One-fourth of the way into a season is a relatively convenient time for a bye week, as the Vikings have. It’s also a pretty good opportunity to assess quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in terms of progress made, areas he needs to clean up and overall production. Let’s take a swing through a few things:
*His raw “counting” stats — traditional numbers like passing yards, touchdown passes, etc. — won’t wow anybody. He ranks just 26th in the NFL with 774 passing yards and his two TD passes don’t even register in the top 32 of a 32-team league. Even his completion percentage, which looks gaudy at 67 percent, ranks only a decent but not spectacular 13th among QBs with at least 50 passes thrown.
*It’s been an odd four games, though, with a number of factors contributing to those lower numbers. The first game, a 20-3 loss at San Francisco, was an unmitigated team disaster (of which Bridgewater was a central figure, but by no means the only one) that looks to be the outlier of the four games. The next two were reasonably comfortable home victories in which the running game shined, the Vikings played with a lead and Bridgewater was asked to be efficient but not a passing machine. His last outing against Denver was more indicative of how many NFL games go: close, possibly with the need to throw quite a bit. In that game, a 23-20 loss, Bridgewater threw for a season-high 269 yards on a season-high 41 attempts. Duplicate that for 16 games, and he’s over 4,000 yards for the year. So a lot of his raw stats have been dictated by game situations.
*Newer NFL metrics like Total QBR and the various measures used by Pro Football Focus cast Bridgewater in a far more favorable statistical light. He ranks 9th among NFL QBs in Total QBR, a flawed stat but one that nonetheless attempts to better measure a quarterback’s true contributions in a more meaningful way than simple passer rating. Interestingly, where he gains the most ground in Total QBR is with his legs. His 5.2 Run EPA over the first four games (expected points added via the run, with clutch situations taken into consideration) leads the entire NFL. So again, while the raw numbers (13 carries for 59 yards in four games) might not stand out, he’s making the runs count — gaining first downs, touchdowns and other positive plays to help extend drives. Pro Football Focus has him as the No. 10 QB in the league through four games with an 81.2 grade — firmly in their category of being a bona fide starter and closing in on the territory that would make him a Pro Bowler.
*On the down side, Bridgewater is near the bottom of the NFL in terms of negative Expected Points Allowed from sacks. I think it’s fair to place more of the blame for that on his blocking than anything else, but like many young quarterbacks he still holds onto the ball too long on some plays.
*It’s important to remember that whatever Bridgewater is right now, too, is not necessarily what he will ultimately become. As ESPN notes, Bridgewater has a tick over 3,500 passing yards in 16 career starts, which is more than Tom Brady had in his first 16 starts. Plenty of great QBs started off their careers at a similar pace, obviously growing and maturing as time went on. If I had to *guess* at what Bridgewater might become, I’d say a good optimistic comparable would be Matt Ryan — a QB who started out more in the play-it-safe game manager mold and gradually grew from a QB who wouldn’t hurt you to a QB just below the level of the very elite — firmly in that 5-8 range. The really nice thing about Bridgewater is that his ceiling appears higher than his floor seems low. That is to say, I can’t imagine him ever being worse than a functional NFL starter. That’s a pretty nice compliment to give someone who’s four games into his second year.