Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Derek Carr were always the “big four” quarterbacks in the 2014 NFL Draft class, and that list is the order in which they were drafted last year. All but one of them are expected to sit on the bench as rookies, though it’s still a bit unclear if the Cleveland Browns will throw Manziel into the fire or allow him to adjust to the NFL (he does, after all, come with plenty of risk due to questions over his playing style) behind Brian Hoyer. Carr is clearly going to study behind short-term starter Matt Schaub, while the Jacksonville Jaguars have never had any intention of starting their rookie quarterback. Beyond that, Bortles is pretty raw, as he played in a very QB-friendly, first-read offense that allowed him to stare down his receivers and not worry too much about decision-making.
Each of those “big four” quarterbacks has the potential to be a franchise quarterback, and I legitimately think that all four of them warranted first-round picks (only Carr slipped into the second, but he was an easy snatch and a bit of a steal for the Raiders at 37) because of their talent.
But of all of those quarterbacks, only Teddy Bridgewater comes into the NFL with a significant amount of polish, and there’s never been an inkling of doubt in my mind that he’s the most pro-ready of the rookie signal-callers. In fact, it isn’t even close. His concerns are based on BS statements regarding his frame and pro day workout, which both mean nothing in the face of excellent game tape. Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman was certainly cognizant of that and did an excellent job of exposing the fallacy of putting a pro day workout above those actual games. You know, the games that teams actually scout and break down heavily.
Since Bridgewater comes to the NFL with the most polish at quarterback, there’s no question that he’s ready to start as a rookie. There’s also no question that the Vikings should start him this year, and I would be shocked if he isn’t immediately a massive upgrade over Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder. If Bridgewater can come in and play at a solid level and the defense is at least average, then the Vikings have a very good chance at making the playoffs.
If you compare each of the teams the “big four” quarterbacks landed on, it’s clear to me that Bridgewater is in the best situation. You may not like Norv Turner as an offensive coordinator, but detractors of Turner should be reassured by Bridgewater’s polish, which limits the need for him to be molded by an OC. The offense around him is the main reason why the former Louisville standout finds himself in a great situation as a rookie, because he has plenty of weapons around him. Adrian Peterson is the best running back in the NFL, the offensive line is definitely solid (Matt Kalil, John Sullivan, and Phil Loadholt are three of the best in the business at their respective positions), Kyle Rudolph is one of the game’s most underrated tight ends, Cordarrelle Patterson looks like a big-time weapon, and Greg Jennings should be a reliable target.
Last season, Matt Cassel and Christian Ponder averaged 6.4 and 5.8 adjusted yards per attempt respectively, which are both below-average totals. Although the nine interceptions they each threw look modest on paper, they are both poor totals when looking at them as a ratio of their total attempts. These two quarterbacks failed to test defenses downfield and could not consistently make good decisions.
Bridgewater will be better than those two in those facets, and he’ll also be an upgrade when facing pressure. As we were all made aware of, the Vikings loved that Bridgewater stood out as the best draft-eligible QB when facing pressure, and it has everything to do with his ability to read through his progressions. When you watch Bridgewater’s tape at Louisville, his ability to read defenses jumps out at you, and he is incredibly calm when facing the blitz due to his ability to work through his reads and make the smart throw. No quarterback prospect consistently makes better decisions than Bridgewater, whose accuracy is almost difficult to believe at times. He can make good throws to all fields, and concerns about his arm strength are definitely overblown. He has good physical tools and arm talent, and he’s especially deadly when throwing it on the run or weaving intermediate throws through coverage (his anticipation is off-the-charts).
In all honesty, there’s no reason to not start Bridgewater, even if letting a rookie quarterback learn on the bench seems like the sexiest idea right now. Unlike the other QBs, Bridgewater displayed an incredibly advanced knowledge of the game, an easily-translatable playing style, and excellent footwork. Johnny Manziel has #1 and #3 but not the second quality, whereas Derek Carr has the first two down pat but needs work with his mechanics.
When a quarterback prospect doesn’t show a glaring weakness, then there isn’t much sense in benching that prospect for the first year of their career. This is especially true for the Vikings, who have a chance at the playoffs with Bridgewater under center if he’s as good as I (and others) think he is. While he doesn’t have the arm strength of Carr or the size of Bortles (or the electrifying play of Manziel), he is the most accurate QB and the best decision-maker. Remember, those are the two most important traits for quarterbacks, because the best QBs in the NFL today excel in those two areas and have sufficient physical tools. Bridgewater has sufficient tools, as evidenced by his running ability and zip on throws. He’s made his fair share of electrifying plays in college, too, such as these two beauties right here.
I hate to sound like a cliche-machine here, but that all goes out the window when I’m waxing poetic on my favorite rookie prospect. Bridgewater has the total package at the quarterback position, and he doesn’t need to learn anything on the bench at this point. The Vikings have a shot at a nice turn-around this season after trading up for him, and it wouldn’t make any sense to throw it out the window with some more subpar play from Cassel or Ponder, whom they’ve already seen plenty of. The most valuable knowledge that Bridgewater will gain will be from actually playing in the NFL, and we already know he can handle an NFL playbook after making a ridiculous number of adjustments and essentially calling his own plays under a polished pro-style offense at Louisville.
There isn’t really a sensible argument in favor of benching Bridgewater in his rookie season, and those who are worried about him being the next Ponder should also tone things down a notch. It seems like there are some paranoid Vikings fans who compared draft prospects to Ponder out of sheer fear alone, and it was downright bizarre to hear Carr compared to Ponder when they have nothing in common (great arm vs. awful arm). Ponder’s inability to make good decisions along with his poor arm strength doomed him, whereas Bridgewater makes good decisions in just about every situation while also possessing more tools than Ponder. He isn’t Colin Kaepernick or Carr when it comes to arm strength, but the top QBs in the league today like Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan have taught us that all you need is enough arm strength to succeed if you can beat defenses mentally, which Bridgewater did on a regular basis last year.