INDIANAPOLIS -- One quarterback entered the NFL combine as the most pro-ready passer and the top-rated player on many draft boards while also being arguably the most overlooked prospect in Indianapolis.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater somehow managed to go largely unnoticed in the early stages of the pre-draft process.
More precisely, a media throng mesmerized by TMZ darling Johnny Manziel and the raw skill set of Blake Bortles has managed to largely brush aside the story of Bridgewater, NFLDraftScout.com's top-rated passer since last May.
A self-anointed football junkie who uses video games as "virtual reps," he first stated his goal to play in the NFL while playing football as a kid in Miami. He nearly gave up sports altogether after his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when he was 14, but she convinced him to take advantage of his God-given skills.
"Football is everything to me," Bridgewater said at the combine on Saturday. "I have such a passion for it, that I can't even describe it.
"I eat, sleep and breathe football."
While Bridgewater could fairly be described as soft-spoken, he is also well-spoken with the quiet, easy confidence that should be extremely evident during private team interviews this week. He has already met with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders, owners of the No. 3 and No. 5 overall picks, respectively, and is expected to meet with the Houston Texans (No. 1 overall) and Cleveland Browns (No. 4), among others.
Bridgewater said Jaguars owner Shad Khan was part of his meeting with the team, and head coach Gus Bradley said the quarterback's poise and decision-making "jumps out" on film.
Bortles and Manziel might be leading the race to be considered by the Texans at No. 1, but Bridgewater believes he is the best quarterback in this draft without coming off with any sense of cockiness.
"I feel I'm the best QB. Obviously, it's actions that have to back up these words," he said. "I'm going to have to go out and prove it."
The proving ground will come at his March pro day. Bridgewater decided not to throw during Sunday's passing drills, calling himself a "perfectionist" who wants the chemistry of throwing to his own receivers during the most important job interview of his life.
Bridgewater left Louisville as a highly productive passer who racked up 9,817 passing yards and 72 touchdowns as a three-year starter while completing 68.4 percent of his passes in the Cardinals' pro-style offense. For teams seeking an immediate contributor, there is little argument Bridgewater has a significant edge over Manziel and Bortles in terms of hitting the NFL ground running -- or passing.
Detractors will point to concerns over size -- Bridgewater measured in at 6-feet-2 1/8 and 214 pounds on Friday. That's up nine pounds from the end of the season.
"There's one thing to be a certain height and there's another thing to look at the way the player's built and I think that goes into the evaluation process, too," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said this week. "There's one thing to be a 5-foot-11 guy but a guy that's built very stoutly and can he take some of the pounding he may take if you run that style of offense?"
Bridgewater claims he can comfortably bulk up to the 225-pound range now that he has fully recovered from having his jaw broken to fix an underbite while he was a sophomore.
"For us, if you put down traits we're looking for in a quarterback, some of the things that keep popping up are timing, accuracy and decision making. That's what we're really looking at," said Bradley. "Obviously, people take a look at height but those are the major components are those three things and that's what you evaluate on film. But just as with the interviews, you take everything into account."
It's those interviews where Bridgewater again has an opportunity to sell teams on his grasp of playing the position and ability to quickly emerge as a franchise quarterback in the mold of budding young stars including the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick.
"Hey, you don't have to wait five years down the road anymore," said Bridgewater.