One year ago, we sat down and talked to NFL coaches, players and scouts to identify a breakout player for the 2018 season. The answer was first-year starter Patrick Mahomes with the Kansas City Chiefs. That turned out to be accurate.
So we're coming back looking for 2019's candidate. It should be no surprise that many pro sources went back to the quarterback well and pinpointed another young and athletic passer being groomed by an Andy Reid protege.
The NFL is ready for Mitchell Trubisky to break out in 2019.
The hype may be quiet, but the expectations are real. That could be why Trubisky is a favorite bet to win league MVP among those in Las Vegas—or maybe the odds are just really good, as he told NFL Network's Michael Silver. But whether it's just a smart bet or more, there is a buzz building inside Chicago about the third-year quarterback and what he can become in Matt Nagy's offense.
Is it fair to call Trubisky a breakout candidate? He wasn't on a shortlist of candidates for this column, but it was obvious the former one-year starter at North Carolina was on the minds of the league's elite after a week of conversations with scouts, coaches and NFL defenders.
"Hindsight is always perfect, right, but I loved him [coming out]. He was so accurate, crisp and athletic. [North Carolina] didn't utilize his legs enough. I think Nagy will open that up more this year," one AFC scouting director said about Trubisky. Our own rankings at Bleacher Report had him as the No. 1 quarterback in a talented class that featured Deshaun Watson and Mahomes.
Trubisky played well in his first season under Nagy last year, but he has been overshadowed by his draftmates at the position. His 24 touchdowns and 12 interceptions were good in 2018. But with legitimate Super Bowl—and maybe some MVP—aspirations in 2019, Trubisky has to be better. He will be expected to play closer to the level he was drafted to reach when the Bears traded up one spot to select him at No. 2 overall.
Why the breakout now instead of last year?
Year 2 of Nagy as head coach. That's the feeling from those around the league. The pairing of the accurate, smart and mobile quarterback with the Andy Reid discipline is a matchup the rest of the NFC North must fear.
Speaking to a former Nagy coworker gives the sense that Trubisky is his perfect quarterback: "Obviously, Mahomes and Watson would fit what Matt does. But Trubisky works so well for that scheme because he can run the RPO stuff, and he's solid enough to take some hits. You don't have to worry about him getting banged up as much as you would a Watson or Lamar Jackson or Alex Smith."
It doesn't hurt that Trubisky will also have more help in 2019. General manager Ryan Pace drafted a running back in David Montgomery who can make a three-down impact and has the power and receiving skills to keep defenses honest. The Bears also return wide receiver Allen Robinson II for a second season with the team and should have high hopes for young pass-catchers Anthony Miller and Riley Ridley.
Perhaps most important is continuity along the offensive line.
Though a healthy Kyle Long makes the Bears' front five completely different, the prospect of returning all five starters is crucial to the success in Chicago. With strong anchors in Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie, the Bears have the right bookends to keep Trubisky's pocket clean on the edges, but the interior might be the best part of the group thanks to Long and youngsters James Daniels and Cody Whitehair.
Mentioning the strength of Trubisky's supporting cast shouldn't take away from his talent, because this team will only go as far as he can take it. No amount of good pass-catchers or continuity along the offensive line can make up for missed throws or bad decisions.
The next step of his development is speeding up his processor when reading the defense and finding more explosive plays. If those come, Trubisky could indeed be a smart MVP bet.
Following a playoff performance that saw Trubisky battle the Philadelphia Eagles' vaunted defense in a 16-15 loss, the nation should have noticed the toughness and moxie of the sophomore quarterback who completed 26 of 43 passes for over 300 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions against one of the league's best defenses, especially given the cold, snowy and windy conditions.
For many, that game became about Cody Parkey and his missed 43-yard field-goal attempt with 10 seconds left on the game clock. But for those watching closely, it was the start of Trubisky's ascension into a top quarterback.
As the summer heads into its final stretch, Super Bowl hopes and MVP bets reside in Chicago. You could say it's because of Khalil Mack and a stout defense that may cause flashbacks to the Monsters of 1985, but No. 10 under center will be the reason the Bears win their division and battle for the NFC crown in 2019.
Trubisky's breakout season is here. Get ready for it.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.