Any regular readers of the Daily Norseman know that I was a huge fan of Teddy Bridgewater during last season's draft frenzy. I was pounding the figurative table for the Vikings to draft him, and then lost it on draft day when we moved up and took him 32nd overall. All that said, as I read reports of his performance in OTAs and throughout training camp, including seeing him practice live from the sidelines of training camp, I began to think that having Bridgewater sit for a his rookie year was a good idea. Teddy Bridgewater was displaying all the typical freshman characteristics anyway. But when the untimely injury to Cassel forced Bridgewater into the game against New Orleans, like most fans I was cautiously optimistic. And then I started to get my hopes up after the Atlanta game led to over 300 yards passing and a win. However Teddy had a stretch of bad games after returning from an ankle injury during weeks 6-8 of the regular season and I began to think that I was right after all: Teddy should have stayed on the bench.
But then something magical began to happen in week 9 against Washington: Teddy displayed progress. And he seemed to keep progressing each and every week until he finished out the season with an incredibly strong performance. Ladies and Gentleman, we witnessed Teddy Bridgewater develop into a bona-fide NFL quarterback right before our eyes. That development can be charted any number of ways, and since loyal readers know I just can't seem to write an article without one, here are some charts showing that development and growth across a variety of quarterback efficiency metrics. The first one shows his steady progress using two of the more popular measures of quarterback success: QB Rating and ESPN QBR:
You can see that Teddy starts off strong with his first two games, but after he returns following an ankle injury in week 6, he has a slew of terrible games. But then he picks up his performance as the year progresses. The black "linear trend line" shows that when his entire rookie year is taken on the whole, he shows steady progress over the course of the year. Even more encouraging is that the progress is significant: nearly 30 points in both rating scales.
The next graph charts his progress through the year via his yards per attempt. While this statistic is partly included in the QB rating scales, I wanted to isolate yards per attempt specifically because it also shows the same progressive trend. Yards per attempt is the most direct measurement of quarterback passing efficiency, while adjusted net yards per attempt factors in touchdowns, interceptions and sack yards into that same statistic.
As you can see both of these graphs tell a nearly identical story: Bridgewater started off the year pretty hot, then struggled in his return from injury in week 6, before finishing the year very strong. Also encouraging is that Bridgewater improves both yards per attempt metric by almost a full 2 yards per attempt through the course of the year, which is pretty significant progress.
While the progress that Bridgewater made through his rookie season is definitely a sign that he was improving with experience, and thus beginning to fulfill his potential, there is something even more encouraging about Teddy Bridgewater: the level of his performance relative to other QBs in the league. Bridgewater's final five games of the year were his best according to the four measures above. So I took a look at how Bridgewater compared to other NFL quarterbacks during that same time frame. Here are his combined stats, taken from Pro Football Focus, over that final 5-game stretch, and his ranks among NFL quarterbacks:
-NFL QB Rating: 103.0, 2nd best (behind only Tony Romo)
-Yards per Attempt: 8.8, 2nd best (behind only Russell Wilson)
-Completion Percentage: 72.1, tied for 1st (with Tony Romo)
-Passing TDs: 8, 9th best (ahead of Brady, Wilson and P. Manning)
-Passing Yards: 1,231, 10th best (ahead of Romo, P. Manning, Brady and Luck)
-PFF QB Grade: +11.0, 1st
In other words, not only did Teddy Bridgewater show progress throughout the season, but by season's end he was performing on par with the NFL's best quarterbacks in a number of efficiency metrics and in some he was doing better than the NFL's most elite. While the Vikings only went 3-2 over that stretch of games, their two losses were both by only 2 points: close games that were largely lost on defensive or special teams breakdowns. I want to temper my excitement and enthusiasm about Teddy Bridgewater, because this is only 5 games worth of statistics. When you take his entire rookie season on the whole, it does leave a lot to be desired, because some of those earlier games really were abysmal. But it's always hard to ignore the extremely high level of play from Bridgewater as the season ended. It's not unreasonable to think that Bridgewater could continue that level of progress in Year 2 with the same coaching staff, offense and players around him. And it's possible the 22-year old has not even reached his full potential yet. I think it's safe to say that the Vikings have finally found their starting quarterback, and it feels good to say that Teddy Bridgewater is no longer a freshman.