A lot of people have been touting the performance of Teddy Bridgewater since the end of the 2014 NFL season. He had the third highest completion percentage (64.4%) and seventh highest passer rating (85.2) by a rookie in NFL history. He accomplished this despite the loss of Adrian Peterson for most of the season. In fact, he was recently given the Pepsi Rookie of the Year Award.
There is no doubt that Teddy Bridgewater has upside, and his rookie performance was one of the better seasons by an NFL rookie. But when we compare him with other quarterbacks who had impressive rookie campaigns, how does Bridgewater stack up? More importantly, how can we use his rookie statistics to predict his future success?
Winning is Everything
In order to understand if Bridgewater will be successful, we need to have a way to measure success. The great quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady WIN. Winning regular season games, getting into the playoffs, and winning a Super Bowl are the ultimate measures of success. Let’s establish that winning percentage is the singular most important way of measuring a quarterback’s performance.
Now that we know what goodness looks like, we need a frame of reference for comparison. As the comparison set, let’s look at 30 active quarterbacks who started a significant amount of games in the last year. I am purposefully staying away from the mess in Cleveland just for the sake of sanity, and adding the past two Vikings’ starters. In the chart below, I have grouped quarterbacks into tiers based on their win percentage.
The chart tells us a few things. First, the highlighted blue group are quarterbacks who have made it to the Super Bowl. In order to make it to the show, the quarterback must consistently be over .500 on the year. Secondly, Teddy Bridgewater’s first season puts him on par with average quarterbacks like Jay Cutler and Cam Newton winning an average of 8 games per season. It shouldn’t take much to push him to the next level of a consistent winner. However, we also have seen players like RGIII regress after their rookie campaigns. Since we only have one season to examine, we need to dive deeper and see if there are specific things we can focus on that will help link Bridgewater’s performance with long term success.
Great Quarterbacks don’t Always Win in Year One
My first thought is to look at how some of the other quarterbacks on this list performed during their first year of significant action. The reasoning behind this is that good quarterbacks likely start out stronger than an average or sub par quarterback.
The problem with this view is that bad teams have a better draft position, and therefore good quarterback prospects tend to go to bad teams. Football is a team sport, and while the quarterback is generally accepted to be the most important position, that player cannot win without a supporting cast. If you just look at how Peyton Manning did in his first year, you’ll see that first year performance is not a good indicator of how a quarterback’s career will eventual be. In fact, both Geno Smith and Drew Brees had the same first year winning percentage as Teddy Bridgewater.
The pie graph above indicates the likelihood of improvement over the first year, measured by the number of games compared to the first year. Based on the sample data, there is a 53.4% chance that a quarterback will either not improve, or go backwards after their first year. On the converse, there’s a 16.7% chance we could have an elite quarterback who will improve by 4+ games per season.
A Better Predictor of Success
Instead of just focusing on the first season winning percentage, we need to look at other data to see if they more strongly relate to success. I pulled ten different season one metrics for the quarterbacks in our data set, and determined the correlation coefficient with career winning percentage. The greater the distance from zero, the stronger the positive or negative correlation.
While season one win % has a weak correlation, season one touchdown percent (TD/Attempts) has a slightly stronger correlation. I was surprised that completion percent had a lower correlation, given how strong Bridgewater is in that area.
Touchdown Percent is a Better Measure
When we look at Teddy Bridgewater’s TD %, the picture isn’t the most exciting. Bridgewater ranks near the bottom third, and is behind such greats as Matt Cassell and Christian Ponder. On the positive side, he still had a better rookie season than Eli Manning, Drew Brees, and Joe Flacco – all of whom had won a Super Bowl.
Is Bridgewater the Answer at Quarterback for The Vikings???
I think there is reason for optimism. As a rookie, Bridgewater has shown he can be a capable starter winning half his games with a limited supporting cast. He improved throughout the year, completing an average of over 70% of his passes during the last five games of the season. However, checking down to an open receiver is less important than the ability to score touchdowns – an area where he certainly needs to improve. I’m not ready to anoint him franchise savior, the data just isn’t strong enough yet. Next year will be critical, and should be very telling about his future.