Bridgewater drops from top of draft in a hurry

  • Article by: MATT VENSEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 7, 2014 - 7:41 AM

Is the Louisville QB a future NFL star or a first-round reach? Draft analysts have varying opinions.

What, if anything, happened to Teddy Bridgewater’s draft stock?

How does a once-touted quarterback plunge from the top of mock drafts?

Did his status as a top-three prospect in this draft even exist?

The conversations about Bridgewater, the star Louisville quarterback, have shifted drastically since he last threw a football in an actual game. At first he was a can’t-miss quarterback prospect hyped as a potential top pick. Then came chatter about a missing glove, wobbly passes and a poor pro day. Now some are saying that just like that — poof — Bridgewater is gone as a first-round prospect.

“I’ve never seen a top-level quarterback in the last 10 years have a bad pro day, until Teddy Bridgewater,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said two weeks ago. “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.”

This was the same Mike Mayock who said in February that Bridgewater was the most “NFL-ready” quarterback in this class. But then Mayock attended Bridgewater’s sloppy pro day, went back and watched some college tape and concluded he was no longer worthy of a first-round pick.

“The Bridgewater thing has confused me, and confused teams,” Mayock explained on a conference call this week. “But I’d be surprised at this point if he goes in the first round.”

Bridgewater reportedly completed 57 of his 65 attempts at his pro day, but those eight passes that hit the turf were too many for a scripted throwing session inside with familiar receivers and no defenders.

After watching his pro day, the Vikings invited him to Winter Park for a closer look last month.

The righthander wore a glove on his throwing hand while throwing for 9,817 yards and 72 touchdowns during his three seasons as the starter at Louisville. He had 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions as a junior before declaring early for the draft. But he did not wear a glove at his pro day.

Bridgewater first took off the glove while training in the heat of his home state of Florida. He later said he regretted the decision to go without the glove, which he started wearing when he arrived at Louisville in the middle of winter and the football felt like a brick in the freezing cold.

“I learned a valuable lesson that day,” he told ESPN. “I had a few balls that got away from me.”

But could those few errant passes really be enough for his draft stock, steadily built over three seasons at Louisville, to significantly drop?

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. still has Bridgewater rated as his top quarterback, but in a recent mock draft, he dropped Bridgewater out of the first round. Why? After “reading the tea leaves” during conversations with scouts and decisionmakers around the league, he believes Bridgewater could go into a free fall if teams in the top 10, including the Vikings, pass on him.

Falling fast

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden, the ESPN analyst who seemingly hasn’t met a quarterback he didn’t like and want to dub a “Gruden Grinder,” went as far to say that his previous teams have taken players off their draft boards if they underwhelmed during individual workouts or at their pro day.

“If the player didn’t work out well for me, I didn’t move him down. I took him off our board. If you’re not having good individual workouts, and you don’t have a good pro day workout, that’s part of the evaluation process,” Gruden said on a conference call. “I’d be concerned if I were any player and I didn’t have good private workouts or a particularly bad pro day.”

Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah said that for many of the high-level decisionmakers on hand, it was their first chance to see Bridgewater throw in person. Those first impressions, good or bad, can be hard to shake.

“People talk about Teddy Bridgewater falling down because of a bad pro day. People think that’s an overreaction,” said Jeremiah, now an NFL Network analyst. “But that’s the first impression that all the coaches were there had of him. That can have a dramatic impact.”

What about Big Ben?

Still, Jeremiah believes one poor pro day shouldn’t cause teams to stray too far from the tape. He said smart teams such as the Ravens, one of his former employers, base most of their evaluation on how the players performed in games. In Baltimore, the scouts and personnel department gathered after the college season to put their initial board in place.

“It kind of gives them an anchor, so at least you have that established there,” said Jeremiah, who also scouted for the Browns and Eagles. “So when you get to the all-star games and the pro days, it’s a little bit harder to pull those guys far from their original anchor, so you don’t stray too far from where you had them on the tape. That to me is the most important aspect.”

Of course, Bridgewater is not the first quarterback to struggle in spandex. Drew Brees underwhelmed throwing passes over and between invisible defenders at the NFL scouting combine. Ben Roethlisberger struggled at the combine, too.

“I remember when Ben Roethlisberger came in,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said at the scouting combine. “Well, he didn’t throw very well, and a lot of people talked about how he didn’t throw well. He’s a pretty good quarterback in this league.”

Whether his plummeting draft stock is real or not, Bridgewater could turn out to be a pretty good one, too.

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