At this time last year, we got to listen to guys that get paid a lot of money to analyze football players criticize Teddy Bridgewater for his weak arm and his skinny knees and his gloves and whatever else. Seriously, it sounded like the sort of thing you'd read in an issue of Cosmopolitan or something.
Not. . .that. . .I'd. . .moving on.
After all that, it turned out that even in the midst of a season that could very easily have been circling the proverbial bowl for months, young Theodore Edmond Bridgewater II might just have what it takes to get by in this league after all. Today, to borrow a phrase, they come not to bury Teddy Bridgewater, but to praise him. And Mike Clay of Pro Football Focus (in a column he did for E$PN In$ider) is tabbing the 22-year old for a breakout season in his second year.
The main thing that Clay cites in his article is Bridgewater's accuracy. Bridgewater ended up completing 64.4% of his passes last season, a figure that was good for 12th in the National Football League. But Clay cites "unaimed" throws as a big player in Bridgewater's completion percentage being lower than it might have been. Between throwaways, spikes, passes that were batted down and passes Bridgewater threw while he was being hit, there 40 passes that fell into that category.
He also gets into the target depth of Bridgewater's passes. His average depth of target this season was 7.9 yards, which was one of the lowest figures in the league. Clay doesn't get too deep into the math, but he says that after all of the adjustments for depth of target, Bridgewater's "expected" accuracy rating was 67.3%, and Bridgewater came in 3.6 points above that, putting him fifth in the NFL in that category. . .alongside of names like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers, and Carson Palmer.
So, is it all about the short passing game for Bridgewater? According to Clay, not even close.
So we've made it clear that Bridgewater was conservative with his throws, but still completed them at a relatively high rate. Of course, when a QB makes a lot of conservative throws, that often translates into an underwhelming yardage total. This is yet another area where Bridgewater was effective. His 7.3 yards per attempt mark is just above the 7.1 league average. He had a little help from his receivers after the catch, but he was also extremely good on downfield throws. Bridgewater connected on 121 of 190 attempts (63.7 percent) 5-plus yards downfield. Only Drew Brees (65.6 percent) and Alex Smith (64.0 percent) were better.
Think that was simply a result of midrange accuracy? Think again. Bridgewater was also third-most accurate on throws 15-plus yards downfield. At 39-of 76 (51.3 percent), he trailed only Brees (54.3 percent) and Matt Ryan (54.1 percent).
By this point, I'm not sure what else Bridgewater needs to do to dispel the doubts about his ability. When everything was falling apart around him last season. . .the Adrian Peterson mess, injuries to the offensive line, Matt Kalil doing Matt Kalil things. . .he put together a very impressive final stretch of games. In keeping with Pro Football Focus' research, we've mentioned numerous times that Bridgewater had a higher accuracy percentage under pressure (per PFF) than any other quarterback in the league. Not among rookies, not among NFC quarterbacks. . .out of all the quarterbacks in the entire NFL. He was at 75.2% accuracy under pressure, nearly two full percentage points clear of the next best figure (Brees at 73.3%).
Clay's story is framed in a fantasy context, so he pegs Bridgewater to be an effective "QB2" for the 2015 season. I've got a funny feeling that this is going to be the last year we'll be able to say that about Teddy Bridgewater. Starting in 2016, fantasy football players are going to be looking for guys that can step in during Bridgewater's bye week rather than using Bridgewater for a bye week fill-in.