Two of the top rookie quarterbacks in the 2014 draft class will make their NFL starting debuts in Week 4. Blake Bortles of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Teddy Bridgewater of the Minnesota Vikings are scheduled to play on Sunday, after replacing their teams’ respective starters the previous week.
Bortles and Bridgewater won’t be the first rookie signal callers to start in 2014, but their Week 4 contests will receive the most attention. Derek Carr has started all three games for the Oakland Raiders, but the second-round pick wasn't projected to be among the top quarterbacks in the draft, and he’s winless in three games. Dynamic rookie Johnny Manziel, who some scouts believe is a "project," hasn’t started for Cleveland, attempting just one pass off the bench.
Other than Manziel, Bortles and Bridgewater were the only quarterbacks to be taken in this year’s first round. Expectations are fairly high for both, since Bortles was taken third overall and Bridgewater was once considered a candidate to go first overall.
The Jacksonville quarterback might have more pressure on him than any other rookie this year. He was the No.3 overall pick in the draft, and has been pegged as the Jaguars’ quarterback of the future. Minnesota has high hopes for their rookie, but the Vikings did pass on Bridgewater with their top pick, eventually taking him with the last selection of the first round.
Unlike Bridgewater, Bortles is not playing due an injured starter. Head coach Gus Bradley benched Chad Henne in favor of the UCF product, after Jacksonville was outscored 105-27 in the first 10 quarters of the season. Taking over the league’s worst team, Bortles isn’t expected to lead the Jaguars to the playoffs, but it will be a disappointment if he can’t make the team more competitive.
In the second half of Jacksonville’s Week 3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, Bortles helped the team play better. The Jaguars ultimately lost 44-17, but they outscored Indianapolis 17-14 with Bortles at the helm, as the 22-year-old threw for 223 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. Bortles has taken advantage of his opportunities, completing 32 of 50 pass attempts for 521 yards and two touchdowns in preseason competition.
Week 4 though, might not be the ideal time for Bortles to make his first-ever start. Jacksonville heads to San Diego, where they are the biggest underdogs of Week 4. The Chargers have the fourth-ranked scoring defense in the young season, allowing 16.3 points per game. One of their two wins came against the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, whom they held to 288 total yards.
In his first start, Bridgewater should have a less difficult task. The Vikings quarterback will be at home against the Atlanta Falcons, who don’t sport one of the league’s best defenses. Atlanta's defense ranks 20th in the NFL, allowing 24 points per game. Only seven teams have allowed more passing yards than the Falcons.
Bridgewater made his NFL debut in against the New Orleans Saints, replacing Matt Cassel, who left the game in the second quarter with a broken foot. Bridgewater threw for a respectable 12-of-20 for 150 yards and an 83.3 passer rating. The 21-year-old also added 27 yards on six rushes in a 20-9 road defeat.
After falling in the draft, Bridgewater is doing his best to prove the naysayers wrong. He was very efficient in the preseason, completing over 61 percent of his passes for five touchdowns and no interceptions. He failed to lead Minnesota into the end zone in his first regular-season action, but helped engineer two scoring drives and avoided turning the ball over.
Bortles and Bridgewater are hoping that the 2014 quarterback class has more success than the 2013 class. EJ Manuel and Geno Smith, the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2013 NFL Draft, have yet to prove themselves as reliable starters. The future might be a bit more promising for Bortles and Bridgewater.
Earlier this month, Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley described Bortles's attitude as "great, tremendous." Meanwhile, a Twin Cities reporter speculated this week that Bridgewater might soon by nicknamed "Ready Teddy."