I got on the Teddy Bridgewater bandwagon as soon as he started to fall on draft boards before the 2014 NFL Draft. Something about the best ranked quarterback for the entire season falling because teams didn’t like how he looked throwing a ball in shorts irked me. Bridgewater inspired my look at whether QB hand size matters.
But, in year two of his development, at just 23 years old, I predicted big things for the QB and relatively big things for his team. After 11 games in 2015, where does that prediction stand?
The Minnesota Vikings are 8-3 and in command of the NFC North, a very surprising outcome thus far into the season. However, Bridgewater’s traditional stats are not all that pretty. He’s averaging just 207.3 yards/game with just a 7.1 yards/attempt to go along with 8 TDs and 7 INTs. This doesn’t tell the whole story of course.
ProFootballFocus rates Bridgewater as the 12th-best QB according to their ranking system and the NFL QB Rating puts Bridgewater at 22nd.1 Neither is at the extreme end of the best or worst in the league, but this is an important difference. In what should be a developmental year, is Bridgewater on the high- or the low-end of the QB bell curve?
First, what’s holding him back? This may all be part of the offense, but Bridgewater has the seventh-lowest percentage of his yards in the air at 47.2%. In total yardage, Bridgewater is 28th in yards in the air at 1,077.2
In what could be viewed as a good or a bad thing, Bridgewater leads the league in throw aways. He’s protecting the ball by not being risky with passes as often as he could force it. Bridgewater has 31 throw aways to Philip Rivers’ second place 24.
Unsurprisingly if you’ve followed the Bridgewater narrative, he really struggles with the deep ball and doesn’t even test defenses very often with passes of more than 20 yards. He’s 28-of-32 in accuracy percentage on such passes at 35.3%. For comparison’s sake, Drew Brees leads the league with a 54.9% accuracy percentage on deep throws.
The presence of Adrian Peterson means that it shouldn’t be surprising to see that Bridgewater is third in the league in percentage of his pass attempts that come from play action. 28.3% of his passes are play action but he’s actually completing four percentage points less on those plays than normal. Several of these issues were predictable heading into the season, but what part of Bridgewater’s game is keeping him ahead of the curve, if he is ahead of the curve.
Let’s start by explaining away some of the issues above. Bridgewater is leading the league in percentage of his passes that are under pressure at 48.1%. Nearly half of his passing attempts are with defenders getting eerily close. Cumulatively, this is only third in the league in dropbacks under pressure, but Bridgewater is the only player in the top-12 in that stat that is under 400 total dropbacks. Bridgewater is at 368 total dropbacks . . .
How effective is Bridgewater in this all too common and all too difficult situation? He’s an unimpressive 20th in completion percentage at 49% while under pressure, but with drops counted as completions, he’s seventh in the league at 68.9%.
Here’s where the other side of throw aways come in, the downside of them. Bridgewater’s 79.3 accuracy percentage3 is second best in football. That’s heavily influenced by how often Bridgewater throws the ball away though. The quality of his decision-making in throwing the ball away is of the utmost importance here. The amount of pressure he faces per dropback indicates that throwing the ball away is smart, but it isn’t certain.
Bridgewater seems to be a quick strike quarterback. He’s third in completion percentage on throws in 2.5 seconds or less at 76.4% but is actually 29th with just 44.8% of his passes coming that quickly. He’s third in the league in 2.6 seconds or more dropbacks, but is just 15th in the league in completion percentage in those situations.
What is Bridgewater?
Bridgewater is still developing. He’s tied as the third-youngest quarterback in the league at 23 years old. Blake Bortles and Derek Carr have both had moments this year and Carr is likely the best of the bunch so far. But, Bridgewater is developing swimmingly and his successes in ways that don’t include racking up touchdown passes shouldn’t go unnoticed.
An accurate passer has a place in this league for years to come. In his second season, Bridgewater is completing 65.2% of his passes, just behind Tom Brady, Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor (!), and Matt Ryan. It’s certainly not the only thing and might not be the most important thing, but it’s a great skill to build on.