Teddy Bridgewater showed promise in his rookie campaign last season. He completed an impressive 64.4% of his passes, finished with an 85.2 passer rating, and had a 6-6 record as a starter. There is a lot of optimism in Minnesota right now, and much of that has to do with Bridgewater. But how good is he really and how high is his ceiling?
Physically, Bridgewater is an underwhelming talent. His arm strength is just average, and he struggles to drive the ball on throws to the outside that require more velocity. The below play against the Bills in Week 7 is a great example of this. Here, Bridgewater had just started his motion. His receiver was open and had room to the sideline on a far hash deep out.
The defensive back, whose back was turned at the top of the route, did a nice job of recovering. But by NFL standards, this throw was still open. Look at all that room to the sideline even after Bridgewater had already gotten rid of the ball.
The pass hung in the air, though. This gave the DB time to undercut the route and make the interception even though the ball was thrown to the sideline.
Bridgewater did just about everything right on this play. He threw the ball with good timing and anticipation. Because he isn’t a power thrower, though, the DB was able to make a play on the ball despite the fact that he was initially beat on the route.
This brings us to another issue with Bridgewater. Not only is his motion a little too long, his arm slot is not very good. Below is a good shot of Bridgewater’s arm on the interception.
He has a clean pocket around him and room to step into his throw. There is nothing affecting his motion. Yet look how low his elbow is. Also, look at the trajectory of the ball. The low elbow and lack of arm strength creates a huge hump on Bridgewater’s throws to the outside, and this gives defenders more time to make a play on the ball.
But here’s where we get to the good with Bridgewater’s game. He knows how to play the position. He has shown the ability to anticipate throws from the pocket, and this often helps him make up for his physical deficiencies as a thrower. The better he gets at reading the defense and delivering the ball on time, the more he’ll be able to offset his lack of arm strength. Based on his performance in 2014, it appears likely that Bridgewater will only continue to get better in this department.
Early in the season, Bridgewater was a little quick to flee the pocket. This is usually the case with rookie quarterbacks. But as the year went on, he became more and more comfortable. He showed that he can and will hang in the pocket and work through his progressions. On the below play against the Redskins in Week 9, he did just that. As he dropped back, he initially looked left to his field-side route combination.
The routes took a long time to develop, so he moved underneath to his shallow crosser, who was covered.
Then Bridgewater went all the way back to the short side of the field and found his tight end for a 15-yard pick-up.
This is NFL quarterbacking at its best.
A few other things stood out about this play. First, the Redskins blitzed with 5 defenders. Bridgewater didn’t flinch, though. He knew that his protection had the numbers to pick up the blitz and he trusted his line to do so. Then he calmly worked through his reads.
Additionally, Bridgewater recognized that the defender underneath his tight end on the backside had his back turned to him.
Many quarterbacks aren’t good at recognizing the body positioning of defenders. They just see someone in their passing lane and move on to another receiver. The better quarterbacks can easily spot how a defender is moving, where he came from, and where he’s going. Bridgewater did that here, as he spotted the defender in his passing lane but recognized that his back was turned and therefore that he couldn’t possibly make a play on the ball.
This is one of the many encouraging aspects of Bridgewater’s game. He can succeed from within the pocket. He can hang in and work through his progressions. And when he moves to avoid pressure, he keeps a downfield focus for the most part. He possesses many of the attributes needed to play the position at a high level.
Bridgewater has already had success in the NFL despite his physical shortcomings. However, the physical aspects of his game still need improvement. His arm won’t get much stronger, but it can get a little stronger. The arm slot of his elbow isn’t impossible to improve. It’s not like he needs to completely overhaul his throwing motion to make an adjustment like this. He can marginally improve the speed of his release as well. Whatever physical improvements Bridgewater makes won’t suddenly turn him into John Elway. But when combined with his mental attributes, they might be enough to make him a very good quarterback for years to come.