Asked by Courier Journal for his thoughts on Lamar Jackson, the Heisman Trophy-winning Louisville quarterback who was picked 32nd in the NFL draft on Thursday night, Bridgewater just said, “Oh, man.” (Courier Journal)
If you’ve watched football in 2019, you’ve seen the rise of former Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, and the daunting comeback of a former Heisman finalist, Teddy Bridgewater. Separated by 5 years, the paths these two have taken are certainly unparalleled but the journey is the same.
Let’s start at the beginning to get a sense of how we ended up here. Lamar Jackson and Teddy Bridgewater are both from South Florida. Jackson attended Boynton Beach High School in Boynton Beach, Florida, while Bridgewater attended Miami Northwestern High School. Both schools are separated by just a one hour drive.
Both players attended Louisville, Bridgewater coached by Charlie Strong and Jackson coached by Petrino. Teddy always had success in college, never having a losing season when he started, including a 12-1 season in 2013 where Louisville defeated Miami (FL) in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Teddy was an absolute stud in college. He was a field general and never looked fazed by the moment. Seeing Louisville perform the way they were was often strange, after seeing Rutgers dominate the Big East for years. Teddy finished his college career with 9,817 yards and 72 TD’s in just 3 years. After he left Louisville, he was drafted in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings.
Lamar Jackson had the opposite of winning ways in his time at Louisville, but that didn’t stop him from being a force to be reckon with. He won the Heisman, Maxwell, and Walter Camp Award (2016), as well as the AP and Sporting News player of the year in the same year. To say he was a stud in college was an understatement. He finished his college career with 9,043 yard’s and 69 TD’s. So with all the playmaking and insane TD throws, why was he so undervalued in the draft? He was passed by 31 different teams in the 2018 NFL draft before being drafted 32nd overall by the Baltimore Ravens. This is where the story gets interesting.
Let’s rewind 2 years – Teddy Bridgwater suffered a possible career ending injury in a practice session with the Vikings in August of 2016. His time with the Vikings would be over, and his career as an NFL quarterback would be in jeopardy. The scenes that day were like no other. No videos, no pictures, just disgusted players that have never seen anything like it in their life. He just went down, without being touched, and now his career was hanging in the balance. Later that week, Teddy Bridgewater released a statement that resonated with NFL fans.
“I want to thank the Wilf Family and the entire Vikings organization, all of my teammates, friends, Eric Sugarman and the amazing Vikings athletic training staff and the fans who have sent me messages and wished me well. Your thoughts and prayers mean a lot to me and have helped me in this difficult time. There are great players and great leaders in our locker room who are going to fight to the end to reach the goals we set for 2016. I will be there mentally, physically and in spirit to support them accomplish those goals.
In order to have a testimony, you have to have a test. I come from amazing DNA, I watched my mom fight and win against breast cancer. We will, as a team, attack my rehab with the same vigor and energy. My faith is strong, my faith is unwavering and my vision is clear. My purpose will not be denied.” (USA Today)
What incredible strength displayed by a guy who possibly just lost it all. When I saw this, I knew that he would be back, and he wouldn’t let an injury determine his career.
Now back to present time, just two years later, a kid from the same college he went to would explode onto the scene.
Lamar Jackson had a surprising rookie year. After being undervalued in the NFL draft, with “expert analysts,” including Bill Polian, telling Jackson he should play WR, which turns out to be horribly wrong. Jackson finished his 2018 Rookie year with a bang, after replacing Joe Flacco, throwing for 1201 yards and 6 TD’s in just 7 games. It wasn’t Lamar’s throwing ability that sold him to executives around the league, it was his leadership on the field as a rookie, similar to what we saw with Bridgwater during his time with the Vikings. It was so impressive to watch him control the huddle as a rookie QB, and I only wanted to see him start a full season.
Bridgewater, now a backup QB with the Saints, replacing an injured Drew Brees, was absolutely stellar. He wasn’t flashy and sometimes even looked rusty, but he was displaying the qualities that made him so highly valued as a member of the Vikings before he was injured. He led the team to a 6-1 record in his time as the Saints starter from week 2-8 and is now valued as someone who will get paid next offseason.
I am convinced the Football God’s were looking down on Teddy Bridgewater this season. While injuries are never wanted, I think the time that Teddy was given as a QB during Brees’ rehab showed the world why he was once a first round pick. The fortitude and drive needed to come back from ACL tears is like no other, and Teddy is an example to never give up on players until they simply can not play anymore.
2019 Lamar Jackson might just be my favorite player ever. Jackson and the Ravens offense have simply beat teams up, including the Patriots, Texans, and Seahawks. To put his amazing start to the 2019 season in simple terms, he is the favorite for MVP of the league through week 11, he isn’t even top 20 in the NFL in passing yards, and he is only 8th in passing TD’s with 19. What makes Lamar Jackson special can’t be measured by statistics. His athleticism and pure will to be great sets him apart most QB’s in the NFL this season. I would even go as far as saying he has been the best quarterback in the NFL this season.
Another impressive thing about his season is how the Ravens front office has supported him and built the offense around him. Where Lamar goes, this offense goes. The whole scheme, in my opinion, is formulated to help with what Lamar does best, throwing on the run, escaping the pocket, and finding ways to pick up yards with his feet. It’s not often the best pure runner in the league is also the best QB in the league. Thats the Lamar Jackson difference.
It’s safe to say, 2019 won’t be the last time we hear about both of these guys, Teddy will be determined to find his way onto a team as a starting QB next season, and Lamar will only continue to grow. The paths these players have taken is incredible. From being a first round pick with all the glory, to suffering a season ending injury, Teddy has shown his grace under fire, and his will to succeed. After being skipped by 31 NFL teams, Lamar Jackson is now proving the GM’s of those teams wrong and performing like the man that won the Heisman in 2016. The journey’s NFL QB’s take is always unprecedented, with a defining moment in almost every Hall of Fame or un-drafted free agent QB’s career. It is safe to say we might have seen both Teddy’s and Lamar’s defining moments, albeit with two different paths to greatness. I can not wait to see how both of these players continue to succeed in the National Football League.