Get over the name … I had to. Heading into the 2013 NCAA football season, there were two names being considered at the top of the 2014 NFL Draft list … DE Jadeveon Clowney and QB Teddy Bridgewater.1 One has solidified his spot in pre-draft rankings heading into tonight’s draft, the other has fallen precipitously as at least one top prospect tends to do every year.
The level of Bridgewater’s fall may have been exaggerated, as worries about his arm strength and “it” factor have been floating around since at least January.2 However, as author Matt Waldman notes, he was still considered the most polished and NFL-ready quarterback at the time of that writing. But, he lacked the sexy arm strength and the Ben Roethlisberger size.
Going back to the Clowney comparison, it’s no surprise that the South Carolina defensive end has soared in pre-draft expectations. He is a physical freak. A 6’6”, 250 pound man that can run the all-important 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds…fast for some tailbacks.3 Draftniks love their numbers, and Clowney has them in spades.
On the other hand, we have the 6’2”, 215 pound4 lanky quarterback5 that ran a 4.78 in the most important of draft tests … the 40-yard dash.6 What’s interesting is that Bridgewater never claimed to be some kind of scrambling speedster. He’s a pocket quarterback. I hesitate to say, but I imagine the athleticism criticism may be coming at the behest of the color of his skin rather than the style of his play.
*Beware. The following is anecdotal* You know who shot up draft boards in 2011 because he was a 6’4″, 235 pound, big strong armed QB that ran an “athletic” 4.62 40-yard dash? Blaine Gabbert.7 The Derek Carr and maybe Blake Bortles of 2011. Gabbert was the recipient of such great headlines as, “Blaine Gabbert Surges To No. 1 Pick Following NFL Combine,” “The top QB right now,”8 and a #5 prospect ranking by Mayock here. Ultimately, he’s shown himself as a QB that looks great in shorts but struggles with composure in the pocket when the rush is on. Bridgewater is not such a QB, at least not in college and according to scouts.9 One last jab…so unbelievably anecdotal that I don’t even want to put it here, but I will. JaMarcus Russell had generational arm strength and was the consensus #1 can’t miss prospect. Well, he missed. Not all high arm strength guys fail, but they don’t succeed just because they can throw through a brick wall.
It seems all too common for players to fall in the pre-draft process for reasons relating completely to their combine numbers.10 This leads us to the terrible pro-day that Bridgewater had on March 17. The moment that really solidified his fall from mock draft graces. A note, Bridgewater decided to go without gloves on this day, despite wearing gloves his entire college career. This could have been for many reasons including, but not limited to, attempting to show he didn’t need them, not preparing properly, or underestimating the importance of gloves to his comfort while throwing. Judge for yourself if you like, here’s Bridgewater’s pro-day:
I’m no draft expert, I’m not a QB expert, throwing expert, football expert, and I don’t pretend to do any of those on the internet or television. I’ll take the word of those that definitely know more than me. Whether they know as much as they portray is up for debate, but they certainly watch more tape than I do.
Mike Mayock found Bridgewater’s pro-day so bad that it dropped him out of the first round after going back and looking at the tape with his perceptions changed by the pro-day flop.11 My problem with this is that you always want to look at QBs from a different lens than what you’re accustomed to. When that makes such a stark difference from what you were looking at before, it raises doubts that it is a genuine change and not a mirage. What about Bridgewater differs so much from his last two years at Louisville?12
I don’t mean to pick on Mayock, he simply has some of the most accessible information, because this train of thought has pervaded draft writing, which worries me even more than if it was just Mayock. It has the distinct feel of the “lying season” taking effect. I don’t believe that teams truly sink a player’s draft stock because other teams are too smart to bite on that, but I don’t doubt they attempt to throw the public off the scent in hopes of making a small dent in a player’s stock. After all, every little bit helps when fighting for advantages on the margins.
Accuracy, poise and leadership seem to be the buzz words that have helped describe successful QBs in the recent past. I love a strong arm as much as the next person, but it has undue attention paid to it during the pre-draft process.
Progression and attention to detail matter just as much as arm strength. Not to mention the ability to let failure slide off your shoulders and get back out there, as evidenced in this completely prepped and set up interview with Jon Gruden on ESPN.
Drew Brees was knocked for his arm strength.13 Peyton Manning lacked a “gun” for an arm.14 Tom Brady … well he lacked pretty much everything it seems. Every player has a downside, the question is can they overcome it? History suggests Bridgewater can overcome this.
This is not dispositive of the importance of arm strength, it only shows that it’s not a make or break trait for a QB to have. Chad Pennington had a solid career15 and Pennington had some of the worst arm strength I’ve ever personally seen.
It’s easy to let Bridgewater fall if you’re a GM. It’s easy to say that the measurables just aren’t there or he’s too much of a risk. GMs don’t get fired for NOT taking a late first round QB, they get fired for taking that QB earlier than the media expected and him not living up to enormous expectations. These executives aren’t just building teams, they’re holding onto their livelihood and their dream jobs. Someone may risk that with Bridgewater, and from my completely amateur opinion, I think that’s the right decision. I don’t know if Bridgewater will turn out. But, I do believe strongly that he has fallen down draft boards for all the wrong reasons. I would love to see him fall into the lap of my favorite team, current QBs be damned.16
I’ll let one of my favored writers, Grantland’s Robert Mays, put my entire 1,000ish word article into less than 140 characters for the modern generation…
I don't pretend to be an evaluator of QBs, but based on all we know about good ones and all we know about Bridgewater, I'm … confused.
— Robert Mays (@robertmays) May 1, 2014
If you have a thirst for this conversation, check out the Ross Tucker Football Podcast with guest Josh Norris here.
On a good day ↩
That’s a sub-heading saying this, “Though Gabbert played in the ever-more-prevalent spread offense at Missouri, NFL scouts do not seem to penalize him for it, as they have other recent spread quarterbacks entering the league. It might have something to do with him being about 6-4, 235, with a big arm.“ ↩
I have not studied this and it is completely anecdotal, so recognize that while reading ↩
Per NFL.com – here
it would likely be a disappointment for a player of Bridgewater’s caliber, but solid nonetheless ↩
This does NOT mean I think he is better than such a QB, but assets like Bridgewater are hard to come by ↩