Teddy Bridgewater, DeVante Parker and Other Prospects to Watch in Russell Athletic Bowl

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be in the spotlight in Saturday’s Russell Athletic Bowl vs. Miami. (Photo: Andrew Weber — USA Today Sports)

BBD Editor: Dan Hope

Although the bowl season spotlight shines brightest after New Year’s Eve, few NFL draft prospects will face higher expectations going into their bowl games than Louisville junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, the projected No. 1 overall pick should he declare for the 2014 NFL draft, will when the Cardinals (11-1) play the Miami Hurricanes (9-3) Saturday in the Russell Athletic Bowl (6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Orlando.

Bridgewater will certainly be in the spotlight Saturday evening, . His leading wide receiver, DeVante Parker, is another potential early-round draft selection if he declares for this year’s draft as a junior. His quarterback adversary in this game, Miami’s Stephen Morris, is also an intriguing NFL prospect.

Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville, Jr. (6’3”, 205 lbs)

The Houston Texans are locked in a top-two draft pick heading into Week 17 of the NFL season, and the consensus projection is that they will use that draft pick to select the top quarterback in the 2014 draft class. If that is the case, the best choice for their selection would be Teddy Bridgewater.

Bridgewater has not necessarily lived up to expectations in his junior season, but that is in part due to how lofty those expectations have become for a top quarterback, in addition to the emergence of Florida State redshirt freshman Jameis Winston (who is not draft-eligible) this season. Though NFL teams will want him to bulk up his frame and develop as a deep passer, he is the most complete quarterback prospect in the draft class.

Bridgewater fits the modern prototype for an NFL quarterback. While he is somewhat inconsistent at driving the ball deep, he has a strong arm and generates very good throw velocity. He is an accurate passer to all areas of the field and rarely makes costly mistakes for his team. He is a good athlete who moves very well both inside and outside of the pocket and throws the ball effectively on the run and under pressure.

Bridgewater’s mechanics are what truly stand out about his game. He has the best footwork of any quarterback in the 2014 draft class, while he consistently throws the ball with a fluid delivery and quick release. While many young quarterbacks tend to be mechanically inconsistent under pressure, that is not a problem with Bridgewater.

A gifted passer and athlete who has demonstrated leadership, intangibles and toughness, Bridgewater looks ready to step in as an immediate starter in an NFL offense. Whether it be the Texans or not, the team who drafts Bridgewater should have a franchise quarterback for many years to come.

DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville, Jr. (6’3”, 209 lbs)

If you focus in on Bridgewater passing the ball against Miami, chances are good that at least one of his wide receivers will catch your eye. That receiver is junior DeVante Parker, who has not quite produced like a first-round pick but has the talent to emerge as a Day 2 steal if he declares for the 2014 draft.

There might not be any receiver in this year’s draft class who has made more highlight-reel catches than Parker. He does a terrific job of controlling his body to adjust to passes, using his length, leaping ability and acceleration to extend his catching radius.

He is known for making big plays, often times making tough grabs in the end zone or along the sidelines. He also has the release and speed to beat cornerbacks deep and the vision and quickness in the open field to extend plays by making defenders miss.

Parker is not as explosive an athlete and has not had as much consistent production as the draft class’ top receivers. He also needs to be more physical to take advantage of his size and develop as a route-runner.

That said, he has huge upside as a playmaker and even though he has had the privilege of playing with one of college football’s best passers, his best football might be in front of him yet.

Stephen Morris has the physical tools of an early-round quarterback pick, but he hasn’t had the consistency. (Photo: John David Mercer — USA Today Sports)

Stephen Morris, QB, Miami, Sr. (6’2”, 218 lbs)

Like Bridgewater, Morris has the physical tools NFL scouts covet in a potential franchise quarterback. He has a very strong arm to throw passes with great velocity. He has a quick and efficient delivery and release, and he has good size and movement skills for a pocket passer.

Unlike Bridgewater, however, Morris’ accuracy and decision-making continue to be major concerns with his game. Though he had the potential to emerge as one of the top quarterbacks in the draft class in his senior season, he has failed to do so as he has continued to be frustratingly inconsistent with his passing.

Morris has demonstrated the zip and precision to make any throw on the field, including when he is under pressure, but he does not do it consistently. His accuracy has been inconsistent on everything from deep passes to short checkdowns, while he makes too many bad decisions that turn into costly mistakes.

While the focus going into Saturday’s game might be on Bridgewater, a strong performance in the Russell Athletic Bowl might be more important to Morris. While one game is unlikely to determine the draft stock of Bridgewater at this point, Morris—who has also been invited to the Senior Bowl—needs to take advantage of every opportunity he has to show improvement.

Morris’ upside makes him a potential Day 2 draft selection, but he needs to finish with a strong bowl game performance and carry that into a strong performance in Mobile, as his disappointing senior season has left his draft stock very much in flux.

See page 2 for a look at more prospects to watch in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft, Allen Hurns, Bowl Games, Bowl Previews, Brandon Linder, Denzel Perryman, DeVante Parker, Game Previews, Hakeem Smith, Louisville, Marcus Smith, Miami, Pat O'Donnell, Preston Brown, Prospect Previews, Russell Athletic Bowl, Seantrel Henderson, Stephen Morris, Teddy Bridgewater

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