Teddy Bridgewater and the danger of focusing on pro days, not game tape
In the movie Enough Said, a woman finds that her perception of the man she's seeing is skewed more and more negatively by her conversations with her boyfriend's ex-wife. I watched that flick solely because it was James Gandofini's last role before his death, and I never thought I'd be able to compare it to how analysts and NFL teams see draft prospects, but here we are.
As has been reported ad nauseam, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has seen his imaginary draft stock plummet precipitously in the last couple of months. Based purely on his game tape and stats, Bridgewater was seen as a top-10 prospect, and some draftniks (including yours truly) had him pegged as one of the surest thing in this draft class. But after his pro day on March 17, Bridgewater saw his name sliding down an alarmingly high percentage of media, if not actual team, boards. Not based on anything he did during his three seasons of college football. Not based on anything he'd said or done during NFL visits or workouts. Nope -- it appeared that one pro day had turned Bridgewater's name sour.
Which is strange, to say the least.
Most analysts, scouts, coaches and executives will tell you that pro day performances comprise, at most, 10 percent of their overall evaluation of a player -- and less than that in most cases. Still, the media view took a strange turn after the Louisville pro day. Mike Mayock, one of the most respected draft analysts, started the pre-draft process with Bridgewater as the top quarterback in his positional rankings, and now has him tied for fifth.
"I would say in general, tape is worth about 85 percent of an overall grade, and the rest of the process is set up for red flags, and to go back and watch more tape to try to confirm what you saw or didn't see," Mayock said last Friday. "I saw about four of his tapes prior to the combine, and I really liked him. I thought he had a chance to be a franchise quarterback from what I saw on the tape. ... Except you've got to see the quarterbacks throw the ball live. I've never seen a top-level quarterback in the last 10 years have a bad pro day, until Teddy Bridgewater. He had no accuracy, the ball came out funny, the arm strength wasn't there, and it made me question everything I saw on tape because this was live.
"I went back and watched a bunch more tape and compared him to the rest of the guys in the draft," he said. "And like it or not, I've come to a conclusion -- if I was a GM in the NFL, I would not take him in the first round of the draft."
Mayock has also said that teams are questioning Bridgewater's ability to be the "face of a franchise." Whatever that means.
On Thursday, I asked Mayock two questions: What was his tape evaluation process pre- and post-pro day, and how is the "face of a franchise" supposed to be defined, when it seems a nebulous term at best?
"I'm struggling internally with this whole Bridgewater thing, because I'm a coach's son, and I've always believed that tape tells everything," he told me. "So, I struggled, because I liked what I saw on tape. I only did ... I think it was four games prior to the combine. Then, I saw him throw live, and I didn't like it at all. Then, I went back and watched three or four more games, and to be honest with you, it's from a different prism now. It's from the prism of, 'OK -- I am questioning arm strength. I am questioning accuracy.' I watched him take three sacks consecutively against, I think it was the University of South Florida. His stats were outstanding in that game. He threw the ball well, but he took three sacks. It bothered me more that he took those sacks. And did it bother me more because I was at his pro day? Maybe. I didn't think he was that athletic, [and] he's a narrow-framed guy. So, it was one instance where I struggled with tape versus live, and I think a bunch of teams feel the same way. I've talked to teams that are unnerved by it.
"As far as a face of the franchise, sometimes, that's not definable. I look at Johnny Manziel, and whatever 'it' is, he has it. I know that on Saturday or Sunday, or whatever day you play, he's gonna show up with an edge about him, thinking he's the best guy on the field, and he's going to elevate the play of those around him. I believe that. I also struggle a little bit with [Manziel's] off-the-field antics. With Bridgewater, I don't feel an 'it factor.' I see a really nice kid, a kid I'm rooting for and I hope he becomes a good player, but I don't know if he's ready to be the guy. Because of that, I think he's going to need at least a year to get used to that environment. A redshirt year, in other words. And if you need a redshirt year, you're probably going to get drafted at a different level.
"It's a long way of saying that the Bridgewater thing has confused me, and confused teams, but I'd be surprised at this point if he goes in the first round."
Well. Not to excuse Bridgewater's pro day performance (it was poor -- there's no question about it), but his decision to not wear a glove during the workout was the primary reason cited for his questionable accuracy. More importantly, how is it that one bad workout can either take the place of all that tape, or put a weird sheen on that tape to the point where evaluators are looking at a player with a biased and jaundiced view? If you can't come to a guy's game analysis objectively, doesn't that defeat the purpose of scouting? And I don't quite know what to do with the "It Factor" thing. Bridgewater completed 71 percent of his passes last season, throwing 31 touchdowns to four interceptions. And by all accounts, he's a tough, humble person who doesn't fold in the face of pressure. Are we to ding him in our scouting reports because he doesn't create the appropriate buzz?
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Pro days are weird judgment points at best. JaMarcus Russell had an epic pro day in 2007, and he's the biggest quarterback bust in NFL history. The league re-did its entire rookie salary structure, to a large degree, because Russell provided such ridiculously low value for the enormous contract he was given. A compelling example on the other side of the curve is this report from SI's Tim Layden a number of years ago, as he watched one quarterback prospect fling the ball at his pro day:
The heart of the quarterbacks’ workout was a series of 20 throws: two pass attempts on each of 10 patterns. [Quarterback X] was prepared to work at full speed, taking a hard drop and throwing on rhythm, before the receiver broke. However, Seahawks quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, who ran the session, told the passers, “Just ease up and complete balls. Don’t worry about anything else.”
[Quarterback X] was confused. Some quarterbacks took Zorn’s advice and threw three-quarter-speed spirals to wideouts long after the receivers came out of their breaks. Balls like those would get picked off in a game, but they were safe passes in this arena. [Quarterback X] stuck with his game plan and threw on rhythm. Some wideouts made sharp breaks, others didn’t. Of [Quarterback X's] 20 balls, 11 were solid throws and nine were poor. He one-hopped a simple out-cut and overthrew another. His long throws -- the post-corner and the streak -- were wobbly, setting off alarms throughout the league.
Quarterback X's name? Drew Brees. Safe to say, things worked out fairly decently for him.