.

The thing about rookie quarterbacks drafted in the first round is that there's never really any question as to if they will be starters for their respective teams. It's always a question of when. For teams that were previously bad - the Jaguars were a paltry 4-12 last season - any change is good change, because it can't get much worse. Cleveland Browns fans and media are in the same boat after a 4-12 season, and they're already looking forward to the Johnny Manziel era knowing that Brian Hoyer is not the long-term solution.

What about Teddy Bridgewater?

One of the all-time greatest Cardinals is a Viking now, and the football world is starting to realize how good he can be after a couple of weeks of the NFL preseason. Last Saturday night, Bridgewater put on a commanding performance against the Arizona Cardinals, ultimately leading a game-winning drive that the Louisville faithful know all too well. If you’re interested in watching his full highlight reel, you can do so by clicking here.

Like we’ve known all along, Bridgewater may not have the arm that Blake Bortles has. He may not be as agile or have the knack to scramble like Johnny Manziel. But he doesn’t have to.

He doesn’t need to have a cannon because he knows what he’s looking for at the line of scrimmage and where he’s going with the football after the snap. And he doesn’t need to be able to scramble and make dazzling plays with his feet, because while he may not run the fastest 40-yard dash, he knows how to navigate the pocket under pressure and deliver accurate throws. Maybe he’s just less flashy. That’s just fine.

For all of the question marks that surrounded Bridgewater when he was in the pre-draft process, nobody could seriously question his readiness for the NFL game. So it should come as no surprise that he clearly has a command of the offense and looks comfortable on an NFL field already. After all, a good majority of scouts never denied his mental readiness for the next level.

Last weekend's display was vintage Teddy Bridgewater to anyone who watched him closely during his time at Louisville and a perfect illustration of what should make him great in the NFL. It was defined by patience and poise and a surgeon-like approach to the defense. He was quick, accurate and smart. He was elusive – not panicked – when he needed to be and hung tough other times, delivering throws of all varieties all over the field like he always used to in college.

Minnesota went 5-10-1 last season, so that must put them in a similar category with Jacksonville and Cleveland, right? It certainly seems like it should be that way, and maybe Bridgewater should be the week one starter, but there’s no exact science as to when the right time is to throw a rookie quarterback into the fire.

There is a loose theory, though, so let’s just take a stab at it anyway.

In 2007, the Atlanta Falcons finished 4-12 under a coach we're pretty familiar with here in Louisville. He only had quarterbacks Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich to work with after Michael Vick's off-field issues, and it was a season that was doomed from the start for a multitude of reasons. In the 2008 draft, Atlanta selected Matt Ryan out of Boston College with their first round pick. Ryan went on to start every game for the Falcons in the 2008 season, throwing for a modest 3,440 yards and 16 touchdowns and taking them to the playoffs in his rookie year. Ryan was ESPN’s top-rated quarterback that year (Bridgewater was third in this year’s rankings), but here’s what his draft profile looked like:

"Matt Ryan doesn't have the arm strength of a JaMarcus Russell, and he isn't a dynamic open-field runner, but he is clearly the most NFL-ready quarterback in this year's draft class. He has better-than-average arm strength, he's accurate and he understands the game."

Hopefully, that first sentence jumped out to you. Put Bridgewater’s name in there instead of Ryan’s, and it sounds shockingly similar to what was being said about him before his slight frame became the biggest issue surrounding his name leading up to the draft. Moving along…

The Baltimore Ravens didn’t have a very good 2007 season either, finishing 5-11 in the only season since 1999 to date that the Cleveland Browns were good (ignore the Browns part, sorry). They used three quarterbacks that season, the primary one being Kyle Boller. You’re probably thinking, "Boy, I sure hope for their sake that they got a quarterback in the 2008 draft to avoid repeating that disaster." Well, wouldn’t you know it, they did!

Baltimore selected Delaware’s Joe Flacco – who had left Pittsburgh after being stuck behind Tyler Palko – with the 18th overall pick in the 2008 draft. Flacco didn’t dazzle in his rookie season (2,971 yards and 14 touchdowns), but like Ryan, he got the Ravens to the 2008 playoffs with an 11-5 record and nearly got them to a Super Bowl. Sure, the Ravens’ defense was littered with Hall of Famers at that time, but the playoffs are the playoffs.

It’s tough to compare Flacco and Bridgewater, because coming out of Delaware,  Flacco had a different multitude of knocks for all of the obvious reasons (non-existent strength of schedule leading to him being a raw talent, etc.). Flacco’s arm is also an absolute rocket, and he’s four inches taller than Bridgewater. Their skills are different, but Flacco’s case does at least provide some depth to the argument that starting a rookie quarterback right away isn’t always a bad thing.

So what can we take from this?

The Ravens defense undoubtedly carried some of Flacco’s early success, and Matt Ryan’s nearly identical draft profile and superb "NFL readiness" (along with a veteran Roddy White) helped him lead Atlanta to a playoff berth. For the record, the Falcons defense wasn’t bad that year, finishing just outside of the top ten in points allowed.

At least in the beginning, things may be harder for Bridgewater. Minnesota ranked dead last in points allowed last season. But they were in the middle of the pack as far as points scored, and, like Ryan did, Bridgewater will have an elite offensive talent in Adrian Peterson at his disposal.

There’s no way to know whether Teddy Bridgewater will start in week one, week seven or somewhere in between. The valid counterargument here is that Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees each sat for a year or more before taking over a starting job. The only thing we know for sure is that it takes sharp mental competence, confidence and understanding to win in the NFL. Above all else, that’s what all successful NFL quarterbacks share.

Call it a hunch, but it seems like Mr. Two Gloves is well on his way. He'll have his next chance to make more progress tonight against the Kansas City Chiefs at 8 p.m. The game will be re-broadcast on Monday morning at 10 a.m. by NFL Network.