Why early expectations for Mitch Trubisky should be high

Why early expectations for Mitch Trubisky should be high

All of the Mitch Truisky expectation qualifiers have been installed — no magic wand for the offense, only 13 college starts, not out of a pro-style system at North Carolina, and so on and so on. But irrespective of any pressure on the job statuses of GM Ryan Pace or coach John Fox, the expectations of the rookie quarterback over the next season-and-a-half or so should be more, far more, not less.

The reason lies in one of those things that run counter to most conventional-wisdom assumptions about quarterbacking in the NFL. The Bears hope, in the deepest corners of the franchise, that it continues.

That “it” is the strong — as in “near”- or actual “playoff-grade” — play of quarterbacks within their first three and often fewer seasons, a time frame which was once the norm and still is arguably preferred. Aaron Rodgers sat several years behind Brett Favre after arriving as the Green Bay Packers’ No. 1 draft choice in 2005 (20 picks after the Bears had grabbed Cedric Benson), and “I was very thankful for the opportunity, now as I look back, to grow,” Rodgers said before the Bears game this year.

But in an era when defenses have become increasingly sophisticated, and numbers of top college quarterbacks are coming out of spread offenses and systems far from “pro style,” quarterbacks have had positive impacts with increasing suddenness.

Consider some case studies from the last several years:

Player | Team | Drafted | Result

Teddy Bridgewater | Vikings | 2014 | 2015 NFC North champions

Jared Goff | Rams | 2016 | 3-1, leading NFC West, current No. 3-ranked passer in 2017

Robert Griffin III | Redskins | 2012 | NFC East champions, rookie season

Andrew Luck | Colts | 2012 | Playoffs first 3 seasons

Dak Prescott | Cowboys | 2016 | NFC East champions in 2016

Carson Wentz | Eagles | 2016 | 3-1, leading NFC East

Jameis Winston | Bucs | 2015 | 2-14 Bucs in 2014 were 6-10 in 2015 and 9-7 last season

Success is far from automatic, and to some extent lies in the eye of the beholder and has a time element. “Everybody was calling Goff a bust sometimes last season,” said Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, now with his hand on the Trubisky steering wheel and throttle. “And the teams around the guys are obviously enormous factors.”

To wit: Goff went No. 1 overall, usually a spot belonging to the most woeful team from the previous year. But he went to a Rams team coming off a 7-9 season that dumped its draft to move up from 15th for him. Likewise, Wentz went to a 7-9 team (Philadelphia) that traded up. These weren’t Peyton Manning going to 3-13 Indianapolis and Ryan Leaf to 4-12 San Diego (1998).

But Luck was the No. 1-overall pick by an Indianapolis team that went 3-13 in 2011, then 11-5 in Luck’s first year. Washington was 5-11 in 2011, then 10-6 and NFC East champions in RGIII’s rookie season.

Trubisky has gone to a 3-13 team, one with among the least productive groups of wide receivers in the NFL. On the other hand, after Troy Brown, name two other New England Patriots wide receivers from their early Super Bowls.

Note to the rookie: It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools (see: Jay Cutler).

And Tom Brady had started zero games and thrown all of 3 passes, 2 incomplete, as a rookie backup on a 5-11 Patriots team in 2000 before starting in relief of Drew Bledsoe in 2001.

But the game and the players, particularly the quarterbacks have changed.

“In 2005, I don’t think the quarterbacks were as ready to play as maybe some of the guys are now,” Rodgers said. “There’s better coaching, better awareness, there’s better coaching at a younger level. If you’re not in a ‘raise-you-foot-up, look-the-sideline, let-the-coach-call-the-play offense,’ you’re doing some more stuff now at the college level.”

All the Bears ask is for Trubisky to do more stuff now at the NFL level.

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

As the Bears begin to fill out their draft board in earnest, they’ll do so by evaluating the players they like and the players they think will be available when they pick eighth in April. And what players check both those boxes and go into their draft “clouds,” as Ryan Pace calls them, will depend largely on how many quarterbacks are taken ahead of the Bears’ pick. 

With about a month until the draft, it seems clear two teams will take a quarterback with a top-seven pick: the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. The Browns own the Nos. 1 and 4 picks; the Jets traded up from No. 6 to No. 3, and teams rarely invest that kind of draft capital to not draft a quarterback. 

That leaves a few hinge points in how many quarterbacks are picked by the time the Bears are on the clock:

New York Giants (No. 2 overall)

The Giants still have an aging Eli Manning but could move to use the second pick to draft his long-term replacement. Or, alternatively, they could use this deep class of top-end quarterbacks as an avenue to trade down, add some picks and build out a young core that way. Either of these scenarios would be good news for the Bears, as we’ve seen Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson connected to the Giants at No. 2 as well, if they were to stay there. The Buffalo Bills could be motivated to trade up to No. 2 to make sure they get the guy they want with quarterbacks almost assuredly going off the board at Nos. 1 and 3. 

Cleveland Browns (No. 4 overall)

If the Browns get their quarterback with the first pick — Sam Darnold? — they could be sitting in an ideal spot at No. 4. If the Giants draft a quarterback, Cleveland could play hardball and tell teams they’re fine keeping the fourth pick and drafting Barkley with it. That could create a bidding war between the Buffalo Bills (No. 12) and Denver Broncos (No. 5) to trade up and draft the last of the four clear-cut top quarterbacks in this class. In this scenario, Cleveland adds a bunch of picks to an already-sizable stash and accelerates their growth through the draft. 

If the Giants were to trade out of the No. 2 pick, let’s say to the Bills, it may lessen Cleveland’s desire to trade down from No. 4 unless a team in need of a quarterback like the Arizona Cardinals (No. 15) or Miami Dolphins (No. 11) starts lurking around. But as we saw last year with the Bears trading up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky, teams don’t want to leave things to chance if they have conviction on the quarterback they want. So that brings us to the…

Denver Broncos (No. 5 overall)

The Broncos signed Case Keenum to a two-year deal and still have 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch on their roster, though he hasn’t shown much in only five games as a pro. Does Denver absolutely, positively have to draft a quarterback? No. They’re probably in the same boat as the Giants in that regard. But what if they really like Josh Allen and/or Baker Mayfield, both of whom their coaching staff worked with at the Senior Bowl, and one of them is still on the board when the Browns’ pick comes up at No. 4? Or what if Josh Rosen has been their guy all along? 

In that case, John Elway may make an aggressive move to guarantee he gets the quarterback he wants, and not risk losing that guy if a team were to cut the line by trading with the Browns. 

The other scenario is less positive for the Bears: Maybe the Broncos only have one or two quarterbacks out of this group they want, and they either can’t find a trade partner to move out of No. 5 or don’t want to. If three quarterbacks are drafted in the first seven picks, the Bears may not have the opportunity to draft one of Nelson, Chubb or Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, for example, is a super-talented prospect — but we seem to be moving toward a consensus that Nelson, Fitzpatrick, Chubb and Barkley are the four best non-quarterback prospects in this draft. And in all likelihood, the Bears will only be able to draft one of them four quarterbacks are taken before they pick. 

The wild card here is Nelson, given his position (guard) is rarely seen as worthy of being a top-10 pick. But those who saw him up close in college believe he’s a future perennial Pro Bowler, possibly beginning as soon as his rookie year. The Bears’ fit is obvious, with Harry Hiestand coming to coach the offensive line from Notre Dame and the team — as of right now — still having a fairly clear need for another interior offensive lineman. Perhaps Nelson falls to the Bears even if there are only three quarterbacks off the board before they pick, but having four go off the board would make things a little less stressful at Halas Hall in late April. 

Indianapolis Colts (No. 6 overall) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7 overall)

The Colts already traded down once, and likely did so with the confidence that Chubb would still be on the board at No. 6 to help their limp pass rush. Fitzpatrick seems to be a good fit with Tampa Bay, though a player of his caliber would be a good fit anywhere. Either of these teams still could be persuaded to trade down, especially if the Giants and/or Broncos pass on a quarterback.

Chicago Bears (No. 8 overall)

If four quarterbacks are off the board by the time the Bears pick, that’s ideal for Pace. If three are, he still could get someone from his No. 8 pick “cloud” and be content staying there. If only two are — and this doesn’t appear to be a likely scenario — that means the Bills haven’t found a trade partner and may want to leapfrog the Dolphins at No. 11 to get their guy. More likely, if the Bears are able to trade down from No. 8, it would be because a team like Arizona wants to make sure the quarterback they want isn’t snagged by an opportunistic team ahead of them. 

But Pace's draft history has seen him trade up far more frequently than trade down. If someone who's in his draft cloud is available when the Bears go on the clock, chances are he'll pick that guy and not trade down. 

Plenty can and will change between now and when the draft begins on April 26. But for right now, the landscape ahead of the Bears suggests only positive things setting up for their first-round pick. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?


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Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score), Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel. Quenton Nelson works out at Notre Dame’s pro day. If he’s still on the board at 8, should the Bears take him? Plus the panel talks about the Cubs outfield heading into 2018 and if it’s time to shut down both Jonathan Toews and Lauri Markkanen.