Jared Goff

Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff and preaching patience on Mitchell Trubisky

Deshaun Watson, Jared Goff and preaching patience on Mitchell Trubisky

Mitchell Trubisky will inevitably be compared to Deshaun Watson as the 2017 season — and his career — progresses. Watson is off to an eye-catching start to his pro career, leading the Houston Texans to a 57-14 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday and looking every bit like the playmaker he was while leading Clemson to a College Football Playoff championship a year ago. 

But Watson’s strong start to his career doesn’t guarantee that he’ll be better than Trubisky, or that he’ll even have long-term success. What Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said last month about how long it takes young quarterbacks to establish themselves as being elite is relevant here:

“I think it takes a couple years,” Roethlisberger said on a conference call with Chicago media. “That’s why I’m always slow to send too much praise or anoint the next great quarterback after Year 1. I think people in the media and the ‘professionals’ in some of these big sports networks are so quick to anoint the next great one or say that they’re going to be great; this, that and the other. 

“Let’s wait and see what happens after two to three years, after defenses understand what you’re bringing (and) you’re not a surprise anymore. I think it takes a few years until you can really get that title of understanding being great or even good, because you see so many looks. In Year 2 and 3, you’re still seeing looks and can act like a rookie.”

The same line of thinking, then, goes for Trubisky: If he lights up the Minnesota Vikings in his NFL debut Monday night and plays well against the Baltimore Ravens, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints in October, it’ll be an encouraging beginning to his career, but not necessarily a guarantee he’ll be among the greats. 

That doesn’t mean the excitement should be muted if Trubisky immediately succeeds, especially for a franchise that hasn’t had a quarterback like him in a long time, maybe ever. But patience will be necessary in making long-term evaluations of Trubisky, even with expectations being high. 

“(Watson’s success) doesn’t put pressure on me,” Trubisky said. “Everyone has a different game and everyone has a different situation. That didn’t surprise me at all because I know what kind of player and person Deshaun is. The big stage isn’t going to faze him or myself. 

“So we’re in this new era where young quarterbacks are expected to come in and produce right away like veterans have. It’s a little different. But I think the type of players there are now coming out, they’re able to handle it.”

The Jared Goff question

Just as there should be some caution against rushing to judge a rookie quarterback as the next great one, there should be caution against labeling someone a bust after an ineffective first year. Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff is a perfect example here. 

Last year’s No. 1 overall pick put up dismal numbers while losing all seven starts he had as a rookie with the Los Angeles Rams. The worry was that brutal debut would irreparably mangle Goff’s confidence and make him a Jamarcus Russell or David Carr-esque bust. 

But the message inside the Rams’ locker room was that poor production wasn’t all Goff’s fault. 

“I would say that the situation with Jared Goff was kind of unfair to him because I feel like as a whole offense, we struggled,” running back Benny Cunningham, who played for the Rams last year, said in August. “As a quarterback, being drafted high, you take most of the criticism. But I feel like if the guys around him can help — that’s any quarterback — if the guys around you can execute and help, it makes your job a lot easier.”

The Rams, notably, acquired wide receivers Sammy Watkins (trade), Robert Woods (free agency) and Cooper Kupp (draft), tight end Gerald Everett (draft), center John Sullivan (free agency) and tackle Andrew Whitworth (free agency) between the end of the 2016 season and beginning of the 2017 one. And, crucially, 31-year-old first-year head coach Sean McVay was brought in to implement a fresh offensive system. 

Through four games, Goff leads the NFL in average yards per attempt (9.2), has completed two-thirds of his passes and has seven touchdowns against one interception. The Rams are 3-1 with one of the best offenses in the league a year after Goff quarterbacked one of the worst. These kinds of turnarounds can happen.

Ideally, the Bears won’t need that level of change around Trubisky in 2018 outside of adding a few pass-catching options for him. But if things don’t go as planned over these next 12 games, it’s not a given that Trubisky’s confidence — and chances of being the franchise-changing quarterback the Bears hope he can be — will be ruined. 

How Jared Goff’s rookie year could be a cautionary tale for Mitch Trubisky

How Jared Goff’s rookie year could be a cautionary tale for Mitch Trubisky

Without Cameron Meredith, perhaps the biggest question facing the Bears entering the 2017 season is who, if anyone, can step up to fill the production void left by that brutal injury he suffered in Tennessee.

But Meredith’s injury opened up another question: Might it mean Mitch Trubisky won’t see the field as quickly as we might’ve thought based on his excellent preseason?

If the answer to that question is yes, it may have less to do with Trubisky’s own development and the desire to put him in the best possible situation when he makes his regular season debut. And while Trubisky very well could be a guy who makes receivers around him better — which would be the best-case scenario — it’s worth considering the worst case here.

And the closest thing we’ve seen to that worst case happened to Jared Goff last year.

Goff sat out the Los Angeles Rams’ first nine games before coach Jeff Fisher, faced with a 4-5 record and a struggling Case Keenum (9 TDs, 11 INTs), anointed last year’s No. 1 overall pick as the team’s starting quarterback. The Rams lost their next four games, leading to Fisher’s firing, and then finished out the year with three more defeats. Goff’s stats were horrendous: A 54.6 completion percentage, 1,089 yards, 5 touchdowns, 7 interceptions and a rating of 63.6 to go along with an 0-7 record.

Benny Cunningham had an up-close look at how bad things got last year in Los Angeles, and said the problem wasn’t necessarily Goff, but the rest of the offense not helping him.

“I would say that the situation with Jared Goff was kind of unfair to him because I feel like as a whole offense, we struggled,” Cunningham, who signed with the Bears in March, said. “As a quarterback, being drafted high, you take most of the criticism. But I feel like if the guys around him can help — that’s any quarterback — if the guys around you can execute and help, it makes your job a lot easier.

“… I just felt like in general we all struggled as an offense. I wouldn’t say he struggled by himself. It’s different when you’re on the inside looking out, you can see exactly what’s going on the depth of a receiver, a missed block by a running back — you see everything. And then in the paper you read the quarterback had two interceptions, so you really don’t get to see the whole detail of it. I feel like everybody played a part in what happened last year.

“… I feel like we failed as an offense. If you look back to the points we put up, the yards per game, as a whole, I just feel like we failed. I feel like the quarterback position in this league, in a lot of places, they take the criticism.”

The Rams’ offensive line was shaky, and while Kenny Britt turned in a 1,000-yard season, Goff lacked a speedy target who could stretch a defense. As a result, opposing defenses continually stacked the box, limiting the effectiveness of running back Todd Gurley (3.2 yards/carry).

As a result, the Rams were last in the NFL in points per game (14) and yards per play (4.4).

[RELATED: Rams radio broadcaster J.B. Long on the Bears Talk Podcast]

The parallels aren’t perfect between the 2016 Rams and 2017 Bears, of course. This year’s Bears have a better offensive line, for one. Trubisky in his first three preseason games has thoroughly out-performed what Goff did in his 2016 preseason, too:

Trubisky: 34/48 (70.8 completion percentage), 354 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 2 sacks

Goff: 22/49 (44.9 completion percentage), 232 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs, 4 sacks

More than anything, though, Trubisky and Goff are different quarterbacks. Trubisky may be able to make a bad situation better. But Goff’s struggles are worth noting as the question of when, not if, Trubisky plays continues to be asked.

Quality in 2017 NFL Draft may work against Bears trading out of No. 3

Quality in 2017 NFL Draft may work against Bears trading out of No. 3

Signing Mike Glennon ostensibly settled the Bears' situation for their 2017 starting quarterback and dialed down urgency to use the No. 3-overall pick to find their right-now quarterback in this year's draft. That was considered a good thing, given that the general evaluations of the 2017 draft options were not the stuff of which No. 3's are made.
 
Reducing positional need creates draft flexibility, and the Bears are in the desirable position with options to add picks through trading down. But there's a catch.
 
The problem is not the quality of the draft as a whole, but rather the quality of individuals. Few players have to this point so significantly separated themselves from the field that they become far-and-away, must-have targets that a team or teams feel driven to trade up for.
 
Within the top five, that typically means quarterback: San Diego up to No. 2 for Ryan Leaf (1998), Atlanta up to No. 1 for Michael Vick (2001); Washington up to No. 2 for Robert Griffin III (2012); St. Louis up to No. 1 for Jared Goff, Philadelphia up to No. 2 for Carson Wentz (2016).
 
With Combine interviews and work done, and Pro Days and team visits to go, the best of the 2017 quarterback group has not inspired draft lust, at least not publicly.

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"I don't know that there's a quarterback — you never know; it only takes one team, right? — in this class that is going to drive a team to go and move up several spots, give away what they need to give up to move up and go get one," ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said Wednesday via conference call.
 
While the 2017 draft is considered to be extremely strong at number of positions, some of the diffused quality in fact may make it more difficult for teams like the Bears at No. 3 or San Francisco at No. 2 to pull off a desired trade-down.
 
"While there's a lot of good players at the top, I think that after [Texas A&M edge rusher] Myles Garrett there could be a little dropoff," McShay said. "Everyone else has something about them, maybe they're a good fit for one scheme but not another, but I would find it hard to believe that with that No. 2 pick, that [the 49ers] will be getting a lot of calls on it." And by extension, the Bears at No. 3.
 
The consensus favorites remain North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky and Deshaun Watson from Clemson, but "they are truly late-first, second-round grades," McShay said. "It won't surprise me if one or both of them go in the top 10, but as we get closer, people are starting to realize that there's more value at other positions if you're talking about the first five or six picks of this draft."
 
Where mock drafts routinely will posit the same top 4-5 players in drafts, a current sampling using NFL Draftscout.com analysts has the Bears selecting Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore, LSU safety Jamal Adams (2), Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (2) and Trubisky.