Lost in the absurdity of Teddy Bridgewater winning Rookie of the Year over Odell Beckham and Mike Evans was the fact that Bridgewater did actually have an extremely impressive season, particularly in the latter part of the year.
In the last seven weeks of his 2014 campaign, Bridgewater was the third highest graded quarterback in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. While comfortably behind Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, Bridgewater led all others despite putting up numbers that at first glance were not particularly impressive: 1,599 yards, 11 touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
This apparent discrepancy is explained in part by the pressure Bridgewater constantly faced. The only other positively graded quarterback sacked more than Bridgewater during that stretch was Russell Wilson, who takes more time before the throw, on average, than any quarterback in the league (Wilson’s time-to-sack during those weeks was a hair over four seconds while Bridgewater’s was 3.38). The Vikings offensive line, as a unit, earned a -51 pass block grade. Zero is average. Bridgewater was able to be effective in spite of it all, living up to his “Great Under Major Pressure” moniker dating back to the Louisville days, although back then “pressure” implied clutch situations, not necessarily getting repeatedly speared.
He didn’t get much help from the running game either. The Vikings were largely reliant on Matt “quicksand” Asiata and Jerick McKinnon in Adrian Peterson‘s absence. Don’t let the few big fantasy weeks fool you, Asiata may have been the worst running back in the league to receive significant carries last year. On 164 attempts he forced 12 missed tackles–he has all the elusiveness of a Toby Gerhart. When McKinnon got his chance he was better but still below average, and a liability in pass protection. Neither back gave opposing defenses much to worry about.
The receivers were nearly as bad. Greg Jennings is average in almost every way at this point in his career, and won’t be missed as he fights to be the fourth option in Miami. Cord Patterson was one of the most disappointing players in the entire league, and at this juncture could best be described as a poor man’s Percy Harvin (Peter King’s preseason MVP pick and also one of the most disappointing players in the entire league). Charles Johnson has good size and is getting plenty of hype this offseason, but failed to produce in any meaningful and consistent way. At tight end, Kyle Rudolph spent much of the season injured and when healthy is a generic average starter, which made him one of the best players in this offense.
Even out of context, Bridgewater’s numbers are good by rookie standards. That, with extremely poor protection and no weapons to speak of, Bridgewater posted the third highest completion percentage of all time for a rookie, is remarkable. The abject circumstances in which his first year took place explain why Bridgewater was much better than his numbers would indicate. Whether he can take the next step may be as much a function of who the Vikings are able to put around him as it is his own personal development.
Adrian Peterson should help — even if he isn’t the player he once was — he’s a certain improvement over Asiata and McKinnon. His reputation alone will cause defenses to focus more on him, opening up the passing game and probably more read-option opportunities for Bridgewater.
The situation at receiver is significantly more dubious. Patterson, Johnson, and even fifth round pick Stefon Diggs all have high upside and high bust potential. Mike Wallace may prove to be a big acquisition—despite being a one dimensional deep threat who does little else, his presence will make it more difficult for teams to stack the box against Peterson and clamp down on shorter high percentage throws. Bridgewater is also an accurate deep ball passer and should be able to hit Wallace when he does get behind the secondary.
The Vikings offense will hinge on the play of Wallace and the other receivers, and the line’s ability to protect the quarterback. I wouldn’t bet on either, but would expect Bridgewater to make the most of whatever cards he’s dealt.