How Teddy Bridgewater and Joe Brady Could Be the Perfect Combo

A detailed look at Teddy Bridgewater's fantasy prospects, and how new offensive coordinator Joe Brady is the key to unlocking his upside

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A Fantasy QB1 at a QB2 Price

Teddy Bridgewater is being treated as a late-round fantasy afterthought, and that's a mistake for the following reasons:

  • Joe Brady’s offense is one that Bridgewater is not only comfortable in but is intimately familiar with, a je ne sais quoi element that has increased value in an offseason hit by reduced practice time.
  • Carolina’s brass may not want to admit it, but a Luke Kuechly-less defense will be even more fragile than it was in 2019’s forgettable campaign. If, as expected, the defense can’t contain the high-flying offenses it will face, Bridgewater will have a higher volume of attempts than most currently project.
  • The talent surrounding Bridgewater in Carolina is arguably on par or better than what he had in New Orleans last year when, on a team that never had to go out of its comfort zone on offense, he still tossed nine touchdowns to just two interceptions. His accuracy on underneath throws can easily be turned into long gains by a crew of after-the-catch specialists.

To conceive of Teddy Bridgewater as anything more than a reliable, low-risk fantasy QB2 is, much like the quarterback’s style of play, a safe and predictable move. The new Carolina signal-caller has quietly bided his time, making stops in New York with the Jets before landing in New Orleans, where last season he seamlessly led a talented team to a series of wins behind a strong offensive line and a stifling defense.

But circumstances change in the NFL, and they do so quickly. Landing in Carolina has the potential to put Bridgewater in uncomfortable scenarios, ones that can yield a significant uptick in attempts, completions and perhaps, even touchdowns. Bridgewater’s hyper-efficient style of play should serve him well in as an on-paper porous Panthers defense littered with young tyros and untested players contends with the mammoth schedule awaiting them, featuring luminaries such as Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Tom Brady and many more.

Fantasy stars can emerge from the most trying of situations, and Carolina’s 2020 defense should be a boon for Bridgewater’s numbers.

What will be an additional point to consider for Bridgewater skeptics is, of course, the surrounding talent, a cast of characters perfectly suited to take advantage of an in-rhythm, timing passer like he is. D.J. Moore has made a career so far out of after-the-catch heroics; Curtis Samuel’s quick-twitch route-running and speed were never adequately capitalized on by former Panthers star Cam Newton; Robby Anderson, primarily utilized as a deep threat in New York, has a new lease on life under a new offensive system and mindset. Meanwhile, Christian McCaffrey is waiting in the wings to produce another All-Pro caliber season as the apple of Bridgewater’s eye.

It could be argued that Carolina’s skill players compare favorably – and may even exceed – Bridgewater's cast in New Orleans last season.

The Covid-19 pandemic adds more risk to roster and scheme changes, as the time to adequately learn and perfect chemistry and execution will be hindered. While that may seem a risk for the Panthers given changes across the board, it's mitigated by Bridgewater's familiarity with new offensive coordinator Joe Brady's system. Brady, the puppet master behind the record-setting 2019 LSU offense under Joe Burrow, worked with Sean Payton in New Orleans, an offense that Bridgewater is intimately familiar with. While some passers struggle to pick up new concepts, Bridgewater should be able to seamlessly slide into Brady’s master plan, one that is equipped to flummox defenses with run-pass-options (RPOs) and much more.

BRIDGE PLAYER OR THE TRUE QB1 IN CAROLINA?

All has changed, changed utterly, in Carolina this offseason. Franchise stalwarts like Luke Kuechly (retired), Cam Newton (released), and Greg Olsen (released) have left the building. Team owner David Tepper, after attempting to make things work with Ron Rivera, a head coach he did not hire, broke off the relationship. In Rivera’s place comes Matt Rhule, who is seen as a charismatic, motivational team builder, which is a cultural left turn from Rivera's old-school, disciplinarian approach.

The reboot in Carolina has brought with it a raft of new players, coaches, and philosophies, with the teaching having to be delivered over online video chat software clients in living rooms and home offices as children frolic in the background, heedless of the far-reaching and franchise-altering decisions being made just yards away.

But normality will resume, and Carolina’s brass will hope that their new man at quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, can act as a bulwark against the oncoming tide of an expedited offseason program.

His new head coach was effusive in his praise:

"The best players in the world bring out the best in their teammates, and I can tell you, since free agency started, the amount of the guys that want to come and play with Teddy has nothing to do with me or anybody else," Rhule said. "They want to be a part of what he's doing 'cause he brings out the best in people."

Rhule, a first-time NFL head coach, admits to having followed Bridgewater’s career closely – and has an appreciation of his virtues and flaws.

And therein lies the most underrated but perhaps most important aspect of taking account of Bridgewater’s 2020 stock as a fantasy asset: is the apple of Rhule’s eye in an audition for more, or merely acting as a bridge to a better player like a Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields or insert trendy high-flying 2021 prospect here?

In evaluating Bridgewater’s career path to date, there is little reason to believe – if we put his comeback story aside and focus purely on the numbers – that he is in line to turn the corner and become a fantasy behemoth.

BRIDGEWATER'S CAREER IN NUMBERS

Year
Team
Gm
Comp
Att
%
PaYds
Y/A
PaTDs
INT
Rush
RuYds
RuTDs
Rk
ADP
MIN
13
259
402
64.4
2919
7.26
14
12
47
209
1
22
27
MIN
16
292
447
65.3
3231
7.23
14
9
44
192
3
24
16
MIN
4
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
77
25
MIN
1
0
2
0
0
0
0
1
3
-3
0
78
NO
5
14
23
60.9
118
5.13
1
1
11
5
0
56
NO
9
133
196
67.9
1384
7.06
9
2
28
31
0
33
Total
48
698
1070
65.2
7652
7.15
38
25
133
434
4

And yet Bridgewater is realistically only at the midpoint of his career as he enters his age 28 season, opening up the possibility for a second stanza under a coach who is clearly enamored with him and an offensive coordinator in Joe Brady whose offense is identical to the one Bridgewater ran in New Orleans last year on the way to a 9 TD – 2 INT ratio and 67.9% completion rate.

The best, perhaps, is yet to come for this humble leader.

The opportunity is there for Bridgewater to turn what on the surface looks like a three-year audition (for a cool $63m, I might add) into a long-term starting gig surrounded by a young core of talented playmakers and a stable coaching staff under contract for the long term. Bridgewater, in returning from a devastating non-contact knee injury, has demonstrated his tenacity and toughness.

As Rhule said, ‘the best players in the world bring out the best in their teammates’. Bridgewater, in the weekly grind of the season, will know that nothing is guaranteed. That could serve to raise his game and the prospects of the players around him.

Suddenly being a bridge may cease to be a tenable choice as Carolina anoints a new QB1.

THE DEFENSE RESTS: CAN BRIDGEWATER LIFT A TEAM IN COMEBACK MODE?

Quarterbacks can never be evaluated in a vacuum for fantasy purposes. Rather, they are joined at the proverbial hip to the players around them and the opportunities those players provide – or take away.

In reviewing the film of Bridgewater’s games as a starter with the Saints last season, one key element stood out: the defense did its job to control the game, eliminating the need for the quarterback to play outside of structure, under constant duress, and with his back against the wall.

Were there close games? Certainly, but the offense was never taken out of its comfort zone. It relied on bootlegs, screens, and a dynamic two-headed backfield of Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray to keep the clock churning. Crucially, Bridgewater avoided critical mistakes for the most part, playing the hand to his excellent defense’s glove, if you will.

In Carolina, that fit may not be quite so snug.

Though it was not a part of the plan in Rhule’s maiden journey in the NFL Draft, the franchise pointedly focused on defense – with every pick. The additions of Derrick Brown, Yetur Gross-Matos, and others will form the core of a young and active unit in the next several seasons, but for 2020 things appear suspect.

An analyst at Pro Football Focus, Sam Monson, once coined a term that could aptly describe Bridgewater’s game: pathologically conservative. Not gun shy, per se, but erring on the side of holding the ball when it should be let loose, of taking the checkdown when the chunk play was begging to be hit. Herein lies the biggest drawback of Bridgewater’s game: his pathological conservatism.

According to Pro Football Reference, Bridgewater’s efficiency in terms of quarterback rating fell from 100+ on first and second down passes to 76.6 on third down. He also threw his only two interceptions on third down and saw his completion percentage drop to 57.4% along with taking six sacks (compared to a combined six on first and second down).

The threads of Carolina’s defensive deficiencies and Bridgewater’s conservatism are inextricably linked and will be a significant obstacle to fantasy upside. Overcoming this in-built reticence to challenge a defense downfield may become a necessity for the Panthers to stay competitive.

This leads us logically to the collection of skill players Bridgewater has at his disposal, a group that, while it does not include the uber-talented Michael Thomas, boasts a wide variety of skill sets and, arguably, more depth of talent than the 2019 Saints offense.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES

Skill Players
Comparison
2020 Carolina
Pos
2018 New Orleans
RB
Upgrade

McCaffrey has the edge in providing value after the catch and as an overall runner.

Skill Players
Comparison
2020 Carolina
Pos
2018 New Orleans
D.J. Moore WR Michael Thomas Downgrade

The de facto WR1 in Carolina, D.J. Moore has a ways to go before he can even be in the same conversation as Michael Thomas, whose skills saved Bridgewater many times in 2019.

Skill Players
Comparison
2020 Carolina
Pos
2018 New Orleans
Curtis Samuel
WR
No Clear Comp No Contest

Samuel has a skill set that does not readily compare to any 2019 Saints player, with his shiftiness likely to be a major boon for the hyper-accurate Bridgewater.

Skill Players
Comparison
2020 Carolina
Pos
2018 New Orleans
WR
Slight Upgrade

Anderson has youth on his side and the allure of unknown upside as he moves from the unimaginative Jets offense to the potentially explosive Joe Brady offense.

Skill Players
Comparison
2020 Carolina
Pos
2018 New Orleans
TE
Downgrade

Cook has a more reliable track record, but Thomas should not be dismissed outright. The young tight end has shone on the occasions he has been given an extended opportunity.

The blueprint is there, with this array of talent, to turn an unexciting checkdown pass into an explosive play. Moore is a specialist with the ball in his hands, capable of flummoxing defenders with a quick step before blazing past – or through – them. Samuel was never a good fit for a rocket-armed passer like Cam Newton, but Bridgewater’s short-to-intermediate accuracy will suit the former Ohio State speedster. The new kid on the block, Robby Anderson, is the player with the most intriguing ceiling, but the most volatile floor.

And, of course, nothing more needs to be said about the growing legend of Christian McCaffrey, a player who adds value to every touch and has caught 107 and 116 balls over the past two seasons.

It stands to reason that Bridgewater, despite an ingrained sense of safety in his play, will be empowered by his surrounding cast – much like he was last season in New Orleans – as a crew of YAC monsters are allowed to roam free in the many comebacks that Carolina’s offense will have to stage.

FAMILIARITY BREEDS SUCCESS

The marriage of Matt Rhule and Teddy Bridgewater has been a fruitful one thus far, even as it has proceeded in a socially distant way. It is the budding bond between Bridgewater and Joe Brady, however, that merits more of our attention as we delve into the range of possibilities for an offense that has rightly attracted much chatter in this strangest of offseasons.

Brady’s meteoric rise has seen him go from an offensive analyst in New Orleans to masterminding the prolific LSU offense of 2019 with Joe Burrow at the helm. One Heisman Trophy and a National Championship later, Brady is now at the controls in Carolina. While the offense Brady will run is not identical to that of Sean Payton, many of the core concepts are similar.

Ultimately, in the NFL, familiarity can be the secret sauce that breeds success.

Projecting some of these concepts for the skill players in Carolina conjures up some enticing looks for Bridgewater to exploit.

The half-back corner route

Former LSU back and current Kansas City Chief Clyde Edwards-Helaire was utilized heavily by Brady last season, a page borrowed from the Book of Payton, which saw the likes of Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush turn into superstars.

With Bridgewater’s hyper-efficiency in the red zone – 16 for 25 and seven touchdown passes in 2019 – the below video illustrates a concept that Brady could install any week to get the speedy McCaffrey in space.

The switch verts concept

This play worked successfully for the Bridgewater to Michael Thomas connection last season, giving the receiver better leverage and a cleaner release:

While Samuel and Moore are not the physical freaks that Thomas is, Brady will have variations of this play in his back pocket to get his playmakers in space.

Glance route RPO

Run-pass options have become all the rage in the NFL in recent years as college concepts slowly trickle into the notoriously slow to change professional league. At LSU last season, Brady weaved his magic with a concept that he picked up as a graduate assistant at Penn State under Joe Moorhead – the glance route RPO.

Defenders read keys, but this RPO variation sends mixed signals and can exploit an overzealous defensive back or linebacker by throwing a pass in behind them. With McCaffrey in the backfield and speed demons like Moore, Samuel, and Anderson keeping defenses honest, this could be a high-impact play for Bridgewater to tap into.

Here is an example from West Virginia:

The confluence of Brady’s ingenuity and Bridgewater’s familiarity with the offense could be a match that turns the Carolina offense from good to great, with positive passing game scripts to take full advantage. The pandemic may cap the upside of some players like Daniel Jones, who must learn a whole new offense in his second year, but this should be a smooth transition for Bridgewater.

PROJECTIONS

Projector
Games
Comps
Atts
PaYds
TDs
INTs
Rushes
RuYds
RuTDs
FumL
15.2
343
522
3727
21.8
11.6
43
65
0.9
2.8
15.0
347
540
3800
20.5
9.0
46
45
0.5
3.0
16.0
344
548
3700
20.0
11.0
45
80
1.0
3.0
15.0
369
579
4060
20.8
15.8
40
78
0.9
1.1

FINAL THOUGHTS

The standard line on Teddy Bridgewater is one of skepticism, that he is a pathologically conservative passer bent on checkdowns and safe throws. That idea has some merit based on what we have seen of him thus far, but the 2020 Carolina Panthers offers Bridgewater a chance to vastly exceed expectations. His familiarity with the Joe Brady offense is a massive factor in his favor, which will allow him to hit the ground running. His array of weapons is ideal for his skill set, a cadre of backs and receivers capable of turning short gains into big plays. The situation, on a team without a clear defensive spine, will produce positive passing game scripts, allowing Bridgewater to take off the shackles and let loose in Brady’s highly creative scheme. This total package could lend itself to a consistent low-end QB1 for 2020.

OTHER PERSPECTIVES

Mike Tagliere at FantasyPros sounds a note of optimism for Bridgewater’s first season in Carolina:

“He may not be mobile anymore, but he now has D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, Curtis Samuel, Ian Thomas, and Christian McCaffrey at his disposal. He could be the 2020 version of Jameis Winston. Why? Because his defense is going through a major rebuilding process and will be allowing tons of points, forcing the Panthers to throw more than they'd like to. He's going to be a favorite of streamers. He's going to be a great option for those in 2QB leagues.”

Pro Football Focus' fantasy experts, meanwhile, have a more tempered outlook:

“It’s tempting to view Bridgewater through rose-colored glasses for fantasy purposes given the favorable surrounding cast and the allure of the new coaching regime. But his history has shown us that he just doesn’t come with a very high ceiling. At this point, it’s overly optimistic to view Bridgewater as anything more than a back-end QB2.”

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