NFL Odds and Predictions: Rookie Quarterbacks in 2014
by Alan Matthews - 5/16/2014
I don't know about you, but I hated that the NFL moved its draft back a few weeks into May. Alas, it's probably here to stay. The league wants to own as much of the offseason calendar as possible, and by moving this back it adds a few more weeks of mock drafts, rumors, etc. It really got to the point of overkill, but the ratings were off the charts all last weekend, and that's all the NFL cares about. That it's two fewer weeks for rookies to learn with their teams apparently is irrelevant.
Anyway, I was thinking about which presumptive starting quarterback this season will be the first to be benched, and that leads me into a few props for this year's three first-round rookie quarterbacks: Jacksonville's Blake Bortles, Cleveland's Johnny Manziel (I believe he was largely the reason for the higher ratings, not the date change) and Minnesota's Teddy Bridgewater.
This draft class leaves much to be desired -- I think Oregon's Marcus Mariota would have been the first QB taken if he had declared. Now he probably will be next season. I also think UCLA's Brett Hundley might have gone before any of those three. The Jaguars surprised some people by taking Bortles with the No. 3 overall pick. It was no shock they took a quarterback, but Jacksonville probably could have traded back at least a handful of spots and still gotten him. For example, Buffalo moved up from No. 9 to No. 4 with Cleveland, and the Browns got a first-rounder and fourth-rounder next year for doing so. If I'm Jacksonville, I would have made that same trade.
Bortles is the prototypical pocket QB and looks the part at 6-foot-5, 232 pounds. He moves around surprisingly well. He reminds me of Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, the last quarterback Jacksonville took in the first round and who was a gigantic bust. The Jaguars have already said they don't want Bortles playing a down this year. They prefer he sit and learn while Chad Henne leads the team to another four-win season or so. I don't think there's a chance Bortles doesn't play. For one, Henne probably will get hurt, and he doesn't have a good backup. Bortles should be No. 2.
Circle perhaps Week 12 at Indianapolis or Week 13 at home against the Giants for Bortles to get his first start assuming Henne makes it healthy that long. Jacksonville probably will be something like 3-7 entering its Week 11 bye, so that would be the perfect week to get Bortles ready. Then Jags fans would have a reason to attend the team's final three home games. Bortles is 20/1 on Bovada's NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year odds, and I can't recommend that. He is also +110 against Bridgewater (-150) as to which rookie starts more games.
While Jacksonville has made no secret it doesn't want to play Bortles, new Minnesota head coach Mike Zimmer says Bridgewater will start Week 1 if he's the team's best option. That said, he also has a harder climb to get in a game. Matt Cassel will be the team's likely starter, and he's OK at times. I presume former first-round pick Christian Ponder will be the No. 2 to see if the Vikings can salvage anything from him.
I don't expect the Vikings to be very good, either. One knock on Bridgewater, once considered the possible No. 1 overall pick before an apparently mediocre Pro Day, is how he will perform in the cold because his hands are small. Growing up in Miami and playing at Louisville, he didn't have to play in cold temperatures often, including never starting a game at freezing or below. The coldest game he ever started was Nov. 24, 2012, against UConn. Louisville lost that game. Bridgewater threw for 331 yards but needed 53 passes to do it, completing 30 for two touchdowns and a pick. It was his second-lowest rated game of the season.
According to ESPN, Bridgewater started 11 games at 49 or below and 24 at 50-plus. In the former, his completion percentage was 63 percent, and he had 20 touchdowns and nine interception. In the latter, his completion percentage was 71 percent, and he had 48 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Read into that what you want. Obviously receivers are affected by cold, too. I mention this because the Vikings will play outdoors at the University of Minnesota the next two seasons. If you aren't aware, it gets rather cold in Minnesota. Just watch the show Fargo. Bridgewater is 12/1 for ROY. I don't like him there, and I think Bortles will get more starts.
As for Manziel, he's the 15/2 third-favorite for ROY and he has an "over/under" of 9.5 starts. The loudmouthed Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has already told Manziel to start thinking like a backup. Haslam is trying to be the Jerry Jones of the AFC, clearly. There's no doubt Manziel is the clear No. 2 behind Brian Hoyer for now, but do you really think: 1) Hoyer can stay healthy or 2) Hoyer can be consistently productive? I don't. There's a reason he has thrown 192 total passes in five seasons as a backup for three teams. I don't like Manziel for ROY too much -- the Browns have the worst receivers in the NFL without Josh Gordon -- but I'd lean "over" the starts. Perhaps the only thing stopping Manziel from starting double-digit games is if he gets hurt, a very real possibility if he plays the freewheeling style he did at Texas A&M.
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