Over the last few weeks, we've been taking an in-depth look at the players the Jets signed in free agency. Today we continue with a look at quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The 25-year-old Bridgewater is listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, and was a first round pick out of Louisville in 2014. He won the Pepsi Rookie of the Year award in his rookie season and then went to the Pro Bowl in his second season. However, he suffered a devastating knee injury in training camp in 2016 and has thrown just two NFL passes since then.
Bridgewater attended college at Louisville, where he was a three-year starter and earned a reputation as a smart and gritty passer, completing 68 percent of his passes for almost 10,000 yards. He had 72 touchdown passes and six touchdown runs, while throwing just 28 interceptions.
After being named the Big East rookie of the year in 2011, Bridgewater was named first-team all-Big East in 2012 and then second-team all-ACC in 2013, as he closed out his career by completing a career-high 71 percent of his passes for 31 touchdowns with only four interceptions.
Bridgewater was considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the NFL draft, but saw his stock fall after his pro day performance divided experts. There was also concern over his durability with Matt Miller from Bleacher Report memorably suggesting he'd heard scouts say he had "skinny knees".
Eventually, he was selected by Minnesota, who gave up a fourth round pick to Seattle to move up from 40 to the last pick of the first round. Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel ended up going ahead of him, while Derek Carr went a few picks later.
Bridgewater started his rookie year as the number two quarterback but soon moved into the starting line-up after an early season injury to Matt Cassel and eventually started 12 games and made it to the all-rookie team. He was voted as the Pepsi Rookie of the Year by fans.
In his second season, Bridgewater led the Vikings to the postseason and ended up going to the Pro Bowl. In the playoffs, they trailed Seattle 10-9 but he drove the Vikings down inside the 10-yard line in the closing seconds. Unfortunately, Blair Walsh's missed chip shot field goal eliminated the Vikings from the postseason.
In his first two seasons, Bridgewater completed 65 percent of his passes for over 6,000 yards and 28 touchdowns. He threw 21 interceptions and lost three fumbles.
In 2016, hopes were high that he'd continue to develop, but his catastrophic knee injury in training camp meant that he not only missed the entire season, but also began the 2017 season on the PUP list.
With Sam Bradford and then Case Keenum playing well as the Vikings made a run to the NFC title game, Bridgewater wasn't able to compete for the starting role, but was activated and saw action briefly in one December game. He failed to complete either of his two pass attempts, one of which was intercepted.
With the Vikings opting to pursue Kirk Cousins after the season, Bridgewater was allowed to walk along with Keenum and Bradford. The Jets signed Bridgewater to a deal worth a maximum of $15 million, although he'll receive closer to $5 million if he is in a reserve role.
Let's move onto some further analysis of what Bridgewater brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
While he's not what you'd term a dual threat quarterback, Bridgewater has good but not great athletic ability as you can see from his combine workout numbers:
He doesn't have big hands and it's yet to be determined how much his athletic ability will be compromised by his injury. As for the "skinny knees" comment, that was a reference to whether his frame would hold up to punishment at the NFL level, but the injury that de-railed his career was actually a non-contact injury in a drill.
Bridgewater isn't necessarily regarded as a strong-armed quarterback but when his mechanics are good he will throw a tight spiral with enough zip on it to complete a pass in a tight window.
He shows adequate arm strength most of the time on intermediate throws but there are times when he throws on the move that he doesn't get a tight spiral on the ball and it can flutter on him.
In terms of deep passes, here's an example from 2016's preseason as he steps up into the pocket and throws accurately downfield to the open man
However, in his two NFL seasons, Bridgewater's numbers on deep throws were worryingly bad. As a rookie, he completed just two-of-22 throws that travelled 30 yards or more past the line of scrimmage with one touchdown and four interceptions. In his second season he completed just two-of-13. However, he only had one interception.
His only regular season completion that went more than 40 yards through the air in his career was a 56-yard touchdown in his rookie year. That was actually against the Jets as Darrin Walls was burned by Charles Johnson in a game the Vikings won on an 87-yard touchdown in overtime.
With all that said, as the earlier example shows, it's not like Bridgewater is incapable of throwing the ball accurately down the field, although he does tend to favor a drop-it-in-the-bucket style rather than throwing a rope on the longer passes. Maybe some of those bad numbers were in part due to the lack of a consistent deep threat among his receivers or the fact that the offensive playcalling didn't use the deep ball other than in low percentage situations like Hail Mary passes or third and extra long yardage.
Bridgewater displays good ball placement and executes a timing-based short passing game well. Although he was only 11th and 9th in the NFL for completion percentage, he was actually 3rd in the NFL in terms of adjusted completion percentage in his rookie year and first in 2015. Adjusted completion percentage takes into account things like drops and deliberately throwing the ball away or spiking it to stop the clock.
Here, Bridgewater exhibits perfect ball placement on the ultimate NFL throw; the long out:
Bridgewater is also capable of throwing accurately on the move as he shows here:
Bridgewater deals with pressure pretty well. According to PFF, he posted the highest adjusted completion percentage when pressured as a rookie and placed second in 2015. His quarterback rating didn't drop as far as it does for most young quarterbacks when he was under pressure and he dealt with the blitz better in 2015.
He got plenty of practice at being pressured as Minnesota arguably had one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Bridgewater was under pressure 40 percent of the time in his rookie year and found that he was pressured a league-leading 47 percent of the time in 2015.
Bridgewater will generally hold the ball in the pocket longer than most other quarterbacks, but when he does get rid of it early, he's extremely efficient.
From his 2015 film, you get the sense he was starting to try to do too much as he held the ball longer and tried to make something happen, leading to more coverage sacks. However, he also led the league by a large margin in terms of how often he threw the ball away.
It's difficult to understate how much the Vikings offensive line struggled in those two seasons, but you'll inevitably see some examples of that in the gifs featured within this article. However, while Jets fans are aware of how porous offensive line play can set back a young quarterback's development by giving him happy feet, it's worth noting that while Bridgewater may have developed a tendency to take off too early or try to make something happen when he should just get rid of the ball, it didn't have a dramatic effect on his numbers or the success of the team.
As already noted, he has adequate athletic ability to get away from pressure and despite his less-than-ideal frame, he has the strength to shrug off tackles with a stiff arm and the agility to avoid the rush by stepping up quickly or shuffling laterally within the pocket.
Bridgewater usually has a good sense of pressure and moves around well within the pocket to avoid it, but still keeping his head up to look for downfield options. Here, he senses the pressure and spins away from it before finding a receiver down the field:
Bridgewater also has some pretty good improvisational skills, as he shows here:
Heading into the 2014 draft, Bridgewater was regarded as having some of the best mechanics in the 2014 class. However, Kurt Warner said he noticed some mechanical flaws in Bridgewater's closely-scrutinized pro day workout.
Generally, his footwork is good and he will reset his feet when forced to move around in the pocket. He will overstride from time to time, which can affect his accuracy, and but doesn't throw off his back foot very often even though he's been under pressure so often. However, he does tend to lean back when releasing deep passes, leading to him putting a lot of air under the ball.
As you can see here, Bridgewater gets into his seven-step drop quickly and makes a good throw on time. It's a good job he makes that drop so efficiently, because - true to form - he still gets hit as he throws the pass:
Bridgewater has a quick release, but if there's one mechanical flaw that sometimes creeps into his game, it's that he some times utilizes a three-quarter release. Even Mike Zimmer acknowledged that his elbow placement was something he needed to work on in 2016.
He implied that it may have contributed to him having 14 passes batted down at the line, which was the 4th most in the league, and may also have affected his accuracy over the middle.
He seemed to have rectified the issue in his rookie year but perhaps lapsed back into some bad habits in 2015. Then again, he'll also change his arm angle by design on some throws in order to get a pass off or find an angle for a passing lane. He achieves that well here:
Bridgewater is regarded as a conservative quarterback that doesn't take a lot of risks. He hasn't thrown a pick-six in the NFL and only had multiple interceptions in four games, including just once in his last 18 starts. He threw three interceptions just once, in a game where he was under constant pressure and sacked a career-high eight times.
He also protects the ball well in the pocket, usually keeping two hands on the ball. He's only lost three fumbles in 28 starts despite all the pressure he was under.
Bridgewater had operated in an offense where he is required to scan the field and find the right option and also does a good job of seeing the field when a play breaks down and he's forced to scramble.
He doesn't take a ton of risks, but here's a rare exception from his second season where he got rid of the ball with his left hand and was spectacularly picked off:
As already noted, Bridgewater is athletic enough to elude pressure. However, he's never been much of a running threat and his running style has accurately been described as "goofy" and "awkward" in some circles. He's the kind of player who might spin out of a tackle in the backfield, juke a defender at the second level and then faceplant hilariously while trying to slide.
At the NFL level, he's rushed for 398 yards and four touchdowns but never more than 43 yards in a game and he has never had a 20-yard run in a regular season game, although he did have a 24-yard run in the playoffs and this long run in preseason in 2016:
Once you exclude scrambles, sneaks and kneel-downs, you'll find that only a handful of Bridgewater's carries were designed runs in each season.
Bridgewater didn't do much damage with his legs in college either, although he did rush for six touchdowns. His rushing total (just 170 yards and under a yard per carry) is misleading though because college rushing stats include negative yardage on sacks.
Bridgewater has a nose for the first down marker or the goal line and will sometimes put his head down and dive to make a play rather than just sliding, although he does that from time to time too. Here's a play where he makes a great effort to break the plane:
Bridgewater is ideally suited to a west coast offense and that's the system he's played in for the entirety of his pro and collegiate career so he should be a good fit for Jeremy Bates' system.
He's played plenty of the time under center, although actually his completion percentage and touchdown/interception ratio drop significantly in those situations. During his two seasons with the Vikings the team were also among the league leaders in terms of how often they used play action.
If Bridgewater ends up as the number two, it's worth noting that he's come off the bench once in his career, not including the garbage time reps last season, completing 12-of-20 passes for 150 yards.
He was a former teammate of Joel Stave, who is another quarterback currently on the Jets roster.
Naturally, Bridgewater's success will depend largely on how well he's recovered from his terrible knee injury. At the time, the injury, which occurred as he tripped awkwardly on a non-contact drill was reportedly so traumatic that some of his teammates were inconsolable on the field. After initial reports that he could have lost his leg, Bridgewater had successful reconstructive surgery but it took him almost 18 months to get back on the field.
The injury saw him dislocate his kneecap, tearing multiple ligaments including his ACL. Zimmer reported that Bridgewater looked good physically in practice once he returned, but that reports he was getting from team physicians were still not ideal. That explains why Bridgewater had to settle for a deal with significant injury protections.
There were already concerns over his durability when his pro career began, as noted, but Bridgewater started 12 of 13 games in his rookie year and all 16 in 2015. He missed one game in his rookie year with a sprained ankle and was knocked out of one in 2015 due to a cheap shot that smashed his head into the turf.
In college, he showed remarkable toughness, coming off the bench in two games where he was struggling badly with an ankle injury and not yet fully recovered from a broken wrist to help the team clinch a Big East title and a BCS bowl game berth.
His only significant knee problem prior to the 2016 injury was an MCL sprain while in high school.
Bridgewater is regarded as a film junkie, with an unselfish and team-oriented approach to the game. His strong work ethic and toughness were evident in his determination to return from his injury and his emotion when he did return showed how much he loves the game.
He called the 2017 season his favorite so far, saying that even though he didn't play much, the preparation involved in being constantly ready benefited him greatly and that the game had slowed down for him.
Bridgewater showed improved command and awareness at the line in 2015, as the offense only had one delay of game penalty in his 16 starts as opposed to the four in 12 starts they had in his rookie year.
Something to watch out for with Bridgewater is that he's typically played really well in preseason action. The way teams play their cards close to their chests in preseason is perfectly tailor-made towards Bridgewater's style and in his three seasons, he's completed 72 percent of his passes and thrown eight touchdowns to no interceptions. Therefore don't be surprised to see him make a big push for a starting role in preseason, no matter how far down the depth chart he starts off.
He's also been effective in clutch situations with five game winning drives in his career and a quarterback rating of 119 when it's a one-score game in the fourth quarter in 2015.
While some have criticized his comparative lack of touchdown passes, he's been very effective in the red zone with 17 touchdowns and only two interceptions. In fact, he has 10 touchdowns and no interceptions when inside the 10. The Vikings' red zone offense was average in 2014 but the sixth-worst in the league in 2015, based on touchdown percentage, although that may have had more to do with playcalling and personnel than Bridgewater himself.
Draft scouting reports have indicated that he can be affected by cold weather, which would be a concern moving from a team that used to play in a dome to New York. However, Vikings had temporarily moved to a non-domed stadium for 2014 and 2015 and so the majority of his games have been outside with no discernable different in his ratings when playing in a dome.
His numbers have actually been good anyway in games where the temperature has been below 40 degrees (100.0 quarterback rating in 2014, 94.9 in 2015) and his ratings have been higher in the last four games of the year than at any other time of the season.
With Bridgewater, the question is not so much "can he become the player he once was?" as it is "can he become the player he was on the path towards becoming?"
If the Jets strike gold and Bridgewater is physically able to get back to where he was, then who's to say he can't win a starting role and get back to developing towards becoming a potential upper echelon franchise quarterback?
If that's unrealistic and Bridgewater is destined to be physically limited then his skill-set is such that perhaps he can still forge a career for himself as a solid-backup and occasional spot starter, even if the chances of him becoming that kind of elite player seem spent.
Unfortunately, it's virtually impossible to assess Bridgewater without talking about the ramifications of that injury but, even prior to the injury, there were already debates surfacing over whether Bridgewater was headed towards becoming one of the league's top passers or was simply a conservative quarterback with a limited ceiling.
From the film you can see that he perhaps started to pick up a few bad habits due to a lack of faith in his pass protection, but these don't seem to be unfixable, nor did they have a dramatic effect on his overall performance. You can't help but wonder how he would have fared over the past few years behind an improved offensive line with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs having since developed into two bona fide targets.
It seems the Jets aren't counting on Bridgewater for anything but had the cap flexibility to take a flyer on him with a contract that means it's realistic to keep him as a starter or a veteran back-up or to release/trade him before the season begins. Trading him in-season is not out of the question either.
With the Jets certain to select a quarterback in the first round later this month, Bridgewater's best case scenario - that he looks back to his best during the offseason - will create an interesting logjam at the position, but at the same time will give the Jets options and dilemmas they haven't had to face for a long time.