Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is interviewed. Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Teddy Bridgewater a must-start for Minnesota Vikings

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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.

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Tags: Minnesota Vikings Notes And Analysis Teddy Bridgewater

  • Danny Helms Jr.

    Good article, joe. I like Bridgewater starting this year as well. Turner will have him ready. Cassel accepted back up money to be a backup. Let the kid play.

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      Thanks, Danny. Not only is Cassel getting backup money, but he’s very much a backup-caliber QB who shouldn’t be starting when there’s a significantly better option available. Bridgewater is that option, so it’s definitely important to let him play.

      • Tommy Tyler

        cassel just needs a good oc like turner. he will be fine then.

  • Ken Tomlin

    I say if he shows he’s clearly the best QB in training camp and pre-season than start him. Otherwise, it’s not going to hurt or set him back any if he has to sit. The nfl is faster than college, so it might make him even more effective and polished to work on areas he does need to improve on. I think he has a good chance to start sometime this year, my bet is coming out of the bye week. Can’t wait for season and Bridgewater to start!!

  • Don Andrew Halvorson

    I don’t see Cassel winning the starting job out of camp by any means. He doesn’t fit Norv’s play style and Norv knows that he can be beat from his days in KC. You don’t start a guy that you know how to beat,

    • Tommy Tyler

      another idiot who cant read. turner shapes the offense to the quaterback. not the other way around! do you really think cassel is the only qb turner beat before coaching them?

  • David Crosby

    I say let it play out in training camp and let the best man win. Teddy is the future but if he’s not ready and Cassell beats him out it’ll be clear he needs to sit but if he shows that he’s better and takes the job from Cassell which would be awesome then it’s next man up. Either way we cannot have another QB merry go round.

  • Tommy Tyler

    you really think this idiot is best for the vikings you are crazy!!!!

  • Cool Jack

    You armchair qbs wanted Ponder… now BW….Greg Jennings knows real QBs (BreT Farve and Eron Rodgers)…He has said Cassel will be the QB and will BE ,because of the experience and knowledge …this is good typo for the press…Cassel will start and win…but keep the ratchet jaws going …it’s all fun…

  • gagu

    It isn’t nearly as cut and dried as you think, and the “sexy” option is to get instant gratification by making him start week one, not by being patient and starting him when he is good and ready, whether week 1, mid-season or next year.
    Check out Turner’s history as a coach and OC of starting rookie QB’s during that first season. He clearly values patience.
    You do make some good arguments, but you lost me by making to many assumptions. I will trust Zimmer and Turner to do the right thing.

    • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

      I always trust the head coach and other decision-makers to make the right decision and usual respect their decision, but I’ll always put my own thoughts out there, especially before a decision has made.

      To me, it mostly boils down to one question: What do the Vikings have to lose by starting Bridgewater? In all honestly, I can’t come up with an answer for that question. If you can, then I’d love to hear it, because it means that I’m missing something (that happens more often than I’d like to admit haha).

      • gagu

        I do appreciate your thoughts, Joe. You made several good points. Enough so that after reading your argument, I will feel better than I would have if TB ends up the week 1 starter.

        But I feel strongly that there are many reasons why my money would be on him carrying the clipboard at the beginning. The biggest reason is that Turner avoids playing rookie QB’s. I’m thrilled we got Bridgewater where we did. It does say something, though, that we passed on him with the earlier pick. It seems to me that if the decision makers felt that they had a sure thing, day 1 starter, they would have jumped on him at 9. I hope you’re right about him in every way, but understand that you are much higher on him than most evaluators. Because of that, I think the onus is on you to disprove the more common belief that there are going to be real bumps in the road as he progresses. I guess the reason I got turned off was in how you put it across at times that there is no room for argument. And I do feel he will come closer to your predictions of his future success than that of most analysts.

        It’s a big jump from Louisville to the NFL, especially at QB. I think NFL experience is going to be important next season. No question the weapons and protection are in place for success, but that also applies to Cassel and Ponder. Everyone is playing on a different home field, outside, for a new coach, and most importantly, a new OC who is bringing with him a new scheme, one that is more complex. I can absolutely see how Turner could feel it would be better for Bridgewater’s future to allow him to get a strong grasp of the entire NFL experience before putting him in charge of the offense.

        Everyone is different. Bridgewater is the most NFL-ready of his class, but that doesn’t mean he is certainly NFL-ready. There can be a big difference there. The pressure is going to be tremendous for him whenever it is he makes his debut. I’m thinking opening day in St Louis, with the guns they have on the D-line, is going to be tough.

        That said, it could be worse. While it would be ideal to debut him at home vs a weak defense when the rest of the team is on a roll, it would be more likely that he would come in cold due to injuries, or publicly forced onto the field because the team is playing bad. At least if it involves him coming in mid-season. The other way would be to name him the starter for 2015. A good chance that happens, in my opinion, judging from Turner’s past.

        Anyway, I’ll be very happy if you’re right. It will show the Bridgewater is pretty much as ready as he is going to be to debut. If Bridgewater can pull it off, I think it will be both a great season, and a great future for the team. Time will tell.

        • http://www.musketfire.com/ Joe Soriano

          Great arguments, and there seems to be no doubt that I’m higher on Bridgewater than most. The level of competition he’ll be facing is significantly greater, but at least Louisville did a great job of helping him prepare to run a pro-style offense. I realized that there is one drawback to starting Bridgewater, and that’s benching him if he performs poorly; it could shell his confidence. I’m not overly concerned about that- especially since Bridgewater seems resilient- but it’s something I realized is worth noting.

          The question is, does it all come down to Turner’s call, or will others like Spielman or Zimmer be more involved in the other direction? I didn’t consider the ramifications of debuting him against that sick Rams D-Line, but at least he took that Bostic hit pretty well.

  • MikeH123

    This white wash of an article sounds like it was written by Mrs Bridgewater or some political propagandist. Bridgewater has potential but not in a vertical offense especially in a cold weather stadium.