By Russ Lande
There is little question that much of the country's focus this week is on the Super Bowl, but for the 30 NFL teams not playing this Sunday, it's all about the 2014 NFL draft. This week, we'll be offering an introduction to five players whom we are confident will be selected within the Top 10 picks of the draft. We'll review what NFL teams know about them and what's still a mystery. We started on Monday with a look at University of Buffalo defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack; today we focus the spotlight on Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
I'm always skeptical when evaluating players who have received a ton of hype, but I was pleasantly surprised by Bridgewater's overall game. Possessing a quick release and an underrated arm allows Bridgewater to easily make every NFL throw with zip and precision when his footwork is on. Out of the presumptive top five quarterbacks in the 2014 NFL draft (Derek Carr, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Zach Mettenberger), Bridgewater finished second in accuracy when I charted them out (although scouts do have one concern, which I'll delve into below). Excellent football intelligence helped him to be consistently productive against the blitz as he was able to identify where the rush was coming from, make the appropriate read and get rid of the ball quickly and on the mark to the correct receiver. Not only did his accuracy help him to make big plays, but it also made him be a much more efficient passer.
Bridgewater made few mistakes this season (31 touchdowns with only four interceptions) thanks to the aforementioned skills. Few college quarterbacks possess the athleticism to avoid sacks and buy second chances while also having a quick release and the ability to make good throws in nearly any situation. These traits are what allowed Bridgewater to consistently convert third downs into first downs to keep drives alive, something that's often overlooked. When you add up all the great things he does on film and combine that with his smarts, leadership and character, you have nearly the complete package -- which is why many expect the Texans to draft him with the first overall pick. However, there are still a few questions that have been raised.
The first relates to hand size. Scouts that have seen Bridgewater in person have told me that his right hand will measure less than nine inches -- the standard of measurement is from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the pinky on the throwing hand when the hand is pressed down and spread out on a table with a measuring tape on it -- which is basically the minimum that NFL teams consider acceptable. Small hands make it difficult to handle the ball in less than ideal weather conditions and often lead to accuracy and fumbling issues. As an underclassman who entered the draft early, Bridgewater has not been measured by combine scouts yet, which is why the question still persists. Even though some reports claim that NFL teams are also concerned about Bridgewater's general physique, numerous scouts I have spoken to are not worried about this and feel that he will add weight and fill out as most players do once they are in the NFL.
The question that cannot be answered by a quick measurement at the combine is about his inconsistent stride length. This may seem like a minor issue, but NFL teams always prefer quarterbacks who have stability in this area as it enables them to be a more predictably accurate passer. In the games I evaluated, Bridgewater showed a tendency to overstride at times, especially when he really had to get a lot of zip on the throw, which led to passes being high. While his overall accuracy was excellent, it could be that much better if his stride length were consistent on every throw for which he has the space. Scouts are interested to watch him throw at both the combine and his pro day to take a closer look at this.
The reality, though, is that when you're down to picking on a quarterback's hand size and stride length, it tells you that nearly everything they do on film is excellent. That, combined with his outstanding intangibles, means that Bridgewater has a good chance of being the first quarterback selected in the 2014 NFL draft.
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Russ Lande writes about college scouting and the NFL draft for Sports on Earth. He is GM jr. scouting and college scouting director for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes and the Big 10 Network. He is a former scout for the Cleveland Browns and former scouting administrator for the St. Louis Rams. You can follow him @RUSSLANDE.