With Carson Wentz off the board, the next obvious question is: if Wentz isn’t the answer for Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, then who will lead the offense in 2021? It’s actually a question many, many teams are asking themselves this offseason, so ESPN’s Field Yates took a stab at predicting the Week 1 starter for all 32 teams. Before even knowing that Wentz was headed to Indianapolis, Yates had someone else in mind for Chicago. But with so many moving pieces, Yates left the Bears as his final domino.
“The Chicago Bears were actually the last team I filled in for this exercise, and I gave them Sam Darnold,” Yates said on “Get Up.” “They need to make a quarterback move. Darnold needs a change of scenery in a major way. He’s just 23 years old. Perhaps Matt Nagy believes he can be the player many thought he would be when he came out of USC.”
This of course assumes that the Jets opt to select a new quarterback with their No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, as opposed to bringing in more impact players on offense to help Darnold develop.
Whether he gets that extra help in New York, or Chicago, he hasn’t had many weapons surrounding him. Le'Veon Bell was a huge free agent signing in 2019, but he famously clashed with Adam Gase, who was the head coach at the time. The Bell deal blew up and the Jets cut him one month into the 2020 season. Over his three year career in New York, the two best wide receivers that Darnold has had were Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder. The best season either player could muster was Crowder’s 78-catch, 833-yard, six-touchdown campaign in 2019. Not incredibly inspiring stuff.
But as Yates alluded to, many thought Darnold had the “stuff” to be a No. 1 overall pick back in the 2018 draft. Darnold’s masterful performance in the 2017 Rose Bowl capped off an incredible season where he started as the team’s backup QB. He helped the Trojans erase a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to win the game in the waning seconds, and his 473 yards and five touchdowns still stand as Rose Bowl records. Unfortunately for the Jets, Darnold hasn’t been able to replicate that kind of success, with a 13-25 record in the pros, versus his 20-4 record in college.
But if the Bears don’t plug other holes on offense, there’s not much reason to believe Darnold will play much better in Chicago than he did in New York. To begin, the team has to figure out who's going to be their No. 1 wide receiver. If they don't retain Allen Robinson they Bears would have to bring in another wideout to complement Darnell Mooney. Then of course they’d have to make sure Darnold has enough time to throw. The Jets’ offensive line was terrible last season, allowing QB pressure in 2.5 seconds or less on 28% of their dropbacks according to PFF, which was the worst rate in the NFL. But the Bears didn’t fare much better until finally finding a makeshift lineup near the end of the season. So more investment is needed on the O-Line as well.
Then there’s the actual offensive scheme. Gase’s offense has almost become a meme for ineptitude in the NFL. But again, the Bears haven’t fared much better. Nagy’s individual plays are often inventive. Plays like "Santa's Sleigh" and "Willy Wonka" show creativity and can keep defenses on their toes in the red zone. But Nagy’s also been criticized routinely for lacking rhythm in his playcalling. Some of that was alleviated when he handed over playcalling duties to Bill Lazor, but some reports suggested Nagy started inserting himself back into the Bears’ play calls towards the end of the season. Some will also say that Mitchell Trubisky wasn’t equipped to run Nagy’s offense as he imagined, or the line didn’t protect Nick Foles well enough to do the same.
Could things be different for both the Bears and Darnold if he ends up in Chicago? Who knows. If the team gets reliable offensive line play early in the year, and locks up a No. 1 wideout, and Nagy or Lazor or whoever calls the plays can get into a groove, then maybe. For now we’ll just have to wait to see how the QB market moves now that Wentz is in Indianapolis.