Bridgewater atop a quarterback class the Eagles may explore

Posted: October 07, 2013

The favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft played at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday. Louisville junior Teddy Bridgewater is considered the top quarterback in a crowded class - and it's one the Eagles might explore.

Even though the Eagles can still salvage their season after a 1-3 start and it's premature to forecast their draft prospects in October, there are essentially two types of teams in the NFL: Those that believe they have a franchise quarterback, and those still looking for one.

Unless the Eagles make the playoffs and draft too late to find a top quarterback, or they envision Michael Vick (a 33-year-old pending free agent), or mid-round picks Nick Foles or Matt Barkley as their future starter, then the Eagles will fall into the latter category.

That's where Bridgewater comes into play. After completing 25 of 35 passes for 348 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-7 win over Temple, Bridgewater has 16 touchdowns and one interception this season. Barring a dramatic regression from Bridgewater, or the Eagles, it's unlikely he'll end up in Philadelphia. But he might be the first domino to fall.

"I'm just focusing on my career here at the University of Louisville instead of looking down the road," Bridgewater said after the game.

The other top quarterbacks in the class are Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Clemson's Tajh Boyd, UCLA's Brett Hundley, and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

All would seem compelling fits for coach Chip Kelly's offense. Mariota excelled under Kelly last season. Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, once gave a oral commitment to attend Oregon. Both Hundley and Boyd were Oregon recruits. All except Boyd could still return to college next season.

At the top of the class, Bridgewater has been keeping his eyes on the other quarterbacks.

"Not from a numbers standpoint, but from a level of play and execution, I follow those things," Bridgewater said. "Something they do, I might not be doing. I might have to copy what they're doing and apply it to my game."

Among the NFL evaluators at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday was Eagles vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble. What he saw was a skilled passer who has the mobility to escape in the pocket and the awareness and arm strength to find open receivers.

Yet both Bridgewater and Louisville coach Charlie Strong pointed to areas Bridgewater could improve. The Cardinals needed to settle for field goals in the red zone three times, and both the coach and the quarterback noted incompletions that should have been completions.

"It wasn't the greatest performance," Bridgewater said, "but it was a winning performance."

Strong said he has witnessed improvement from Bridgewater each season and that there are strides each week. Strong is focused on the cerebral part of the game. Bridgewater is completing more than 70 percent of his passes in a no-huddle, West Coast-style offense. Although he has mobility, he seldom scrambles because he keeps his eyes downfield.

"It's almost like he knows exactly where the ball is going to go where the defense is going to give it to him," Strong said. "It's because he studies the game so much, and he's locked into it, so well-tuned into it."

The biggest knock on Bridgewater is the competition on the schedule - Temple included. Louisville has outscored opponents by 222-34 this season, and Kentucky has been the toughest opponent. Bridgewater will likely be in the NFL when the competition becomes more difficult after Louisville moves to the Atlantic Coast Conference from the American Athletic Conference next season.

"We can't control our schedule, we can't control the conference we play," Bridgewater said. "What we can control is the way we go about our business."

Louisville defensive end Marcus Smith, a converted quarterback, said Bridgewater actually raises his level to the competition. The Cardinals upset No. 3 Florida in the Sugar Bowl last season, and Bridgewater completed 62.5 percent of his passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns against the celebrated Gators defense.

Bridgewater called himself the "eye of the hurricane" because he wants to be the "calmest part of the storm." He's able to dissect opposing defenses, which is why Smith calls Bridgewater "the Peyton Manning of college football." It's also why Bridgewater has prompted some NFL fans to call on their teams to "Tank for Teddy."

His visit to Lincoln Financial Field was the third time he played in an NFL stadium, and his first in Philadelphia. He might not play in Eagles green unless the Birds bottom out, but when he's picked might have ramifications on what the Eagles do in May.

"No pressure at all," Bridgewater said. "I'm still at the University of Louisville, and I'm worrying about that right now. Everything else will take care of itself."


Eagle Eyes on a QB?

If the Eagles pursue a quarterback in the early rounds of May's NFL draft, they may have a wealth of options. This is considered an especially deep class. Here are the top five possibilities:

Player   College   Class   

Teddy Bridgewater   Louisville   Jr.   

Tahj Boyd   Clemson   Sr.   

Marcus Mariota   Oregon   R-Soph.   

Brett Hundley   UCLA   R-Soph.   

Johnny Manziel   Texas A&M   R-Soph.   

R–Redshirt - Zach Berman


zberman@phillynews.com

@ZBerm

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