Teddy Bridgewater silenced doubters with his rookie campaign

OTL Discussion On Vincent/Peterson Audio Tape

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His Pro Day was atrocious. He's too small. He's weak. How far will he fall in the draft? He should have stayed in college one more year. He's not ready.

Cut to late December 2014. Teddy Bridgewater finished the season with a 64.4% completion percentage. The only players to finish with higher completion percentages in their rookie seasons were Robert Griffin III (65.6%) and Ben Roethlisberger (66.4%). Bridgewater's rookie season didn't end in the playoffs. But it did end with the not-so-small victory of silencing all of those critics who doubted his ability to even contend. Not only did the quarterback contend, he thrived in his rookie campaign.

His first season wasn't perfect -- he was sacked, he threw picks, he made mistakes. But he also led the Vikings to a 7-9 record, in a season where the team was dealt unexpected blows, including losing its number one player for virtually the entire season. To add two wins to a team without Adrian Peterson, who had over 1000 yards for the Vikings last season, is a statement in and of itself. But perhaps the bigger statement is that this team has a new leader.

Bridgewater's mantra is "great under major pressure." While playing for a team that is regularly at the bottom of its division doesn't exactly come with playoff pressure every season, he did face criticism at every turn before he even entered the league. Pundits and scouts alike tore him apart for his size, his poor Pro Day performance, and every other aspect they could find.

Bridgewater was the third quarterback taken in the 2014 NFL Draft. Blake Bortles was taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the third pick in the draft. Bortles finished this season with a completion percentage of 60.2%, a quarterback rating of 21.9, and 11 touchdowns.

Next was Johnny Manziel, taken by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd pick. "Money" Manziel finished the season with a completion percentage of 51.4%, a QBR of 5.1, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Ten picks later, with the last pick of the first round, Bridgewater found a new home in Minnesota.

After the draft, Bridgewater spoke to the Associated Press.

"I talked with coach (Mike) Zimmer a while back when I came here," Bridgewater said. "He told me he loves guys that play with a chip on their shoulder. So after having that conversation with him and just experiencing last night, I'm glad to be a Viking. But you can best believe I'll play with a chip on my shoulder."

Bridgewater finished his rookie season with 13 touchdowns, for 2,710 yards. He had a QBR of 49, the highest of any quarterback taken in the '14 Draft.

Bridgewater's success came as a shock to everyone across the country. Well, everyone except those of us who saw him play in Louisville and watched the consistent leader and touchdown producer that he can be. Bridgewater took the reigns at Louisville at the age of 18, led the offense and threw for almost 10,000 yards in his time with the Cardinals.

We watched him as the composed leader of a Louisville team in a Sugar Bowl upset against the Florida Gators. We watched him throw just four interceptions to 31 touchdowns in the 2013 season. We watched him display maturity on and off the field that make the 22-year-old a textbook franchise quarterback.

While everyone was busy picking his stature and Pro Day apart, they forgot to factor in the intangibles that the young quarterback brings to the table. He is the man you want in the huddle and in the press conference. He puts in the extra hours watching film and studying the playbook, not partying and showboating.

One word to describe Bridgewater; consistent. Every once in a while, a player comes along who is both talented and understands the immense opportunity he has in front of him. Bridgewater is that athlete. A coach's dream and an awesome teammate and role model. There is no overstating his positive attributes as a person.

But when it comes down to hard numbers, Bridgewater proved he can produce this season. He is the Vikings' future. Bringing him on board makes a future playoff spot feasible. The Vikings are no doubt more attractive with the new stadium under construction and the momentum building around this Bridgewater-led offense. Surround him with a couple more offensive tools and beef up the offensive line and it's not out of the realm of possibility for the Minnesota Vikings to contend for the NFC North. Bridgewater could be the catalyst for the team's first division title since 2009.

This is only one season. And as we've learned plenty of times in the past, a rookie season is not always a barometer for future success. But Bridgewater's rookie year showed glimmers of a successful Vikings team led by him, its franchise QB.

Not bad for a quarterback with a terrible Pro Day, who is too short, with small hands, narrow knees, too slim a frame, and as one analyst put it "would have a good career as a backup." It looks, for now at least, like Bridgewater has made a place for himself in the starting slot, and silenced his many critics.

Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on Twitter: @AnyMoreSports

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