Teddy Bridgewater is heading into his third season as starting a starting quarterback in the NFL and media and fans alike are placing high expectations, and with them pressure, on his shoulders. Quarterback is the most scrutinized position in football and expectations of how quickly a young player should develop has accelerated over the years. Where once you had time to sit behind a veteran and develop for a few years, young quarterbacks are now expected to perform almost immediately. Bridgewater’s viability as a starting signal caller in the NFL has been under question because he hasn’t had the level of individual success that players like Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and others have enjoyed early in their careers. Is this comparison fair?
Teddy Bridgewater: Progress Report
In order to compare Bridgewater to his peers, it is important to compare him to players at the same stage and age in their careers. Bridgewater became a starter at the age of 22 in 2014, while many of the top quarterbacks of today were a couple years older when they earned this distinction. Russell Wilson had a great rookie year, no doubt about that, but he was 24 years old. Tom Brady had a solid first year as a starter but he was 24 and Bridgewater’s rookie year was statistically similar. Bridgewater won’t be 24 until November. Additionally, Drew Brees was 23 when he took the starter’s role and was 25 before he hit his stride.
Clearly, looking back over the last 25 years, most of the top passers in the league didn’t even start until they were 24-25, and those that started earlier than that had less success than Bridgewater has so far. Several players didn’t even have a breakout season until they were 26 years old, like Cam Newton, and Tony Romo. Keeping in mind that most quarterbacks don’t seem to start ascending to their potential until they are 25-26 years old, it seems that what were are seeing from Bridgewater now is just the beginning.
Given that we know that most of his peers don’t start at the age Bridewater did, it would be fair to compare to those that did. Peyton Manning started at the same age, 22, and his stat line shows over his first two seasons he had a 59.3% completion percentage, 52 touchdowns, and 43 interceptions for 7874 yards and a passer rating of 80.6. Ben Roethlisberger is another example with 25 starts, a 64.7% completion percentage, 34 touchdowns, and 20 touchdowns for 5006 yards and a passer rating of 98.3. Our final example Andrew Luck’s stats look like this: 32 starts, a 57.0% completion percentage, 46 touchdowns, and 27 interceptions for 8196 yards and a passer rating of 81.5. So how does Bridgewater compare to the players listed above, who all started when they were 22?
Bridgewater’s first two seasons show the following stats: 28 starts, a 64.9% completion percentage, 28 touchdowns, and 21 interceptions for 6150 yards and a passer rating of 87.7. Stats aren’t everything, but this selection of stats and players indicate that he is right where he should be at this stage of his career.
Some will argue that Bridgewater can never be a tier one quarterback, and that may be the case in the end due to not having an “elite” level arm. The youngster certainly doesn’t have the canon of Aaron Rodgers or Cutler and never will, but do you need a canon to be a top tier NFL starter? Given that the NFL Hall of Fame is littered with signal callers with merely average arms, the answer would seem to be “no”.
Manning, Brees, and Joe Montana, all great passers in their prime, would never would be considered on anyone’s list of big arms. Not that arm strength doesn’t matter, but a starter simply needs to have an adequate arm to throw 20-yard darts. Most of today’s passing offenses do no require the quarterback to throw a 50-yard bullet like Aaron Rodgers or Jay Cutler can but rely more on timing, accuracy, and yards after the catch.
Bridgewater has displayed the ability the throw the ball 55 yards in the air, without winding up to do it and seems to have the ability to get it out 60 in the rare case that he would need to. Where he shines is in his accuracy and timing of throws, hitting wide receivers in stride. Throwing the deep ball may be a weakness, but not due to arm strength but rather accuracy at that range. Accuracy, unlike arm strength, can improve greatly with training and that is one of the things Bridgewater has been working on during the off-season. All indications so far in the preseason indicate that his efforts have been well worth it. Most observers have noticed better accuracy and success rate so far in practice, and in the joint practice with the Bengals as well.
The last point to compare is mental makeup. Can he be a leader? How does he handle pressure? Well, this tends to be more of a deal breaker for quarterbacks than arms strength so this should be very important, right? Yes, and it seems that Bridgewater has slowly been taking more of a leadership role in the team. His calm personality, work ethic, and likability are off the charts and his teammates respect him as a result. On the field he rarely makes poor decisions for someone of his age, never seems rattled and has the football IQ required to be great. Some passers, like Jay Cutler, don’t have the mental game to be great, in spite of the canon arm.
A seemingly glowing review, right? Well, yes and no. Teddy Bridgewater is on track to be a good player. That has most Minnesota Vikings fans excited, and they should be. The downside right now is that they can only bet on hope because the breakout hasn’t happened yet and sometimes they never do. He cannot compare to the established top tier quarterbacks right now, but history says that if he rises to that level it will be in 2016 or 2017.