Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

03 Apr 2014

Why I'd Take Teddy Bridgewater No. 1 Overall

This year, the Texans have the No. 1 pick. It's been a full-frontal assault of stupid since the day the season ended. From people implying that Matt Schaub isn't actually so bad, to using their mock drafts to create a hot take that is generally not accepted -- Khalil Mack is totally going to be better than Jadeveon Clowney, not because of his talent, but because he didn't ever quit! -- to stirring things up based on the latest innuendo they've heard at the combine rather than using their actual eyes.

Here is my one contribution to the draft seas:

It seems to me like there are three prevailing arguments against Teddy Bridgewater -- the player I'd select -- being the No. 1 pick. The first is that it is inherently risky to take a quarterback in the first round, because we've done studies that include Jim Druckenmiller and first-round quarterbacks don't have a high "hit rate" compared to other positions. I think that context is a great thing to remember when you are thinking about selecting a quarterback who there are conflicting grades on. (Let's call said player B. Bortles ... no, too obvious, how about Blake B.) However, it doesn't really make much sense to me to group players that "only one team needed to believe in," such as Druckenmiller or Christian Ponder, with sure-fire first-round picks such as Carson Palmer and Robert Griffin. And, I feel like if a player like Ryan Leaf or Akili Smith had come out today, their statistical red flags would be more well-understood, and that would cause them to slip a bit. Quarterback evaluation is still very much in the eye of the beholder, but I think if there's one thing analytics has done for general managers, it's opening their eyes to understanding that completing 55 percent of passes (or a similarly poor statistic) isn't something you can give a college quarterback a pass on without a lot of scrutiny.

An offshoot of that argument, one that is rooted in Houston history, is something like: "We picked David Carr No. 1 overall and look how that turned out." Well, yeah, it went really poorly. But there were a lot of mitigating factors to that situation that don't exist today. A No. 1 overall quarterback is no longer married to the franchise for years, especially now that the rookie scale has eliminated him from haunting the salary cap for years to come. I will never be leading the David Carr Excuses club -- it's my belief that his pocket presence wouldn't have played in this league, no matter the team -- but part of the reason he played as poorly as he did was that he was on an expansion team with a pretty bad offensive line. Letting the fact that Carr was bad keep you from wanting to select another quarterback first overall would be like never dating again because the first relationship you hopped into was abusive.

The second main point I've seen revolves around the body type. Bridgewater doesn't have a "projectable" body, or the classic quarterback build. There are a lot of ways to word my objection to this, but perhaps the best way is that this criticism feels like we are scouting from the 1980's. I mean, yeah, it'd be nice if Bridgewater was 6-foot-5 and built like an Adonis too, but I'm way more concerned with how he plays on the field. I'm no Mike Mayock, or even Matt Waldman. I don't break down college tape for a living -- in fact, I think it's practically impossible to follow both the NFL and college football at similar levels -- but the little work I've put in on the subject, both with my own eyes and through the eyes of people I trust, suggests that Bridgewater has a chance to be a very special quarterback at the NFL level. If he does that without the ideal body mass index, whatever. We just saw a 5-foot-11 quarterback lead his team to a Super Bowl. (One that is nothing like Bridgewater, admittedly, but my point is that obsessing over body type is a "We're Not Selling Jeans Here" error, and it's 2014.) I've also heard innuendo that Bridgewater's combine interviews weren't flawless, and that he came off as meek in them. I also don't care about that. Sign me up for 11 players with that meekness. Mentality matters, but how a player handles his initial failings is more important to me than how rah-rah he is in the locker room. Cam Newton is vocal and pouty and he couldn't avoid the body language critics either. Somehow, I think he still wants to win at football. Just a hunch.

Finally, there is the idea that pairing J.J. Watt with Jadeveon Clowney will create the sort of explosive doomsday defense that skeptics were afraid of when the Large Hadron Collider was going full speed. I can't deny that this would be fun to watch, nor can I deny that I think Clowney is going to be a very good player at the next level, but I think scouts tend to overrate anything that jumps off the screen that much and not consider the full picture. If you want an NFL example, Percy Harvin was traded for a first-round pick and given an enormous contract by the Seahawks. Injury problems limited him throughout the season -- as they often have -- and while he appeared in the Super Bowl and returned a kickoff for a touchdown, nobody would tell you that on a seasonal basis, he was worth the investment. That doesn't mean he won't be worth it in some future years -- he's a damn good player that presents some unique matchup problems for a defense -- but the injury issues and lack of snaps are a part of the total package of his value. You're rolling the dice on it. Ben Tate has produced highlight reel broken tackles and flashed an amazing size-speed combination that makes scouts drool. On the other hand, his pass blocking is pedestrian, he's finished two years on IR, his vision comes and goes, and he's almost a complete zero as a pass-catching back. The whole is less impressive than the 20 best plays, but those 20 best plays are so amazing that scouts are drawn to him.

I suspect this would be the end result of a Watt-Clowney pairing. They'd have some plays where they'd make an offense look silly, and they'd have some ridiculous games where they would shut down a poorly-quarterbacked team singlehandedly. But ultimately, they can't play safety. They can't make Whitney Mercilus a better pass rusher. They can't make Brandon Harris not be a trainwreck at nickelback. They can't keep middle linebacker from being a disaster when Brian Cushing gets hurt. Hell, the Texans got a vintage J.J. Watt season last year and he couldn't keep them from going 2-14. Don't get me wrong, the Texans could really use an outside linebacker that can rush the passer, but if Mercilus had 12 sacks last year, how much would that have swung the bottom line? Would the Texans have been a four-win team? Six?

To be sure, there's an inherent risk in selecting anybody No. 1 overall. The goal isn't necessarily to minimize that risk, but to find the right balance of risk and reward. If Bridgewater is, as I believe, a man who ultimately will be a top-10 quarterback in this league, and Matt Schaub's contract is off the books after 2014, then the Texans are well on their way to the Seattle blueprint of having a lot of money to spend elsewhere in the short-term. If he's a bust, the Texans lose probably two years, and they likely get another shot at a franchise guy at that point. If they take Clowney, they leap to a six-win team, but now they are going to have to find the most difficult asset to create in the NFL -- a good starting quarterback -- with lower picks, trades, and free agency. Good quarterbacks are available in free agency only so rarely, and even if the Texans find their own Alex Smith, they are on the path to becoming the new Kansas City Chiefs. Is that something to aspire to? Isn't that just where they were with Schaub at the end of 2012, before he completed his decline?

There isn't a more game-changing asset in the NFL at this point than a cost-controlled quarterback that can play with the best in the game. Even if the Texans feel there's only a 50 percent chance Bridgewater is that good, it will likely be higher odds than they'll see for a long time. It doesn't seem like they share that view, or at least there's been little in terms of media connections to it. The Pro Day talk seems to have quieted Bridgewater's stock dramatically, even if he's empirically and -- subjectively, in my mind -- the best quarterback prospect in this draft. (I like Johnny Manziel too, and think he may have a higher ceiling, but I think there's a much lower chance that he hits it. Still, I could be talked into that one.) Granted, the Texans have thrown a lot of smokescreens around. John McClain's ratio of calling the 2013 Texans "pathetic" to having to contradict wrong national reports is nearing 1:1. But as someone used to the Kubiak administration's silence, it's hard to really have a handle on what this team is doing.

He's not a sexy pick, he's not a scout's pick. But in my mind, he's the correct one.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 03 Apr 2014

31 comments, Last at 11 Apr 2014, 9:58am by Will Allen

Comments

1
by Karl Cuba :: Thu, 04/03/2014 - 4:02pm

I agree with Rivers' take. The only things he's left out are Bortles and Manziel but as I like Bridgewater over Johnny Football and don't think very much of Bork Bortles, that's not a problem from my perspective.

2
by mehllageman56 :: Thu, 04/03/2014 - 5:08pm

While I think Mack and Clowney are better prospects, if I was in the Texan's shoes I would draft Bridgewater. Manziel would be acceptable. Drafting Bortles and depending on him to produce early (i.e., taking him early), will get people fired.
I find it hard to believe the rumors that Bridgewater will fall to the second round, My personal nightmare is that Teddy falls to New England, and the Pats get the next Tom Brady. I figure the Cardinals or Bengals would be smart enough to take him, and I wouldn't count the Jets out of drafting him either, even though they like Geno.

3
by jklps :: Thu, 04/03/2014 - 5:30pm

Makes sense to me. The investment in a number 1 pick isn't nearly the same as it was in the old CBA.

In the NFL right now there are two types of teams - one with a QB who can actually play, and those that do not.

It's rare the later group ever wins anything. Like once every 20 years rare.

4
by Anonymous Jones :: Thu, 04/03/2014 - 7:42pm

I very much like the analysis contained in this post, and it certainly grinds down many of the less compelling arguments against Bridgewater, but I guess I'm little confused by the association of "assault of stupid" and "people implying that Matt Schaub isn't actually so bad." Did you mean "people implying that Matt Schaub wasn't actually so bad in 2013"?

I get that it would be stupid to claim Schaub did not have a dismal, dismal, truly and spectacularly dismal 2013, and maybe he is indeed cooked for good (how would I know?), but Schaub was a top 15 QB for years before 2013, both by FO stats and more traditional stats. Is it really stupid to think 2013 was a blip? Maybe I misunderstood the comment? Or am misreading Schaub's stats here at FO? Haven't we had QBs with down years come back strong before? Maybe Philip Rivers didn't sink to Schaub's 2013 depth, but doesn't he give hope to the idea of a QB rebound? Or has every QB who sunk to Schaub's 2013 depth never recovered?

Of course I do agree with the larger point that it is generally foolish to pay an older QB like Schaub his full salary just on the hope of a rebound when you could get a cost-controlled high-upside QB at the top of the draft like Bridgewater.

5
by anonyrnous :: Thu, 04/03/2014 - 8:09pm

What's the difference between Bridgewater and Colt McCoy?
Accurate, smart football players... but the QB is the focus of the defense. You have to be an exceptional player to make a difference at that position, not just be "a" player.
I don't know much about Teddy, and you're right, he does not do anything to WOW me in his top 20 plays.
If you can't put up a sick highlight reel in college... I can't justify picking you in the first round to play in the NFL!
- Reinhard

21
by Mr Shush :: Mon, 04/07/2014 - 12:27pm

Schaub's play was bad for most of 2012 as well, but it didn't show up in the stats because his supporting cast performed so well. He also very much fits the profile of the type of quarterback who declines relatively early - smart, accurate, injury-prone, not particularly big, marginal arm strength by pro starter standards (cf Bulger, Pennington, Hasselbeck). I think it's overwhelmingly likely he's toast.

23
by duh :: Mon, 04/07/2014 - 4:24pm

Oh, to be clear I think he's toast as well, I just think that at his best he was far better than a 'borderline NFL starter'

24
by Mr Shush :: Wed, 04/09/2014 - 10:13am

Absolutely. Schaub's very best play was probably somewhere in the 6th-10th best QB in the league bracket. But having watched almost every snap he's ever played as a pro, I'm pretty sure he really is done as a viable starter.

6
by Insancipitory :: Thu, 04/03/2014 - 9:59pm

I will just say that once upon a time a certain team had Sam Addams and Cortez Kennedy lines up next to each other, and while that was fun to watch, a lot of other things weren't for QB related reasons I prefer to not go into.

7
by Sifter :: Thu, 04/03/2014 - 11:32pm

Great rant Rivers! I was nodding in agreement most of the way. You kinda lost me though when you compared drafting Clowney to trading for Percy Harvin. And Ben Tate's insertion into the discussion had me scratching my head. What's a 2nd round complementary RB got to do with drafting Clowney? Anyway...if the Browns had traded for Harvin to play opposite Josh Gordon, then THAT might be a better comparison. Or maybe the Lions drafting Nick Fairley when they already had Suh is a comparable situation. If you merely wanted to say Clowney is overrated, then say so!

Back to the topic at hand...this #1 pick ultimately comes down to Bill O'Brien's ego. I assume O'Brien wants his own version of Tom Brady to make his offense run well. If O'Brien thinks that he must spend a 1st round pick on a QB to get that good offense he wants, then Bridgewater is the guy (one would hope/assume). But O'Brien might just as likely think he can get a QB later and still be able to construct a good offense (maybe AJ McCarron or some such type). I would argue he SHOULD do that and back his coaching ability. Pick his favourite QB, not just pick a QB first because it's the biggest hole. If Bridgewater is the apple of his eye, go for it! But if he likes McCarron or Garropolo or Aaron Murray, whoever, then I'd much rather O'Brien back his instincts rather than be pressured into taking a QB at #1 just because there's a hole there.

Roster building is the other factor. We've just seen Chip Kelly cut his #1 WR, and Chris Brown speculated that since Kelly now knows his offense works in the NFL, his plan might be to focus spending/drafting on the defensive side, and rely on his scheme for offensive success. Maybe O'Brien has that idea as well...if so you'd pick Clowney.

8
by fb29 :: Fri, 04/04/2014 - 10:53am

Interesting take.

I think he mentions Tate and Harvin as examples of "scouts tend to overrate anything that jumps off the screen"

He thinks Tate and Harvin jump off the screen in small sample size, and then teams overpay for them.

But seems weird to be down on the Tate signing. He's being paid like $3 million a season. And why bring in a Shanahan offense without a good one-cut back?

9
by RickD :: Fri, 04/04/2014 - 11:12am

I don't think quite enough is done here to support the argument of taking Bridgewater over Clowney. Is Bridgewater a 50-50 prospect? Is Clowney a 50-50 prospect? Who is more likely to be an All-Pro?

It just feels like the thumb is on the scale here a bit.

I wouldn't want to spend a #1 overall pick on a QB unless I was a good deal more certain about his potential than that he was a 50-50 shot to be able to play against elite QBs without embarrassing himself. That's a nice level, but not a #1 overall level.

10
by tuluse :: Fri, 04/04/2014 - 12:15pm

It doesn't matter who is more likely to be an all-pro because an all-pro QB is so much more valuable than any other position.

If you take a QB high and miss, you probably get another shot in a couple years.

If you take a defender high and hit, you can get stuck in mediocrity and 5-6 win seasons with no chance to get a QB.

14
by RickD :: Sat, 04/05/2014 - 12:13am

That's not really responsive to the point being made. It's being argued that Bridgewater's ceiling is nowhere near an All-Pro level. If we're looking at another Akili Smith or David Carr or Jamarcus Russell, it's not worth taking him.

Praying that a pile of shit will turn into a pile of gold because it's arranged in a pile is delusional thinking.

This site prides itself in statistical thinking. I don't see any reason to throw that away when it comes to using the #1 pick in the draft. And given the Texans' draft history, I doubt they feel that way either.

In 2006, most of the pundits thought that the Texans simply had to take Vince Young or Reggie Bush. If I were to use the simple algorithm of "take the best QB", the Texans would have ended up with Young, whose career has not justified his high pick.

Year after year, we see dubious QBs drafted too early because of the logic of wishful thinking.

I say this without making a statement regarding the relative value of Bridgewater vs. Clowney. I've never seen Clowney play, and only saw Bridgewater once. He looked very good. But I hardly ever watch college football.

The general point is that there are a lot of ways to get a QB who can merely hold his own. Using a #1 overall pick on a 50-50 chance of getting one seems like a waste of a draft pick. If Clowney is indeed a defensive lineman at the level of JJ Watt, while Bridgewater is a QB at the level of Matt Schaub, I would strongly advise taking Clowney.

17
by mehllageman56 :: Sat, 04/05/2014 - 1:47pm

If you're talking about Akili Smith or David Carr or Jamarcus Russell, you need to look at Bridgewater's floor, not his ceiling, and that is much higher than any of them. He's probably one of the safest picks in the draft; with Clowney, you don't know how hard he's going to work. As far as his ceiling being nowhere near an All-Pro, I've watched footage of Bridgewater dating back to his game against UConn two years ago (probably his worst game in college), and his resume screams Tom Brady to me.

Would I deem the Texans incompetent if they drafted Clowney or Mack? No, and I think Mack would be an absolute monster in their system. If they draft Manziel, I would just say it's a risky pick, with a huge potential for upside. If they draft any other quarterback, they're fools.

11
by commissionerleaf :: Fri, 04/04/2014 - 1:09pm

Bridgewater should be the first QB taken in the draft. There's really no question about that. Johnny Manziel is a great college QB who, as an NFL prospect, appears decidedly "Vince Young". Bortles is Blaine Gabbert; the guy that draftniks like but who isn't actually good at quarterback.

Teddy Bridgewater is basically Andrew Luck Lite. He isn't a once-a-decade prospect, because he lacks prototypical size and arm strength. But he acts like a quarterback on the field, and is accurate with a football, and has a good long track record. The question is whether he is going to be Ryan Fitzpatrick/Matt Schaub/Trent Edwards (borderline NFL starter) or better than that.

And we won't know that until at least 2016.

12
by duh :: Fri, 04/04/2014 - 2:18pm

I can't see how you can call Schaub a 'borderline NFL Starter' Both by conventional stats and advanced stats he had an awfully good run ( clearly top 15 in the league if not higher) from 2007 - 2012. Was he terrible last year? Oh yeah, you bet but that shouldn't diminish what he did the 5 seasons previous

13
by LionInAZ :: Fri, 04/04/2014 - 8:37pm

Schaub's DYAR and DVOA declined essentially steadily from 2009 to 2012, then plummeted in 2013. That's a very good reason to dismiss his previous production even without the visual evidence that he has nothing left.

If the Texans had signed an NFL average QB (say Shaun Hill or Michael Vick) in free agency, they could have gone other than QB with the #1 pick.

15
by RickD :: Sat, 04/05/2014 - 12:22am

Given that Michael Vick was available, it seems a bit weak to argue that one needs to spend the #1 overall pick on a possibly mediocre QB, just because finding QBs is so hard.

Draft Bridgewater if you believe in him. But don't do so based on a scarcity argument alone. Not if Clowney can be a defender at the level of LT or Ray Lewis. That's like picking Sam Bowie before Michael Jordan because he's a center, and centers are harder to find.

16
by Jerry :: Sat, 04/05/2014 - 7:02am

Were the Rockets wrong for taking Olajuwon instead of Jordan?

As far as Portland goes, no one will argue in retrospect. At the time, Drexler had just had a tremendous rookie year at off guard, and they still had All-Star Jim Paxson, while they'd been looking for a center since Walton's foot problems. Had the Blazers won the coin flip with Houston, NBA history would be very different.

18
by mehllageman56 :: Sat, 04/05/2014 - 1:56pm

I have a different take on Bridgewater's floor and ceiling than the poster above. His ceiling would be Brady (great at reading defenses, pocket presence, deadlly accurate within thirty yards, accuracy shaky on the deep ball). His floor is Chad Pennington (will his body hold up against the beating he might take). You could throw Schaub in there, but Bridgewater will almost immediately be better than the other quarterbacks cited; he's ready to start in the NFL like Luck, and not like Geno Smith and E.J Manuel. Vick's availability doesn't really matter much, since he's unlikely to start a whole year, and I'm not sure Geno doesn't beat him out in training camp.

20
by mrt1212 :: Sun, 04/06/2014 - 3:04am

No it isn't.

25
by LionInAZ :: Wed, 04/09/2014 - 4:51pm

The question was whether Schaub's past record justified keeping him on the chance he might somehow get better. I think the record shows it didn't. I guess we'll see how he does in Oakland.

19
by JonFrum :: Sat, 04/05/2014 - 3:47pm

Regarding Bridgewater's size - or more to the point, his build: I think it's perfectly reasonable to be concerned. People tend to focus on sacks, while ignoring hits. Many times, announcers won't even mention it when a QB is getting up off the field after the play has ended. It's the build-up of hits I'd be concerned with, not single dramatic hits.

For those who saw Raging Bull, you'll remember "I got these small hands." Size really does matter when big man goes up against small man. It's simple physics - small loses out to big. And at some point, a lightly built QB is just too damn small to hold up against 300 lb. men.

22
by Mr Shush :: Mon, 04/07/2014 - 12:32pm

I don't really have anything to add - agree with pretty much every word.

26
by Will Allen :: Thu, 04/10/2014 - 12:58pm

I've heard too many guys, who have watched all his throws in college, say he isn't particularly accurate.

27
by tuluse :: Thu, 04/10/2014 - 1:38pm

I wonder exactly what that means. If you held the first pick in the draft and you knew QB X was going to be Donovan McNabb, and had normal draft information about every other prospect, would you draft McNabb or hold out hope there is an Andrew Luck/Matt Ryan/Peyton Manning?

28
by Will Allen :: Fri, 04/11/2014 - 1:35am

I also think McNabb was a real outlier in terms of his accuracy to productivity ratio.

29
by bobrulz :: Fri, 04/11/2014 - 3:17am

Says who? Every scouting report I've read (and trust me, I read every QB scouting report I can find on the Internet), has says that his accuracy is his greatest strength and better than anybody else in the draft. His weakness is accuracy on the deep ball, which 1) isn't a hugely limiting trait, and 2) can be improved (Tom Brady and Matt Ryan are two good examples of people who had "questionable arm strength" coming out of college, and then improved in the pros).

31
by Will Allen :: Fri, 04/11/2014 - 9:58am

To be more descriptive, what I've heard is that his accuracy more than 15 yards downfield declines steeply.

I've only seen the guy play twice, so I prsonally have no opinion.

30
by Mr Shush :: Fri, 04/11/2014 - 6:00am

The most interesting reservation I think I've heard comes from Lance Zierlein, who says basically that both the tape and the numbers suggest he struggles hugely when forced to roll left, and unless he can fix that professional defensive co-ordinators will be able to attack him in ways that punish that flaw too easily for him to be effective.