Vikings’ 25 and under top 10: Bridgewater

No player is more important to the long-term success of the Vikings than Teddy Bridgewater, but there are still aspects of his game he needs to improve.

Quarterback is the most important position in football. This position alone can often win or lose games. The Minnesota Vikings haven’t had a franchise-type quarterback (excluding Brett Favre in 2009) since Daunte Culpepper sustained damage to his ACL, PCL and MCL in 2005. Even after the Vikings traded him, he never seemed to be able to recover from that injury and the Vikings have been shuffling quarterbacks since.

There is now hope in the land of 10,000 lakes that the Vikings have finally found a franchise quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. After drafting him No. 32 overall in 2014, the original plan was to have him sit and learn behind veteran quarterback Matt Cassel, but that didn’t happen.

Cassel broke several bones in his foot during the third week of the season, which meant that the rest of the season belonged to Bridgewater (apart from Week 5 when he was out with an injured ankle).

Bridgewater exploded onto the scene in his first NFL start Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons with a 41-28 victory. In that game, he threw for 317 yards and rushed for 27 yards and a touchdown. It was the first real chance for people to see what he was able to do and it excited the Vikings fan base.

His next couple starts were not as exciting, however, as he threw for a combined 345 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions in his next two starts against the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills. The young quarterback was also sacked 14 times in those two games. Some of the sacks were because of poor blocking, but Bridgewater also admitted to holding onto the ball too long at times.

The rookie seemed to figure out how to play the position more and more each week. He was finally able to complete the deep ball later in the season, appeared to make better reads, made correct calls on the line before the snap and won the team games. The Vikings did not always need him to step up and win the games for him, but he seemed to perform well when it mattered most.

Bridgewater finished the season completing 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,919 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also ran the ball 47 times for 209 yards and one touchdown.

Even though he had a very impressive season, there are still plenty of things that he needs to improve on. The first is cutting down on the amount of interceptions he throws. Bridgewater started 12 games during his rookie season and he threw at least one interception in eight of those games. Turnovers always hurt a team and often the team with the most turnovers will lose.

Downfield passing is another thing he will have to improve on in his second year. He started to improve this area of his game later in the year, but he still threw too many check-down passes and ended the season averaging 7.26 yards a completion. If he could increase that average, not only will it help out the passing game but the running game as well because it should help open things up for Adrian Peterson and Jerick McKinnon.

Bridgewater will be entering into the second year of his four-year rookie contract with a fifth-year option. That means that the Vikings still have a few years to give money to other players because his contract is still relatively cheap compared to veteran NFL starters. However, if he is able to continue to progress and become a solid starting quarterback, the Vikings will be forced to pay him a lot of money. It will be interesting to see how they are able to pay Bridgewater while also keeping key players around him.

There are still a few years before the team has to worry about that, though. In the next few years, they just want to see him improve his game and help the team win, and hopefully have him lead them into the playoffs.

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