BBD Editor: Dan Hope
South Carolina junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is a rare caliber of NFL draft prospect. He was highly touted as the No. 1 player in his high school recruiting class, and his development over his freshman and sophomore seasons project him as a player who can immediately become an elite defensive player in the NFL.
Yet although Clowney may be a “once-in-a-generation” defensive prospect, that does not necessarily make him the favorite to be the No. 1 overall selection.
While one can certainly debate who the best player is in the 2014 NFL draft, there is little doubt that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league. A top-tier quarterback holds more value than even the most elite of prospects on either side of the ball, including defensive superstars.
In the 2013 NFL Draft, Clowney would have been the clear-cut No. 1 overall prospect months before the proceedings even began. In a class without an elite quarterback prospect — or elite prospect at any position — the Kansas City Chiefs would have made a mistake in drafting anyone other than Clowney if he was draft-eligible.
The 2014 NFL draft class, however, does project to have an elite quarterback prospect: Louisville junior Teddy Bridgewater.
Assuming Bridgewater continues to build off his breakout sophomore season with a strong junior year, he will be a quarterback prospect well worthy of the No. 1 overall draft pick. In a league where top-tier quarterback play is hard to come by, but is pivotal to contending for Super Bowls, a quarterback-needy team cannot pass up the chance to draft a quarterback of Bridgewater’s caliber, assuming he does not have any setbacks in his junior season.
What makes Bridgewater a quarterback prospect worth selecting with the top pick, even if Clowney is still on the board? Let’s take a look at some of Bridgewater’s best traits.
Bridgewater has all the physical tools of a modern prototype NFL quarterback. He is a very good athlete who can make plays outside the pocket, has great size (listed at 6’3”, 218 pounds) and has very good arm strength.
Bridgewater can truly make any throw on the field. He very rarely throws an inaccurate ball within 15 yards, but has also frequently shown the ability to hit a spot 20 or more yards downfield with pinpoint accuracy.
The velocity Bridgewater generates on his throws may be his most impressive trait. He has a very quick release which gets the ball out of his hand quickly and with force, and he maintains his velocity even when launching the ball deep downfield, which allows him to squeeze passes through tight windows for big plays.
The above deep completion from Bridgewater to Eli Rogers last year against Rutgers is as good an example of that as you’ll see. Bridgewater launched the ball nearly 40 air yards downfield, putting the football on an absolute rope while leading his receiver just enough to thread the pass over double coverage and complete it for a big play.
But although Bridgewater’s ability to generate velocity is already star-caliber, he needs to become better at tempering his velocity. He had a tendency during his sophomore season to put too much velocity behind his deep throws, and often overthrew his deep receivers by as much as five yards as a result.
Bridgewater needs to be more consistently accurate in his deep passing. The good news is, Bridgewater’s accuracy made massive strides between his freshman to sophomore seasons, and his combination of arm strength and ball placement ability give him the potential to continue making massive strides in his deep passing game.