The Analytics Behind Teddy Bridgewater's Impressive Rookie Season
The Minnesota Vikings haven't had a whole lot of luck at quarterback over the past few years. They had one Ponce-de-León-inspired year out of Brett Favre, but outside of that, it has been overthrows, checkdowns, and sadness.
By drafting Teddy Bridgewater 32nd overall back in May, the team was hoping to buck this forsaken curse that bears a striking resemblance to the ghost of Josh Freeman. Since taking over the reigns in late September, Bridgewater has rewarded that faith.
It's still a limited sample size for Teddy Two Gloves, but, as numberFire's Editor-in-Chief JJ Zachariason wrote back in January, a quarterback's rookie season can give us a good idea of what his future production may be. In terms of rookie signal-callers, Bridgewater has been among the best of the past 15 years.
Let's use JJ's piece as a jumping-off point to evaluate Bridgewater and see what the future may hold for the man with the skinny legs.
Bridgewater vs. The Rest of the Rookie Class
Let's pump the brakes on Teddy for just one second. Before we put him up against all of the rookies since 2000, let's match him up with his peers in 2014.
The good news for the Teddy Truthers is that this comparison paints him as a shining beacon of hope. The bad news is that you have to look at Blake Bortles's numbers.
The metrics on the chart below are all linked to our Net Expected Points (NEP). Passing NEP measures the expected points added relative to a league-average quarterback on every drop back (meaning players lose points on sacks). Passing NEP per drop back is just that divided by the number of drop backs. Total NEP lumps everything together and includes the points a player adds when they run the ball.
|Quarterback||Passing NEP||Passing NEP/P||Total NEP|
Sweet baby Jesus, Blake, what did you do?? We'll be talking about the best rookie quarterbacks in a bit, but Blake is certainly not among them. His Passing NEP is barely better than that of Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith, and his Passing NEP per drop back is worse than Geno's was.
Bridgewater has been the only quarterback that hasn't lost his team points relative to a league-average quarterback. Bortles has - by far - the worst Passing NEP in the league. The second worst is RGIII at -33.85. Overall, rookies represent the first-, third-, and sixth-worst Passing NEPs among quarterbacks with at least 150 drop backs. Good.
So, we've established that Bridgewater has a healthy cushion over the rest of his competition for 2014. But what about beyond that? Even then, Bridgewater's numbers hold up.
Not Your Average Rookie
Moving forward, I'll only be comparing Bridgewater to quarterbacks that recorded at least 200 drop backs within their rookie seasons. Mettenberger has only recorded 196 so far this year, thus the 150 mark in the previous discussion.
Going back to JJ's piece, he sorted the rooks into tiers based on their respective Passing NEP's. Tier 4 was those quarterbacks whose numbers make you throw up a little in your mouth, while Tier 1 was the glimmering sparkles of all things beautiful in the world.
The Passing NEP range for Tier 1 was from 6.99 to 89.16. As you can see on the table above, Bridgewater's 22.09 mark is enough to make the cut. Because Passing NEP is a composite stat, Bridgewater still has time to add to this total in the team's final three games.
To account for this, we can shift over to the rate stat in Passing NEP per drop back. If we include the three rookie quarterbacks that have topped 200 drop backs, we have 43 total that have done so since 2000.
After Week 14, Bridgewater now ranks seventh among those 43 quarterbacks in Passing NEP per drop back. Who are the guys in front of him? Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson, the aforementioned Robert Griffin III, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton and Marc Bulger. That's it.
Perhaps more important than the people ahead of Bridgewater is the people behind him. The person eighth on this list is none other than the heir to the universe, Andrew Luck. He turned out okay.
The interesting thing about Bridgewater is his potential for growth. Because Passing NEP includes deductions for sacks, Bridgewater is at a disadvantage. Matt Kalil has been roughly analogous to a cardboard cutout of a swinging gate at left tackle. This has resulted in Bridgewater taking 28 sacks in his 338 drop backs, which is far from the old David Carr zone, but it's still a detriment to his Passing NEP.
Then you take a peak at what Teddy has to work with. Once you take out Adrian Peterson, the Vikings' skill corps aren't quite The Greatest Show on Turf.
However, the emergence of Charles Johnson has changed things a bit in that arena. Johnson didn't have his breakout performance until after the Vikings' Week 10 bye. Below are Bridgewater's numbers before and after the coming out party for Teddy's new toy.
|Weeks||Passing NEP||Passing NEP/P||Total NEP|
Correlation, causation blah blah blah, Charles Johnson has given Bridgewater a boost. Give Teddy a competent offensive line and a healthy Jerick McKinnon, and you've got yourself an exciting little offense.
The reason this discussion is important is that the main conclusion of JJ's piece was that when quarterbacks succeed as rookies, they are significantly more likely to succeed in the future. If Bridgewater keeps up his current performance, he'll be well on his way there.
Teddy Bridgewater hasn't performed like a superstar this year. But the fact is that few rookies do. Bridgewater has put himself in a class of other rookies that did develop into top-level quarterbacks. Once he has more experience and a better supporting cast, don't be shocked if we're discussing the inclusion of Bridgewater's name within the top ranks of a list that isn't confined to just rookies.