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Teddy Bridgewater - A Path to Start in 2018?


It’s reasonable to be a little bearish on the Teddy Bridgewater’s chances of playing a real NFL snap in 2018. In fact, it’s actually a safe bet. Las Vegas sports books would agree with that assertion, by the way. Of five prominent sports books that provided futures odds on quarterbacks to win the passing yards title in 2018, none had Bridgewater as even an option, while listing teammates Josh McCown and Sam Darnold as far greater bets to take the lead heading into the season opener at Detroit on September 10th.

Truthfully, this isn’t that surprising. After all, the former Louisville Cardinal hasn’t seen meaningful game time in two full seasons while recovering from a truly devastating non-contact knee injury. Once considered Minnesota’s quarterback of the future when they traded up to select him 32nd overall in the 2014 draft, Bridgewater had been replaced not once but twice by Sam Bradford, by way of an outrageous trade with Philadelphia, and journeyman-turned-shoulda-been-Pro Bowler Case Keenum. The Vikings elected to let him and every other passer on the roster walk to make Kirk Cousins a very rich man, leaving Bridgewater to quietly sign with the New York Jets as a backup(?) veteran Josh McCown. The Jets then drafted Sam Darnold to put Teddy squarely in the back seat of fans’ collective consciousness. As it looks today, the only way the former first-rounder sees the field is a quick Josh McCown injury and a Sam Darnold bust campaign. Barring a trade to a quarterback-needy squad, a single season doesn’t seem like enough time for Bridgewater to claw his way back to the field with Gang Green.

But there is a very real chance that is exactly what he’s going to do.

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Playing for the Jets Could Actually Be a Good Thing

Let’s start with Josh McCown. Despite going into camp as the unquestioned starter, he currently ranks on fantasy boards as the 40th quarterback, seven spots below the rookie Darnold. Suffice to say, this is the fantasy community’s way of expressing doubt in the journeyman, even coming off of the best full season in his career. Count myself and many of us at Rotoballer.com just as bearish on McCown’s chances of repeating his 18-touchdown 2017 campaign. For a deeper look…

If, or more likely when, McCown falters, fans expect Darnold to get the first look. However, there’s nothing to suggest that the Jets are chomping at throw their shiny new toy into the fire. This is probably ideal for the former Spartan’s development as a player, but obviously not helpful for his fantasy outlook in 2018. But, even if we don’t really expect Darnold to get meaningful snaps this season, let’s explore what could happen if he does.

Sam Darnold comes to the NFL after fabulous success in the NCAA with USC. He was widely expected to be the top quarterback prospect available in the 2018 draft and, while he didn’t disappoint, he didn’t excite nearly as much as Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen, or even Lamar Jackson. He was viewed as the “safest prospect” among the passers in 2018, and the Browns surprised many with their selection of the cocky, fiery Mayfield instead of Darnold. Scouts are concerned about his decision-making and ability to fit the ball into the tightest of windows. He’s also not tremendously athletic, just very productive. I’m not going to get too deep into evaluating quarterback prospects, but the track record of teams throwing a first rounder into the top spot without much in the way of offensive talent isn’t good. Worst case scenario, Darnold gets jerked around ala’ Geno Smith, where he was given the starting job, got benched, then got the job back. I don’t know much about the psyches of professional quarterbacks, but it’s not typically a good situation for a growing player. The Jets, to their credit, seem to know this and appear to be comfortable being patient, which supports the notion that Teddy Bridgewater will take meaningful snaps in 2018.

Darnold has looked reasonably polished in preseason thus far, going completing 21 of 29 for 158 yards with a touchdown and a pick. Preseason means very little in terms of translating success to the regular season, which means that those stats mean almost nothing and there’s almost no point in going deeper. Honestly, the most important note is that Darnold doesn’t look scared, the first and most glaring sign of a bust (hi, Ryan Leaf!!).

Real quick, here’s a fun note, even though it’s not really “useful” data in regards to analyzing Sam Darnold’s fantasy value in 2018. Since the 1998 NFL Draft, 20 years ago, four or more quarterbacks were selected in the first round just six times, this season included. The list is below, but fair warning, it’s ugly.

1999: 1 Tim Couch; 2. Donovan McNabb, 3. Akili Smith, 11. Daunte Culpepper, 12. Cade McNown

2003: 1 Carson Palmer, 7 Byron Leftwich, 19 Kyle Boller, 22 Rex Grossman

2004: 1 Eli Manning, 4 Phillip Rivers, 11 Ben Roethlisberger, 22 J.P. Losman

2011: 1 Cam Newton, 8 Jake Locker, 10 Blaine Gabbert, 12 Christian Ponder

2012: 1 Andrew Luck, 2 Robert Griffin III, 3 Ryan Tannehill, 4 Brandon Weeden

2018: 1 Baker Mayfield, 3 Sam Darnold, 7 Josh Allen, 10 Josh Rosen, 32 Lamar Jackson

Of these six drafts, just two produced more than one Pro Bowl caliber quarterback. In 1999, McNabb and Culpepper set out breaking records and proving to be stars. And in 2004, Manning, Rivers, and Roethlisberger all went on to become true franchise quarterbacks and legends for teams. But… that’s all. And, yes, I know that RGIII made the Pro Bowl in 2012, but are you really going to argue that he wasn’t a massive bust? The point here is that playing quarterback is hard and picking quarterbacks that are good is hard too. Despite draft stock and college pedigree, they flame out more often than not, further adding doubt to Sam Darnold’s fantasy football stock for 2018.

Regarding Teddy Bridgewater’s preseason performance, going 17 for 23 with a pick and two scores, it’s also important to note that he did not look scared. He looked confident and crisp, even on that once decimated knee. More importantly, he has some real chemistry with the Jet’s skill players. Go back and watch highlights that include the huddle, and there’s a noticeable difference when Bridgewater is in the game versus Darnold. That’s not the kind of thing that, by itself, would lead a team to yield the starting quarterback position. But keep in mind that Todd Bowles may be fighting for his job this year. If McCown or Darnold comes out weak and that seat starts getting hotter, it wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see Bowles give the job to the guy that makes his teammates want to run through walls.

 

Could Teddy B. Really Stage a Comeback?

It’s clear that the New York Jets’ quarterback situation is, shall we say, less than stable. But the question isn’t “are all Jets QBs bad?” The question really is “can Teddy Bridgewater be good?” As in, good enough to earn the job over a rookie and the dictionary definition of a journeyman? The answer is likely yes.

Most of what we have to go on is anecdotal tales of Bridgewater’s incredible recovery from a career-threatening injury. Bridgewater has attempted exactly two passes since his knee imploded, one of them resulting in a pick. But those two passes actually tell us quite a bit. You can find video of those plays and the first thing you notice is that Bridgewater isn’t favoring his knee, he’s not trying to protect it, nor is he making uncharacteristic decisions to hide it. The first thing you realize is, frankly, he looked like himself, save for a fair amount of rust on his arm. If the former first-rounder can come out for his first action in two seasons and immediately look like he can be himself before the injury, there’s a chance he can return to the prospective franchise QB some teams thought he could be during the draft. There are multiple routes to earning the job this season and, while he might not be draftable out of the gate, the savvy owner will have Teddy B on their watch list without question.

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