Leading up to the NFL draft on May 8-10, Shutdown Corner will examine some of the most interesting prospects in the class, breaking down their strengths and weaknesses.
6-foot-2, 214 pounds
2013 stats: 303-of-427 (71.0 percent), 3,970 yards, 31 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, 78 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
40-yard dash: 4.78 seconds at pro day (did not run at combine)
The good: Following Bridgewater's strong game in the Cardinals' upset over Florida in the Sugar Bowl to cap the 2012 season, he was touted as a possible top-three pick in the 2014 NFL draft if he declared early. And with a mostly terrific 2013 season, that status appeared to be in good shape, even if the "wow" factor wore off a bit for some who watched him. Still, it was hard not to be enthusiastic about the incredible numbers Bridgewater put up in a 12-1 season with the one loss coming by three points to Blake Bortles and the Fiesta Bowl-winning UCF Knights. And that loss might have been one of his best games of the season.
Bridgewater is a quick-rhythm passer who is extremely accurate and able to throw on the move. He manipluates safeties well with his eyes and has shown the ability to move through his progressions to his second and third receivers when his first one is covered. He generally takes what he is given, has a smooth delivery, throws a very catchable ball and does not put his team in bad positions with mistakes. Expect Bridgewater to come to the team's he's drafted by, absorb the playbook and instantly earn respect — as he did at Louisville — with his work ethic, his football intelligence and his meticulous desire to improve as a pro.
The bad: Bridgewater lacks textbook size, playing around 200 pounds before bulking up prior to the combine, and he's a good but hardly a special athletic specimen who seldom chooses to run. The trouble for Bridgewater really began with a pro day performance that was, frankly, pretty poor. Facing an air defense and running a predetermined script of rehearsed throws, Bridgewater had trouble connecting on even some basic throws, which he and others have chalked up to his forgoing wearing gloves.
He typically wore them for games in college but occasionally took them off (such as the first series of the Cincinnati game in 2013), and some evaluators wonder if he will struggle with gripping NFL footballs in cold weather with relatively smallish hands. Bridgewater struggled throughout stretches of night games in cold and windy conditions against Cincinnati and a winless Connecticut team. Although he stands tall against pressure, Bridgewater also seems to have some trouble feeling and escaping the rush at times.
The verdict: The talk of Bridgewater not being face-of-the franchise material appears to be fabricated and, frankly, invalid. The coaches at Louisville raved about his ability to inspire his teammates and coax out their best performance, and they raved about Bridgewater's commitment, his character and his determination. NFL teams should have zero concerns on that front, and we wonder if that information leaked to NFL Network's Mike Mayock wasn't an attempt by a team to take advantage of Bridgewater's slowly sinking draft stock.
Although we have a hard time seeing Bridgewater falling out of the first round entirely, there is a chance it could happen depending on how and where the other quarterbacks fall. With quarterbacks, it's tricky — there has to be a need, and the fit has to be right. We'd love to see him go to a place with a rhythm/short-to-intermediate/precision/West Coast system — the Jacksonville Jaguars immediately come to mind — where Bridgewater's accuracy in tight windows and exceptional timing can be best utilized. In the right system, he could be special, and there doesn't appear to be a huge risk in taking him with his fundamental skill set and intangibles.
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