The 2014 NFL Draft isn't exactly right around the corner, especially since the league has pushed it back to May -- thanks, jerks -- but with free agency now a week old and less deserving of our attention by the hour, the focus is shifting on the first overall pick. Accordingly, the focus has also shifted to which quarterback is the top of the class.
It's the most premium position in the NFL, and the teams that pick in the top five usually don't have franchise quarterbacks. Such is the case for the Houston Texans, who had a horrible 2013-14 campaign and hold the top selection. But there isn't a consensus on which quarterback is deserving of the top pick, though it's been narrowed down to a few names in particular.
Two of those names -- Blake Bortles of Central Florida and Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville -- recently took part in their respective school's pro days with mixed results. Bridgewater has been as close to a consensus top quarterback as we've seen throughout this process, but he underwhelmed scouts on Monday. Bortles, who is something of a late addition to the discussion, generally impressed.
So what exactly went wrong for Bridgewater and what went right for Bortles?
Bridgewater's pro day was a disappointment to scouts for many reasons. For a quarterback who is considered "NFL ready," he was expected to go out and make short work of what was planned for him. He didn't do that.
Like many quarterbacks, Bridgewater avoided throwing at the NFL Scouting Combine so he could give himself the best chance to succeed in an environment in which he feels comfortable. But his throws were off-target, and his arm strength drew consider criticism as many of his passes wobbled significantly.
One of the biggest issues Bridgewater had was with his timing. He's had criticisms regarding his arm strength in the past, but when he tried to do away with those doubts by throwing the deep ball on Monday, his footwork and timing did little to help him. The ball would go far enough, but it wasn't exactly where it needed to be.
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network called Bridgewater's pro day "average at best," saying that he expected more. The biggest criticism outside of his timing was the wobbly passes. Multiple people on-hand were Tweeting about wobbly passes, from Alexa Maremaa of Pro Football Talk to John Oehser of Jaguars.com. Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle had a video of one of Bridgewater's misses, of which he had six on the day.
Of course, it's worth noting that Bridgewater usually wears gloves on both hands, but he went without them on Wednesday, as noted by Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. It's unclear why he went without them.
In short: Bridgewater was in a 100 percent scripted environment with familiar coaches and familiar receivers, and he basically laid an egg. Bortles, in the same situation, performed quite a bit better.
Bortles is far from being a complete player -- there are criticisms of his play just like any other quarterback -- but when he took the field on Wednesday, he did exactly what was asked of him. Perhaps most importantly, he did not give anybody a reason to complain.
Sure, he's not the best pocket passer and he struggles on the deep ball from time to time (a trait he shares with Bridgewater), but he did not shy away from those kind of throws at all. He attempted 65 passes on the day, and while there were drops and overthrown balls, most in attendance believe he showed enough versatility to impress. It was not a performance to blow away all other performances, but following Bridgewater's misstep, it didn't have to be.
Mike Mayock of the NFL Network, who didn't like Bridgewater's performance, said that Bortles' day "looked like it was supposed to look," and that it was "really solid from every perspective." Albert Breer, also of the NFL Network, reported that he got a text from a coach who said that Bortles did a "nice job", "drove the ball down the field," and was "accurate in the pocket and on the run."
The most important factor in all of this is a matter of expectations. Bridgewater, while flawed, was supposed to show his NFL-readiness with a consistent performance. He didn't do that. Bortles, on the other hand, just needed to have a decent day throwing the ball after what Bridgewater did, and he did that without issue. But at the end of the day, it's all just a pro day, one small factor in evaluating a player leading up to the draft.
Bortles "won" this round, but if he actually moved above Bridgewater on any scouts' list, then either he and Bridgewater were considered equals before Wednesday, or that scout puts way too much stock into scripted workouts.