There are many great college quarterbacks currently in college football. Quarterbacks like Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, and UGA’s Aaron Murray are all great quarterbacks grabbing headlines this season. However it is a signal caller at an untraditional football power that just may be the nation’s best NFL prospect in Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. The talented quarterback from Miami, Florida has quietly developed one of the best skill sets in the country and, if he keeps progressing, could end up being the first person called at the Radio City Music Hall next spring.
First things first, winning national titles and conference titles are not always the best measure of how good a college quarterback will be in the NFL. While many like to focus on the dominance of the SEC, of the five former SEC quarterbacks currently starting in the NFL only one won an NCAA National Championship (Cam Newton) and only two won SEC titles (Newton and Peyton Manning). The rest of the NFL starters were not champions but were great quarterbacks in their own right (ironically, two of the last three National Championship winning quarterbacks in the NFL were cut last week). Making your team better is more important than simply being serviceable enough to win a title. This is where Teddy Bridgewater stands out in the current crop of NCAA quarterbacks.
Bridgewater has mostly good, but not great players surrounding him at the University of Louisville but he helms his teammates like a maestro leading his orchestra, getting the best from them like any great should be able to do. While his performance was breathtaking this past weekend against Ohio, the lesser competition can often make the numbers look better than they were. What you can gather from the numbers is that he was laser-accurate but the eye-test showed a quarterback that was so comfortable after a hot start that he began to take risks as the game went on. That said, the truly incredible measure of Bridgewater was his 2013 Sugar Bowl performance against the University of Florida.
The Miami-native skewered a defense loaded with NFL talent with a mix of smarts and skill in the first half. On the skill side, Bridgewater’s quick feet and release enabled him to miss the majority of a relentless Gator rush and his accuracy and big arm enabled him to make some utterly ridiculous throws (see his late second quarter TD). While he is not the runner that Manziel is, his elusiveness in the pocket allowed him to extend plays while keeping his eyes down the field multiple times in the Sugar Bowl. This is important in the NFL, as quarterbacks like Tom Brady can be effective with their feet despite never crossing the line of scrimmage.
On the intelligence side, Bridgewater showed great pocket awareness while still using his route progressions to find open receivers in the face of the aforementioned pass rush. Making things more impressive was that Florida finished the season ranked fifth in the nation in total defense. So when people try to say, “he has not done it against an SEC defense,” he not only has but did it against the second best SEC defense next to the 2012-13 National Champion Crimson Tide. All of these skills and abilities are crucial to the success of an NFL quarterback, just ask former Patriot Tim Tebow.
Speaking of Tebow, everyone likes to talk about the intangibles and a player’s off-the-field presence these days. Bridgewater’s ability to get the best out of his teammates is crucial, especially for a top draft pick that will likely end up on one of the worst teams in the NFL. He is also reportedly a student of the game who is more than willing to do the work needed to be great. Off the field, Bridgewater’s story of overcoming adversity to support his family while growing into the quarterback he is today shows character, humility, and work ethic that is essential for a rookie to progress in the league.
It will be interesting to watch Teddy Bridgewater the rest of the season and whether he continues to improve with each game. If he does, he has a chance to unseat South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney as the number one pick in next year’s draft. Bridgewater will likely need to gain weight on his 6’3″ 193-pound frame to have a long career in the NFL but at 6’3″ he at least has the height needed for most quarterbacks to be successful in the NFL. If Bridgewater continues to elevate his game the way he has to this point of his career, he will likely join the ranks of the NFL’s youth movement at the quarterback position.