(Photo – USA Today)
Before he even took an official snap this season, it was a foregone conclusion amongst fans and media alike that the 2013 season would be Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater’s farewell tour. Nearly every draft analyst and scout has him listed as the top quarterback prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft (if not the top overall pick), and while he may have fallen out of the Heisman trophy contention after a loss to Central Florida, nothing damaged his position as the top NFL prospect at his position. His only competition for that spot, Oregon QB Marcus Mariota, opted to return to school. The top spot appears to be his if he wants it, and an opportunity to play for the Houston Texans throwing to Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins would be tough to turn down. However, according to former NFL scout John Middlekauff and highly regarded NFL analyst Gil Brandt, Bridgewater may just do that.
Despite not going through senior day activities and never really giving any indication to the media as to what his plans were, more people than not assumed he was gone. Ever since his courageous effort at Rutgers in 2012, fighting through significant pain and injuries to secure a BCS berth for the Cards, and his subsequent performance in the Sugar Bowl, he left no doubt that he was a top NFL prospect. His positive attitude, maturity beyond his years, Manning-esque study habits, high character and drive to do whatever it takes to win make him an ideal franchise QB for any NFL team. Yet, as it tends to happen around this time every year, top prospects become increasingly scrutinized and nitpicked about by scouts and analysts. He has not exactly filled up the stat sheet since the South Florida game, but that is not where the critics come in. Mainly, it is his size. He is listed at 6-3 and his weight varies. ESPN says he weights 196 lbs, CBS and Louisville’s website say 205. Whichever it is, it is seen as undersized for the big, bad NFL. He is also being looked at closely due to what scouts are calling thin wrists and ankles (likely stemming from his 2012 injury issues). While he possesses the intangibles any GM dreams of, his physical make up could make teams stall. Both Middlekauff and Brandt say they have talked to multiple people within the NFL who do not see Bridgewater as the top pick or QB prospect. Middlekauff says some scouts prefer Fresno State QB Derek Carr (6-3, 218 lbs). It would be a bit shocking if the Texans take another Carr QB with the top pick after the first one was one of the biggest busts in draft history, but crazier things have happened.
The fact is that a QB who is taken with the first overall pick is expected to be an immediate impact player. A star, even. Some in the NFL may prefer a QB with more size who can take a beating, if needed, and perhaps this is what Bridgewater is hearing himself. He really has little reason to come back for his senior season. Even Brandt said he would be shocked. His stock will not be any higher next year, and in reality, with Marcus Mariota and Florida State QB Jameis Winston both likely to declare for the draft, his stock could drop significantly. Some guys, like Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, have come back for another year, and it made no difference. But for every guy like Manning or Luck that made it work, there are others that have cost themselves millions of dollars and have not or never reached star status. Former USC QB Matt Barkley, for instance, was at one time projected to challenge Andrew Luck for the top pick in the draft. Instead, he elected to come back for his senior year, had a mediocre year on an underachieving team and fell to the fourth round. Former Cards QB Brian Brohm decided to come back for his senior year, despite being projected as one of the top picks of the 2007 draft following a 12-1 campaign and Orange Bowl victory. Instead, he came back to play for a new coach in a new system, and his team was arguably the biggest disappointment of the season. While he did not drop too far, getting taken in the second round, he lost a lot of money and his career never amounted to anything.
The bottom line is Teddy Bridgewater needs to do what is best for Teddy Bridgewater and his family. He owes nothing to the University of Louisville and has given to this program more than any fan could have hoped for. He can put on weight after the season to ease the minds of scouts and GMs, and he will certainly have a trainer to help him accomplish that. It is not every year that a team who could very well challenge for the Super Bowl gets the top pick. The Texans have a roster capable of doing so, assuming they get the right coach and Andre Johnson remains an elite receiver. While perhaps playing in the ACC against tougher competition would help him get more prepared for the NFL than the AAC has, it is tough to imagine how much it could really help. One logical reason to come back is if the Texans’ GM says to him directly, “We are not taking you.” He still would be a top 5 pick to a team like the Jaguars, Vikings, etc., but he would have much more work cut out for him. He may drop in the 2015 draft, but could end up a late first-round pick on a contender.
If there is one thing that has been clear about Teddy Bridgewater during his stay in Louisville, it is his selfless attitude. He played through injuries to ensure a BCS, he refused a Heisman campaign because it took away from the team, he did not want to participate in senior day because it would take away from the seniors and he will never pat himself on the back or give himself congratulatory compliments. He will give those to his teammates, but never to himself. Returning to Louisville would be by far, though, his most selfless act yet. It could potentially hinder his position as a top prospect and he could possibly get injured. No one wants that. His decision should be made entirely based on what his best for him, his family and his career. While every Louisville fan would want to throw him a parade if he chose to return, he should only do so if that is best for him. No one really knows what Teddy will do, though. The comments made by Middlekauff and Brandt just further shroud the decision in mystery, and Teddy himself took to Twitter today, saying, “When you’re calm and quiet, people never understand you. They try and say things to hopefully get a hint or try and figure you out.” The man of mystery will keep it a secret until he absolutely has to reveal his intentions. Whatever he does, he needs to know Louisville and its fans will support him, for what he has done for the program may never be able to be repaid.