A team's eagerness to go after a particular player in the NFL draft often speaks volumes.
When the Bears traded up from the third to the second overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft to take North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, general manager Ryan Pace made it clear—in his mind, Trubisky is a franchise quarterback.
"If we want to be great, you just can't sit on your hands," Pace told reporters about the decision to trade up for Trubisky, which cost the Bears third- and fourth-round picks in 2017 as well as a third-rounder in 2018. "There are times when you've got to be aggressive, and when you have conviction on a guy, you can't sit on your hands. I just don't want to be average around here; I want to be great. And these are the moves you have to make."
In the NFL, it's common sense that if the quarterback you want is available, you move heaven and earth to get him. But in Trubisky's case, there has to be some projection involved. He started just one season in college, completing 68 percent of his passes for 3,748 yards, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2016. When you watch his tape, it's evident he has a way to go before he's ready for the NFL. His mechanics and field-reading are inconsistent, though he does show most of the tools you want in a top-tier NFL quarterback. He just has to overcome certain tendencies before it will be evident on a consistent basis.
"All the traits as far as leadership, how he is with his teammates, what his work ethic is like and all the physical traits as well—the accuracy," Pace said when asked why there was such urgency to trade for Trubisky. "All these top quarterbacks, it's just their ability to quickly process defenses, process coverage, find open targets, not panic under pressure, deliver accurate throws when there's a noisy pocket and things are collapsing. And Mitch has those traits."
It's also evident the Bears do not expect Trubisky to show those traits right away. They signed former Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon to a three-year, $45 million deal in March, and though the team can cut him loose with a minimal salary-cap hit after 2017, the Bears clearly see Trubisky as a developmental guy. Based on his work in college, that's the right way to go.
"We feel we have the perfect environment for his development," Pace said. "In regards to Mike Glennon, Mike Glennon is our starting quarterback. There is no quarterback competition when Mitch gets here. Glennon is our starting quarterback. We'll focus on Mitch's development and Mike Glennon winning games for the Chicago Bears."
What the Bears are trying to avoid is the crucible of throwing a quarterback to the wolves too soon. And there are certainly stories of young signal-callers being ruined for good when teams try to hurry them into the spotlight—Blake Bortles in Jacksonville is a recent glaring example. The Jaguars wanted to sit Bortles as a rookie after taking him third overall in the 2014 draft, but injuries to starter Chad Henne scuttled that plan. Jacksonville threw Bortles into the fire before he was ready, and he's never quite recovered. It's hard for any young quarterback to bounce back from that.
The NFL demands far more of quarterbacks than any college program ever could. Mechanics are far more important. The coverage windows are inches wide when they used to be feet wide. Coverages are infinitely more complex, and the pass-rush schemes and sub-packages are from another world.
In that regard, Pace and his evaluators are on the right track. The question then becomes whether Trubisky has the raw and transferable skills to make this deal worth the trouble.
Let's go to the tape.
Trubisky faced some of the NCAA's better defenses in his one starting year, so there are multiple opportunities to see him dealing with adversity and working through the inevitable kinks that come up against high-quality opponents.
From a physical perspective, it's easy to see why NFL teams would be enamored with Trubisky. He measured 6'2" and 222 pounds at the combine. His height could be an issue since he has somewhat of a sidearm delivery, but he's a big, mobile guy who can make plays both in the pocket and outside of it. He also rushed 93 times for 308 yards and five touchdowns in 2016, and the Tar Heels had him electing to run on a number of read-option packages. At times, Trubisky would take the ball up the middle for negligible gains—the Bears likely won't want him to do that—but he's a credible threat on the ground regardless.
This two-play sequence against Miami shows the boom-and-bust nature of Trubisky as a pure runner. On the first play, he's bottled up, he doesn't see anything downfield, and nothing happens. But on the second play, the lanes open up and he's off to the races. Trubisky has promising agility in short spaces, he's not afraid to take a hit, and he touts impressive second-level acceleration.
Another element of Trubisky's physicality shows up in this completion against Miami, and it's something the Bears can build on: He isn't afraid to throw when there are bodies around or on him. Here, Trubisky makes the completion outside to receiver Bug Howard despite the backside defensive end having beaten his blocker. This calm demeanor as things are falling apart around him brings Philip Rivers to mind.
This second-quarter completion against Stanford in the Sun Bowl is another positive example of how Trubisky can maintain the play even after his pocket breaks down. Here, end Solomon Thomas (No. 90) forced Trubisky to step up in the pocket, and with other bodies coming at him, he deduced that he's better off running to the right. He ran to throw—he kept his eyes up, waited for receiver Jordan Cunningham to run his crossing route and put the ball where only Cunningham could get it.
According to Pro Football Focus, Trubisky was accurate on 66.7 percent of his passes under pressure, and there are enough examples of his ability in and out of the pocket under pressure to deem this a repeatable and crucial part of his game.
However, Trubisky's inexperience shows up when he's asked to make reads against complex defenses. Stanford safety Dallas Lloyd had two interceptions against him in the Sun Bowl, and they're both worth watching.
On the first pick in the second quarter, Lloyd is coming down to linebacker depth pre-snap, clearly looking to take away anything intermediate across the middle. It's not a disguised coverage—Lloyd makes his intentions clear. But Trubisky still makes the throw on a right-side slant, and Lloyd can easily jump the route. These are the kinds of things that NFL quarterbacks must diagnose pre-snap to succeed.
The fourth-quarter interception to Lloyd is just as disconcerting, because it again shows a lack of ability to pre-read coverage changes. Here, Lloyd is coming down from safety depth pre-snap, and as the cornerback follows the outside receiver running inside, all he has to do is sit underneath and wait to jump the running back's boundary route. Stanford's defense clearly has this worked out, and it's bothersome that Trubisky couldn't see it. As is true for many college quarterbacks, once you get him out of his clearest series of first progressions, he doesn't always have an adequate response.
"What I like about Mitch is he's very humble, and he's never going to be a guy that's going to point fingers," Pace said of Trubisky's mistakes against Stanford. "I think it's just hey, reading defenses. In that instance, there were a couple of plays there. What I like is his ability to come to the sidelines, regroup, talk to his coaches, and then go back out and execute at a high level. We always talk about people responding in adverse situations, and he did that."
It's true Trubisky did rally his team late in the game; the Tar Heels lost, 25-23, but Trubisky was one sack on a final two-point conversion away from tying the game with less than 30 seconds remaining. North Carolina's final touchdown drive was marred by multiple receiver drops and a great defensive effort on a fade route in the end zone, but the scoring play was a thing of beauty—and yet another example of how naturally Trubisky can make things happen outside of structure. He first rolls to his right, and after doubling back to his left, he needs to find someone in the end zone, Fortunately, Bug Howard is there.
One element of randomness in Trubisky's play is that he'll overthrow open receivers, which has more to do with his overall mechanics than any glaring inaccuracy. Here, against Miami, he has an overload blitz to his right, and he's making a quick throw to the other side. But he lifts his body and pushes the ball, throwing what should be a fairly simple downfield completion over the head of receiver Mack Hollins. Trubisky does have a tendency to push the ball, especially when he's trying to finesse the arc of a throw, which will have to be corrected.
Does Trubisky have what it takes to validate the Bears' investment in him? From a basic physical perspective, he has plenty of positives—he's tough, mobile and fearless in the pocket. He doesn't bail from pressure, and though there are times when he'll leave the pocket early, it's not an epidemic issue. His arm is above-average, though he doesn't have a cannon for an arm—there are times when he makes deep throws and his receivers have to come back to the ball. He may have more velocity in his future if he gets his mechanics straightened out.
Most of his issues have to do with experience. He's below-average when it comes to reading defenses and coverages at this point, and against advanced schemes and disguised coverages in the NFL, he'd get eaten alive. This is compounded with the aforementioned inaccuracy that pops up when he regresses mechanically. He will also need to learn to play within the pocket, and within structure, more consistently. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone will likely prioritize rounding out Trubisky's skill set. It would be a stretch to expect any quarterback to be ready for the NFL after one starting year, and it's clear Trubisky isn't.
That's where the question gets difficult. If you're making this kind of trade for a quarterback, you clearly believe that he's a franchise-transformer like Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers. For now, Trubisky doesn't demonstrate that potential. He has nice attributes, and there are times when one could envision him developing into an above-average NFL quarterback based on his college tape. But above all, quarterbacking in the NFL is about the ability to repeatedly and consistently make plays under difficult circumstances, and against all kinds of defenses.
Trubisky needs time before it can be determined whether he's such a player, and the merit of the trade will only become evident a few years down the road. Hopefully, the weight of what the Bears gave up for him won't skew the development plan in the short term.