NFL draft experts like to talk about "measurables" at this time of here. So here's one:
That's the number of interceptions thrown in the entire 2013 season by Teddy Bridgewater. Four interceptions against 31 touchdowns. A year ago, that kind of season would have only reinforced the widely held belief that Bridgewater was a top-two pick in the 2014 draft.
Instead, he's plummeting.
Mike Mayock of NFL Network said this weekend he would not take Bridgewater in the first round; Mayock was formerly very high on the former Louisville star.
Mayock's not alone. The consensus on Bridgewater has veered from highly coveted to highly criticized in the months since he threw for three touchdowns and 447 yards in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Miami. The change in regard for Bridgewater is getting beyond the realm of the curious. It's more in the neighborhood of ridiculous.
NFL cognoscenti seem to flock together: It's a copycat league. Strangely, though, there's little copying of what works among quarterbacks at the pro level. Football minds keep gravitating to the quarterbacks who show unrefined physical prowess over those who have a clear track record on the field. You'd think GMs would learn their lesson after watching Tom Brady and Drew Brees win Super Bowls. Instead, the chase seems to be on for the next Jeff George. Only a month or so after Bridgewater finished his college career, Russell Wilson won the Super Bowl with the Seahawks. Wilson also had four interceptions in his final college season at Wisconsin, against 33 touchdowns. His completion percentage (72.8) was also comparable to Bridgewater's (71.0). Wilson went in the third round, and most thought he would be a first-round pick if he were just a little bit taller. Bridgewater is just a little bit taller: 6-foot-2 to Wilson's 5-11. Is it a second chance to draft a seasoned passer like Wilson?
Or is it a second chance to whiff? Bridgewater is drifting in credibility while former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, who transferred twice and never got close to the statistical display shown consistently by Bridgewater, is perhaps the hottest name in the draft. Savage is 6-5 with a big arm, and he reminds scouts of Nick Foles, who switched his commitment from Arizona State to Michigan State and then left East Lansing for Arizona. So transferring is now a good sign?
What's even sillier about all this is Bridgewater had lots of decision-making responsibility at the line of scrimmage at Louisville. He took over as starter at age 18 and threw for nearly 10,000 yards over three seasons. His interception count dropped from 12 in his first year to 8 to 4. His intelligence and work ethic have never been questioned, and any concerns about his ability to beat top teams vanished more than a year ago, when Bridgewater dissected a Florida defense considered one of the best in the nation – led by coordinator Dan Quinn, who would leave after that Sugar Bowl for the Seahawks and a Super Bowl title. Savage's only comparable game came in 2013 when he took on title-bound Florida State and threw for 201 yards and two interceptions.
So what happened to Bridgewater? For one thing, he had a poor pro day. He took off his throwing gloves for the occasion – a decision that a good agent would have talked him out of – and he looked wobbly. For many draft experts, it was the first live look at Bridgewater, and it didn't go well. How that one day in an artificial football laboratory undoes three full years of actual play is hard to figure.
But that's what's happened. Experts like Mayock have looked back at the game film and found new flaws in Bridgewater: his deep balls aren't as crisp; his outside-the-hashes targets aren't as accurate. Why that didn't result in more than four interceptions last season is anyone's guess. Perhaps American Athletic Conference defenses are simply inferior. Though that hasn't hurt UCF's Blake Bortles' draft stock much.
The other worry about Bridgewater is his size. Not his height, but his heft. According to his NFL.com combine profile, Bridgewater is 214 pounds and has a "very lean, narrow frame with limited bulk." In fact, a major chunk of the "weaknesses" section of that report has to do with Bridgewater's thickness. "Long term durability could become a concern," it says, "without continued strength and weight gains."
Well, about that: Bridgewater needed jaw surgery during college and dropped from 222 pounds to 196. He's put most of that weight back on, and he's likely to add even more bulk once he gets into a nutrition program with his new team. He's only 21, and likely to get bigger as he matures. Bortles, by the way, is a year older than Bridgewater and Savage is nearly three. It's hard to argue their potential is greater than Bridgewater's just because they have less starting experience.
And as for durability, just revisit the November night in 2012 when Louisville traveled to Rutgers with a BCS bid in the balance. Bridgewater didn't start, as he had a broken wrist and a badly sprained ankle. But he asked to go into the game when the Cardinals fell behind, and promptly rallied them from 11 points down to win. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood called it one of the greatest college performances he's ever seen.
It's easy to wonder if racism is in play here. Alex Smith's draft preview reads almost exactly like Bridgewater's and he went first overall. Now he's a veteran starter for a playoff team. But instead of something nefarious, Bridgewater's fall is more likely because draft experts gravitate to big: big arms, big bodies and big personalities. Statistics and winning are easily dismissed as products of a system. Just ask former Cal standout Aaron Rodgers.
Bridgewater isn't a big talker – there wasn't even a Heisman campaign for him – so he's not going to pump his own tires. That might be hurting him too, especially compared to the always-entertaining Johnny Manziel, who had a former U.S. president at his pro day.
But if you want an egoless, driven, smart and proven quarterback to lead your wayward franchise, you could do worse than to part with the growing majority of the draft experts and pick Teddy Bridgewater.
The consequences for those who pass on him will certainly be "measurable."