The first iteration of Teddy Bridgewater was an accurate, efficient passer in a ball control offense whose team - the Vikings, in case you've forgotten - almost never required him to light up the opposing secondary.
For fantasy purposes, Bridgewater in 2014 and 2015 was a quarterback streamer you hoped would notch a couple touchdown tosses before Minnesota built a comfortable lead and took the air out of the football. There were few blowup games from Teddy B. - he had five 300-yard passing games in two years as the Vikings' starter - so you hoped for an efficient outing, and sometimes you got it.
It was the same last year in New Orleans. Bridgewater, buoyed by plenty of neutral or positive game script, averaged a solid if unspectacular 240.5 passing yards and 1.8 touchdowns per game while the Saints went 5-0 without Drew Brees. It was all mostly fine for fantasy managers who played him in a pinch.
We could see a very different version of Bridgewater in 2020 as he goes under center for the Panthers, who have no shot of providing him with the kind of positive game script he saw in Minnesota (even with the game's premiere running back, which is weird, isn't it?). Carolina is likely going to be bad - really bad. Vegas has the Panthers win total over/under set at 5.5 games, the second-worst in the league. That somehow seems generous.
That leaves Bridgewater as the head of an offense that could experience another season of constant negative, pass-heavy game script. Sounds bleak, I know. But it could make Bridgewater a (dare I say) fun and useful fantasy football option for those working the waiver wire in 12 and 14 team leagues, or those playing in superflex formats.
Anyone who had the displeasure of watching the Panthers in 2019 - sans those who drafted Christian McCaffrey - knows just how horrid the team's defense was. A long, ugly story short: the Panthers' defense was gouged for 374.5 yards per game (ninth worst) and 29.4 points per game (second worst). Opposing offenses sliced and diced the Panthers with efficiency: only eight defenses gave up more yards per play (5.8) than Carolina.
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This left the Panthers' offense chasing points, which usually translated to Kyle Allen running for his life, flailing to get the ball downfield, or dumping it off to McCaffrey in hopes he could break fourteen 14 tackles. Carolina, despite their best efforts, could not establish the run, rushing on 35.84% percent of their offensive snaps in 2019, the fourth lowest rate in the NFL. They attempted 633 passes; only Atlanta threw more.
The results were a horror show: the Panthers managed a mere 17 touchdown passes all year. They threw for the 20th most yards in the league. Allen in a Week 5 tilt against the 49ers threw 37 passes for a grand total of 158 yards. Like I said, total horror.
Here's the thing though: if Carolina had merely posted a league-average 4.4% percent touchdown rate, the Panthers would have thrown 27.9 touchdowns. And if they had thrown for the league average 6.73 yards per attempt, the team would've piled up 4,260 yards through the air -- the seventh- most in the league. It's a Big If, I understand, but the point is that there was a yawning gap between how the Panthers produced via the pass in 2019 and what they would've produced if Allen and the passing game had been just OK.
Analyzing Bridgewater's overall stats during this time as an NFL starter wouldn't be incredibly informative here. We want to know how Teddy B. has operated in negative game script, which he'll face in spades this season. Let's look at 2015, his most recent season as a full-time starter.
|Season||Passing yards||Passing TDs||INTs||Rushing yardage||Fantasy points per game|
While we can’t be sure if post-catastrophic-leg-injury Bridgewater will be as willing or able to flee the pocket and create fantasy points on the ground, a couple fantasy points rushing from a quarterback is nothing to dismiss. The rest is straightforward: Bridgewater’s yardage total spiked when the Vikings fell behind and had to be aggressive on offense.
Carolina head coach Matt Rhule talks the talk of someone who wants to establish the run and establish it hard. Rhule seems thrilled by the prospect of an ultra-conservative, run-heavy offensive scheme designed to keep the ball away from Carolina opponents. This is the same guy who didn’t really like winning games at Baylor with a spread-out run-pass option offense, concerned about betraying his brand of tough-guy football. Like all alphas, Rhule loves the Oklahoma drill. You know the type.
The rub, of course, is that you can only run that sort of scheme when you’re good, when you have the lead, when you don’t need to score points. And if (when) Carolina falls behind in 2020 games, Bridgewater will throw to an impressive cast of pass catchers: there’s pass-catching dynamo McCaffrey, an underrated receiver group of D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel and his army of fantasy football truthers, and deep ball specialist Robby Anderson, along with tight end Ian Thomas, a late rounder who could be a sneaky volume play in his own right.
Bridgewater, along with Kirk Cousins, strikes me as the quarterback with the most upside in 2020 who you can get in the waning rounds of your draft. Of course, I’d rather have quarterbacks like Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford, both going four or five rounds before Bridgewater in one-QB formats. But if you wait and wait and wait for a QB, Bridgewater should be your guy. He’s going as one of the last Week 1 starters off the draft board, along with Dwayne Haskins, Tyrod Taylor, and the Dolphins quarterbacks. All of those signal callers lack the job security and potential volume of Bridgewater. That is, unless you think Carolina might be a decent team.
Even if Bridgewater doesn’t emerge as a fantasy starter in standard 12-team leagues, his upside in a potentially pass heavy Carolina offense, surrounded by pass catching weapons, is being ignored. The Panthers’ passing attack could be the beneficiary of volume, and lots of it, despite their head coach’s wishes.