Shhhhhhhh. I’m about to reveal something that only a small percentage of football fans, both NFL and fantasy football fans know. Minnesota Vikings rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater, finished his 2014 campaign on one of the all-time best runs by a rookie QB. Because of their record at the time (4-7), most people stopped paying attention to the Vikings from an NFL standpoint, and fantasy owners who were gearing up for the playoffs already had a reliable starting QB, so they ignored the end of the season statistical barrage that will be referred to as Teddy Time later in the article.
It obviously wasn't all smooth sailing so I’d like to further analyze Bridgewater’s season and answer the question that should be on your mind. What happened?
Coming Into the Season
In 2012 as a sophomore Teddy Bridgewater punched his ticket into the NFL throwing for 27 TDs vs. 8 INTs, his season culminating as the Sugar Bowl MVP in a victory over Florida. He remained in school for 2013 and capped off his storied career with a 31/4 TD/INT ratio. He was the 3rd QB selected in the 2014 draft behind Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel. A concern over Bridgewater’s arm strength knocked him down to third on the totem pole, but the Vikings thought enough of him to trade 2nd and 4th round picks to Seattle in order to select him with the last pick in round one. In hindsight, the slip to the end of round 1 was the best thing that could’ve happened for Teddy, as he is clearly comfortable in Minnesota and is standing firmly at the head of the 2014 QB class after disastrous seasons by Bortles and Manziel.
2014: Weeks 1-2 – Holding a clipboard
Despite being the favorite to start heading into the season, Bridgewater lost a camp battle to Matt Cassel that lasted all the way until the last preseason game. Neither QB met the expectations of head coach Mike Zimmer and Offensive Coordinator/QB Guru Norv Turner, so they decided that winning was the top priority and they’d stick with the veteran Cassel.
2014: Weeks 3-4 – Season debut, first start and injury
After Cassel went down with a foot injury, Bridgewater was inserted into the lineup mid-way through week 3’s game against the Saints. With the Adrian Peterson child abuse story having just popped up, and with breakout candidate TE Kyle Rudolph going down with a significant injury, the Vikings season was in shambles. All eyes were on Bridgewater to salvage any hope for the future of the Vikings franchise. Taking over for Cassel, Bridgewater struggled in his first action against the Saints. However, his first start of the season resulted in a 41-28 rout over the Atlanta Falcons, a game in which Bridgewater threw for 319 yards and ran for a crucial TD, without committing a turnover. Bridgewater led several long drives and consistently hooked up with Jarius Wright (132 yds) setting up three Matt Asista goal line plunges. Things were finally looking up for the Vikings. The Vikings' balloon was deflated however when it was revealed that Bridgewater suffered a potentially severe ankle injury during the game.
2014: Weeks 6-11 – The low point, followed by steady improvements
Bridgewater’s ankle recovered quicker than expected and he only missed one game. However, his next two games, both Vikings losses, were anything but smooth as he was sacked 13 times against the Lions and Bills while throwing only 1 TD vs. 5 INTs. It was apparent that the rust from the injury was there and the game was moving too fast for Bridgewater during these losses. He looked indecisive and took too many sacks against the ferocious pass rushes that these two teams brought to the table.
He’d settle down and show steady improvements in the next three weeks against lesser defenses (TB, Washington, Chicago), going 2-1 as a starter and throwing 3 TDs vs. 1 INT, but there were still two huge elephants in the room when viewing the Vikings' offense. One was that Bridgewater was checking down time after time so despite the winning record against the Bucs, Skins, and Bears, fans were left scratching their heads asking themselves when Norv Turner’s offense would become even remotely explosive. The other elephant in the room was the play of young, speedy WR Cordarelle Patterson. Patterson had a fine rookie campaign (627 total yds, 7 TDs) and was the NFL’s preseason fantasy football darling at the WR position, with experts placing him amongst the top 15 for 2014. The coaching staff did their best to feature Patterson early in the season but he was an utter disappointment in Turner’s offense. Patterson struggled with route running, effort, and dropped passes. He became less and less featured in the offense over time. His poor play opened the door for another athletic freak at WR, Charles Johnson. Eventually Johnson would take over for Patterson as Patterson became a pure part time player.
2014: Weeks 12-17 - Teddy Time
The turning point of Bridgewater’s season actually came in a 24-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Nobody had given the Vikings a prayer to be alive in that game and Teddy went toe to toe with Aaron Rodgers, even executing a 4th quarter drive to bring the team to within three points with four minutes to go. He finished the game with 210 yards and 2 TDs, his first multiple TD game.
The emergence of Charles Johnson gave Bridgewater a legitimate big play, down field threat. From the Green Bay game forward, the cast of receivers including Johnson, Greg Jennings and slot man Jarius Wright was a balanced, dangerous crew. Each player had a defined important role. They had their dynamic #1 WR in Johnson who excelled on intermediate and deep balls (56 yard TD on go route vs. NYJ), along with a short-intermediate pass receiver and pro’s pro in Jennings (4 TDs in last 6 gms) and the speedy sneaky slot receiver Jarius Wright (2 TD last 6 gms). Bridgewater looked comfortable slinging the ball to this trio, winning 3 of his last 5 games and averaging 246 yds and 1.6. He’d finished the season with 4 multiple TD games in his last 6 and completed 68%+ in each of his last 5 games. The offense produced 30+ points 3 times bringing fantasy value not only to Bridgewater but to players at all positions on the Vikings offense.
To go into further detail, during the last 5 weeks (Teddy Time) the following accolades that Bridgewater racked up were not only impressive for a rookie but for any quarterback:
· *Second highest completion percentage (Behind Romo)
*First rookie ever to complete over 70% of passes in four straight games
*Eighth highest passer rating
*Seventh highest yards per attempt
*Pro Football Focus’ second-highest graded quarterback (Behind Rodgers)
You may not have realized, but Teddy Bridgewater’s 64.4% completion rate on the season was the 3rd best ALL TIME by a rookie behind Ben Roethlisberger and Robert Griffin III. Norv Turner gained more confidence in his young QB, and dialed up deeper passes once Bridgewater started to trust his offensive line and his WRs. If you don’t catch my drift, his five game streak of greatness to end the season went unnoticed but was truly special. With another year to work with Turner and his WRs, Bridgewater is sure to be undervalued and I’m pegging him as the breakout QB of 2015. He finished with a 14 TDs and 12 INTs in 13 games. Maybe it’s a coincidence but he also had this same TD/INT ratio in his first year starting at Louisville…the next season he finished with 27 TDs/8 INTs. Take what you want from that. A QB with this level of elite accuracy in a Norv Turner offense cannot be ignored. Turner will allow Bridgewater to air it out starting in week 1 and a huge breakout could be on the horizon. At minimum he will be a solid high end QB2, one that I would go out of my way to draft in the later rounds. Those who like to wait on QB would be wise to pair him with another mid-level QB and play matchups. Think of him as next year’s Ryan Tannehill.