How does Teddy Bridgewater compare to recent top QB prospects?
If an NFL team isn't sure it has a franchise quarterback, it doesn't. There are no "maybes" when it comes to the most important player on the field. And the old adage is you can't pass on a franchise quarterback in the draft unless you have a franchise quarterback on the roster.
Twenty of the league's opening-day starters at quarterback in 2013 were first-round picks. That leaves teams like Houston, Cleveland, Minnesota, Jacksonville, Oakland and others scouting the college ranks for a signal-caller who could change their fortunes.
Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater leads the discussion as the presumptive No. 1 pick, the top quarterback in the draft with a quarterback-needy team (Houston) making the pick.
But can he turn the Texans around? Is he the sort of elite No. 1 overall pick capable of shifting the tide for a team saddled with a culture of disappointment last season?
"I've seen a lot of Teddy. I don't have him in [Andrew] Luck's class as a prospect," one veteran NFC scout told SI.com.
"I don't see Bridgewater as a franchise savior like RGIII was in Washington ... Now if he went to the Houston Texans, which is a damn good team already, could he turn them around kind of like the Chiefs did this year? Yeah, he could."
When asked to compare Bridgewater to recent No. 1 picks at the quarterback position, the scout wasn't sold on how Bridgewater stacks up.
"I think when you look at a guy like Sam Bradford, he was damn good in college. I loved that guy. He was pinpoint accurate, with ball placement, timing, arm strength. He had all those areas [better than Bridgewater]. "
It's important to remember that how a player projects as a prospect doesn't preclude him from outperforming that grade as a pro. Just look at Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. Bradford has underwhelmed as an NFL player, but remember, the former Oklahoma standout was an elite prospect entering the draft.
In fact, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers team operations coordinator Joe Bussell believes Bradford is the closest comparable recent quarterback to Bridgewater.
"I think a good comparison -- and one that might scare people away -- is Sam Bradford. Bradford's mediocre production in the NFL will frighten some, but if you remove access to those results, Bradford is one of the most highly-touted quarterbacks ever, coming out of the 2010 draft," Bussell explained.
"He received high grades in accuracy, congruent with what I see in Bridgewater. While, [Matthew] Stafford was one of those QBs that [needed] a couple years to grow in the NFL as we've seen, Bridgewater is the type [that] can come in and start immediately, while making minimal mistakes as he learns on the job."
It was clear, speaking with NFL evaluators current and former, that Bridgewater isn't in the tier of players like Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, or even Matthew Stafford in terms of pure physical ability and talent. But that doesn't take the shine off his potential star in the NFL.
In fact, the comparison many have favored when speaking of Bridgewater is Russell Wilson, a former third-round pick. Bridgewater is taller, 6-foot-3, but is slight of build and doesn't have the cannon arm of other elite prospects like Stafford or even Bradford. Coincidentally, many said of Wilson at Wisconsin that if he were taller, he would certainly be a first-round pick.
Like Wilson, Bridgewater is an efficient, accurate passer, who can improvise and beat defenses with his feet when the play breaks down. It's hard to see a play like the touchdown pass he threw against Cincinnati in December and not see flashes of Russell Wilson. His ability to throw on the move with accuracy has even been compared to Aaron Rodgers, the best in the league at beating defenses from outside the pocket.
"The thing I love about Bridgewater is that we don't have to worry [about] what he is because he's so consistent in everything he does, " Bussell insisted.
"His poise allows him to not get thrown off his game. He's accurate with the football, both from the pocket and on the move."
In the play above, Bridgewater throws to a wide-open receiver by NFL standards, but on the move, from more than 30 yards away, Bridgewater puts the ball the only place he can: to the back corner, with enough room for the receiver to make the catch in bounds.
NFL Films guru and respected talent evaluator Greg Cosell sees the Russell Wilson comparison physically. But while some point to congruencies between the two as leaders and people, Cosell dismisses the notion of the "je ne sais quoi" we often speak of with quarterbacks.
"Everything, when all is said and done, manifests itself physically," Cosell said. "You have to make throws. You can't make throws just because you're a neat guy and take your offensive linemen out to dinner.
"If a guy has big-time talent, and can play the position physically and mentally, the fact that he may have the same interpersonal skills as say Russell Wilson, doesn't matter ... I think that's what people say when they're not sure of what they're evaluating."
Cosell points to Bridgewater's lack of elite arm strength as a question in the NFL -- "Can he drive the ball?" -- and says Bridgewater's footwork also needs work, but crucial touchstones like accuracy are certainly there.
One of the central questions for Bridgewater is the competition level he faced in the Big East, which later became the AAC. He simply wasn't running up against elite-level defenses on a consistent basis.
"He'd have two games on his resume that you feel really comfortable about," former Philadelphia Eagles scout John Middlekauff told SI.com.
"It's so much easier to see a guy in the SEC or Pac-12 and every week he's got Anthony Barr or Will Sutton running at him."
Even so, Middlekauff believes Bridgewater is a legitimate Day 1 starter, but he isn't in the Matthew Stafford category as a talent, and would have been in the mix to be the third quarterback drafted in a year like 2012. As a prospect, in terms of a grade, he believes Bridgewater is similar to Ryan Tannehill, who went No. 8 to Miami in 2012.
One of the noteworthy games on Bridgewater's resume is a spectacular performance against Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. In it, you see Bridgewater's accuracy on full display, his ability to slide and move in the pocket, as well as drive the ball into tight windows.
What elevates Bridgewater as a prospect, for some of his physical shortcomings, is the ability to be decisive and quick-minded in his reads.
Bussell says Bridgewater is ahead of a physically superior talent like Stafford in terms of his polish as a passer.
"Polished doesn't mean that Bridgewater has less room for improvement, It just means he has a more refined and precise skillset.
"While Bridgewater doesn't have the pure physical talent that Stafford has, I do believe he can be better than Stafford simply because of his poise and mental grasp of the game," Bussell explained.
"In essence, it's the difference between a Jay Cutler and a Tom Brady."
"Poise" can seem like a nebulous phrase, but you can see with Bridgewater that he doesn't appear to get flustered in the pocket, or by any situation he's presented with in a game.
"All the players, all the coaches, they have an unwavering faith and ability in him," said an NFL scout.
"If there's two minutes left in the game and we're on the 5-yard line, down seven, and Teddy has the ball, we're going to win. That's contagious."
No, Bridgewater isn't a once-in-a-generation talent like Andrew Luck, but that doesn't mean he can't be an effective NFL quarterback. Furthermore, despite Bridgewater not having comparable physical talent to players like Stafford, some evaluators believe Bridgewater has the acumen and confidence to be a superior NFL player.
In other words, opinions vary on just how good Bridgewater is, but the consensus -- though not unanimous -- is that he's good enough as a prospect to bring value as a potential No. 1 overall pick, especially for a team in desperate need of a quarterback.