Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III? Eli Manning or Philip Rivers? Vince Young or Matt Leinart? Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf? Making the right decision on which quarterback to draft can be the difference between a Super Bowl ring and mediocrity—but in some cases it works out either way. Or doesn't at all. In the 2014 draft class once again we have that debate at the top: junior Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville or redshirt sophomore Marcus Mariota of Oregon? Draft classes are often defined by the potential of the quarterbacks available and in the 2014 class we have two top-five players with instant-impact ability. Which player grades out as the better of the two? 1. Accuracy Accuracy is the backbone of the position the single most important aspect of playing quarterback in the NFL. For most quarterbacks you either have it or you don't. Rarely can accuracy be taught at the pro level. While you can refine ball placement with better mechanics and timing you're only refining the ability that's already there. Like my high school football coach used to tell me "You can't polish a turd." That's my motto with quarterback accuracy. Bridgewater and Mariota play in two wildly different offensive systems which can make it tough to compare their traits. That's where charting comes into play. Every time I sit down to evaluate a quarterback I chart his throws. That's as simple as drawing out a box on paper and marking passes. I look at completions incompletions (QB's fault) drops and roll-outs. By doing this you can erase the on-screen scheme and look at the raw data around which throws a quarterback can and can't make. When charting Marcus Mariota I wanted to get a good look at his arm against a solid defense. The Washington game from this current season was the best defense he's faced to date this year so it was a natural fit. The stat line will show you that Mariota went 24-of-31 on the day but by charting his throws we see that five of those passes were good throws his targets dropped. That makes Mariota's day an outstanding 29-of-31 with two bad throws credited to the passer. That's the kind of accuracy NFL teams can't ignore. Ball placement on a consistent crisp basis is the requirement and Mariota shows that both from the pocket and on the move. Bridgewater like Mariota has the arm to spread the ball around to every quarter of the field. Where he and Mariota differ is in the talent around them. Louisville doesn't have the All-Star talent on offense that Oregon can boast—something that makes Bridgewater's job that much more difficult. Much like scouting Mariota vs. Washington I wanted to see Bridgewater against a top-tier defense. The best option is going back to 2012 and looking at his play against Florida. The Gators defense was (and is) loaded with NFL talent at every level so it gives us a great look at Bridgewater against a high-talent team. On the day the box score has Bridgewater as 20-of-32 but the film shows something different. Instead of a solid 20 completions on the day had his receivers not dropped two passes and run two timid routes Bridgewater would have been 24-of-32. Quite a bit different. It has to be noted that this was the game in which Jon Bostic knocked Bridgewater's helmet off on his first throw of the game. He played exceptionally well regardless of the hit or the previous injuries to his ankle that he was struggling through. As you'll see in the chart Bridgewater can struggle with deep accuracy. The Florida game saw him miss on five deep passes but so far in 2013 he's been much improved here. Throwing over the top to DeVante Parker and the Louisville wide receivers has been the biggest area of growth for Bridgewater as he's had time to become more comfortable in the timing and positioning of his wide receivers. But to judge the two head-to-head Mariota is the better downfield thrower. What I like about both quarterbacks is that they use the entire field. Both Mariota and Bridgewater throw to every quarter of the field instead of favoring the middle or safe checkdowns to the flats. That shows me complete confidence in their arm strength and accuracy. 2. Vision The two quarterbacks have to be graded differently here thanks to the schemes used. Bridgewater for the most part is making his own pre-snap reads and adjustments while Mariota gets some of his information from the coaches on the sideline. In that area Bridgewater has a huge advantage. He's clearly ahead of Mariota in terms of seeing the defense making a read adjusting the line or play call and then attacking. He's also had a full year of experience more than the Oregon signal-caller. If you've heard talk that Bridgewater isn't smart enough to handle an NFL offense forget it. In fact it's quite the opposite. The junior quarterback's best asset is what he's able to do mentally. Before and after the snap Bridgewater is calm cool and collected in making an analytical decision on where to go with the football. I call it maturity at the position and his levels are off the chart for a college quarterback. Bridgewater's mistakes come from trying to do too much not from missing a read or making a poor decision on where to go with the football. You won't see him overlook a cornerback squatting in the flats. The highest grade of any Bridgewater characteristic is for his vision and intelligence on the field hands down. What about the redshirt sophomore at Oregon? Mariota isn't asked to make the decisions before the snap that Bridgewater is but that doesn't mean he's a puppet on the field. On the contrary what makes Mariota so dangerous is his quick thinking when the ball is in his hands. Whether it's on a read-option play-action pass or a simple dropback Mariota is often asked to make multiple reads on any given play. Making the right one is what allows the Oregon offense to roll like it does. In due time Mariota may catch up to Bridgewater but this is the one area where Louisville's quarterback is notably ahead of the Oregon product. 3. Arm Strength/Velocity There's this idea that college teams don't ask their quarterbacks to make "NFL throws." I have no idea what that means. NFL teams have been adopting a spread-out college style of play over the last decade. Watch Peyton Manning or Tom Brady on Sunday and you see them making the same throws to the same routes that Mariota and Bridgewater are throwing on Saturday. Now that we've completely disregarded that tired statement what kind of throws can these two make? Everyone wants to look at arm strength and think of making big strong throws down the field. Those are good but velocity on short throws is just as important. I'd rather have the quarterback who throws with authority on timing routes and connects at a high percentage than the big-armed quarterback who has a poor accuracy rating. Mariota has the stronger arm of the two but he's no Colin Kaepernick if we're grading fastballs. Mariota and Bridgewater are both notable for how catchable their passes are and with that you usually lose a little velocity. That said one great thing about the Oregon offense is that it asks Mariota to throw to space a lot and hit wide receivers as they come open. To do that efficiently he has to drive the ball in hot—and he's doing a great job of it this season. Delivering the ball on time over the middle takes velocity and Mariota does that as well as any quarterback in the nation. You'll never hear anyone rave about Bridgewater's arm strength but it's definitely good enough. He's similar to Aaron Rodgers in that regard. You'll see that Bridgewater tends to float the ball on deeper passes. Sometimes this works greatly to his advantage as he drops the ball right over the head of the receiver into his arms. Other times he's just missing and it's an overthrow. This is one thing I've noticed big improvement on over the last year but it's definitely his weakest point right now. 4. Pocket Presence and Escapability Mariota plays on the move as well as anyone. For a big quarterback he's incredibly mobile and light on his feet. And being mobile doesn't just mean running for big yards although he can do that too; it's about moving in the pocket to evade a pass rush or open up passing lanes. Mariota is more of a new-age quarterback in that he's mobile enough to keep the play alive in the pocket but he's also very dangerous outside the pocket as a runner. That makes him a more complex dynamic quarterback; the defense must respect his arm and keep a defender (or two) around to contain his running ability. He's very Kaepernick-like in this area. Bridgewater is able to run—look at his 74 yards against South Florida last year as proof of that—but he's also very cautious and smart in the pocket. He's the anti-RGIII when running the football as he looks to slide and protect his body. That's the type of smarts we want from a mobile quarterback. Maybe the best thing about Bridgewater: Even after Bostic destroyed him early in the Florida game he didn't become panicked in the pocket. He never started fading away from the line of scrimmage on throws or tossing back-foot passes. He stood in tall strong and fearless. With Bridgewater you get cautious mobility again similar to Rodgers or Andrew Luck in his ability to run and the way he treats using his legs.
Teddy Bridgewater vs. Marcus Mariota: Comparing the Top QBs in 2014 NFL Draft
Bleacher Report | Oct 17