They’re natural, of course, since one was supposed to be the starting QB for the Vikings this season and the other suddenly is. This sort of comparison happens all the time.
They’re unfortunate since it’s impossible to do a true side-by-side comparison. We can’t simultaneously play out one version of the season with Bridgewater as the Vikings’ QB and one with Bradford as the QB. They’re also unfortunate because, well, they are different QBs — albeit with some similarities in how they achieve success/failure, but also plenty of differences.
So I hesitate to “go there,” but let’s face it: plenty of people are already there, even after one game at QB for Bradford. With that in mind, we asked Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus about both quarterbacks when we had him on the line during Monday’s Access Vikings podcast.
It felt like an opportunity to get an objective answer since A) Both QBs graded out quite similarly in 2015 — Bradford was No. 12 in the league with Philadelphia, Bridgewater was No. 13 with the Vikings –and B) PFF isn’t generally prone to hyperbole or swayed too much by one-game bursts. You can listen to the entire podcast here (link is to the Star Tribune player, but there are also download options on iTunes and Google Play off that link). The Bradford/Teddy talk starts around 47:00.
But here are some main points from Palazzolo during our conversation about Bradford vs. Bridgewater — keeping in mind that in light of Adrian Peterson’s updated injury news the QB position might be even more important that it was just a few days ago.
1) Going into this season, the two QBs were quite similar.
“Bridgewater’s grade comes about because overall he does a really good job protecting the football. He doesn’t make a ton of what I call big-time throws,” Palazzolo said. “In our system we grade on 0.5 increments, and we can give .5, 1, 1.5. The best throws are the plus-1 or 1.5. Bridgewater doesn’t have a ton of those but he also doesn’t have a lot of those minus-1, minus-1.5 plays. Those are the balls that I call turnover-worthy plays. Because he does a pretty good job of moving the chains, getting the small positives but not turning the ball over and not getting the big negatives, he grades pretty well.”
Palazzolo noted that Blake Bortles, from the same draft class as Bridgewater, put up bigger numbers last year and graded decently but still below Teddy. Bortles had a lot of big plays but a lot of negative plays.
“He’s high-risk, high-reward,” Palazzolo said. “Bridgewater was more on that Alex Smith spectrum. Not a ton of great throws, not a ton of bad ones. Ultimately it’s about what you value. And to be honest, Sam Bradford is very much in the same vein. … I think the backlash Bradford has gotten is similar to the backlash Bridgewater has gotten. He’s not a guy that’s really elevated his teammates through the years and put up these gaudy stats but he’s generally taken care of the football, made the right throw and made in our (grading) system the “zero throw” or expected throw — the three-yard shallow cross, the checkdown. All these unexciting things that Sam Bradford does are very similar to what Teddy Bridgewater does.”
2) Sunday against the Packers, Bradford was clearly more than that.
“The Sam Bradford we saw Sunday night was a step above that,” Palazzolo said. “He made some special throws under pressure. That touchdown he threw on the post while getting hit, I mean that’s just an incredible throw. That was the best I’ve seen of Sam Bradford and we like Sam Bradford more than most. … If you get the Bradford form Sunday night, that was pretty special — especially given that he was pressured on almost half his dropbacks.”
Indeed, Bradford made the kinds of throws that Bridgewater typically did not make in his first two season — exceptional tosses that displayed touch, poise and arm strength. Of course, they were also the kinds of throws Bradford hasn’t typically made. So …
3) Let’s not say that version of Bradford will be the norm instead of the exception after just one game.
“If I can ignore Sunday night for a minute and say maybe that’s the top end of Bradford’s play instead of the norm is I think what you can expect is something very similar to Bridgewater: the ability to move the chains at the 15-yard level, the checkdown on the shallow cross that Norv Turner loves so much, the checkdown to the running back when necessary,” Palazzolo said.
4) Even if Bradford does excel this season, it doesn’t mean Bridgewater wouldn’t have done something similar.
“I think Bradford will ultimately put up better numbers this year just because I thought Bridgewater also would,” Palazzolo said. “And I think the Vikings are going to be OK especially if the defense keeps playing as well as it has.”
That last point is maybe the most important thing to remember as we go through the season and want to keep making this comparison. Bridgewater was heading into his third season and indications from camp and the preseason — including those final three throws he made in the hurry-up TD drive — were that he was poised to take a step forward. He doesn’t possess Bradford’s arm strength, But Bradford doesn’t possess Bridgewater’s mobility.
They are two distinctly different, albeit comparable quarterbacks. And the only thing we’ll know for sure is how the season plays out as it stands now.