MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater celebrates his 23rd birthday on Tuesday. And while he's probably spending part of it trying to pass the next steps in the NFL's concussion protocol after getting hit in the head on Sunday against the St. Louis Rams, he can also take some enjoyment from the knowledge that he's had one of the more productive pre-23 careers of any quarterback in NFL history.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bridgewater's 4,589 passing yards are the fourth-most in league history by a quarterback before his 23rd birthday. But for Lamarcus Joyner's elbow to Bridgewater's head on Sunday, the Vikings quarterback probably would be third on the list; his long-ago Vikings predecessor, Fran Tarkenton, occupies the third spot with 4,592 yards.
Tarkenton is the only Hall of Famer in the top four, and the full list doesn't guarantee a career of MVPs and championships. The leader (Drew Bledsoe, with 7,049 yards) had a long and successful NFL career, reaching four Pro Bowls and taking the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl in 1996, but he'll be forever remembered as the guy who stepped aside for Tom Brady. And the second name on the list -- Josh Freeman, with 5,306 passing yards -- is remembered in Minnesota for his brief and bizarre stop in the Twin Cities in 2013 on his way to football oblivion. In his first game with the Brooklyn Bolts of the Fall Experimental Football League last month, Freeman completed nine of his 16 passes for 32 yards and a touchdown, but threw an interception and fumbled five times.
If anything, Bridgewater's presence on the list should serve as a reminder of how much of his NFL development has come at a very tender age. He's been inconsistent this season, and his ups and downs have inspired some hand-wringing from Vikings fans who hoped Bridgewater would take a clear step forward in Year 2. When he's been on the field as much as he has, it's easy to forget just how young he is. But eight of the top 10 quarterbacks on ESPN's QB Rating leaderboard are over the age of 30, while one more (Andy Dalton) is a 28-year-old who'd posted four years of middling stats before this season.
Bridgewater's numbers currently lag behind Derek Carr, the second-year Raiders quarterback who was drafted four picks after him last year and will be on the field against the Vikings on Sunday. But Carr is more than 18 months older than Bridgewater, and he's playing behind a line that has allowed the least quarterback pressure in the league. The trajectory of both quarterbacks could look different in five years, but at this point, even though Bridgewater has already logged 20 NFL starts, his 23rd birthday remains an occasion to take the long view.