Bears

Mitch Trubisky vs. Patrick Mahomes: What analysts said during the 2017 NFL Draft

Mitch Trubisky vs. Patrick Mahomes: What analysts said during the 2017 NFL Draft

Hindsight is 20/20. Especially when it comes to the NFL Draft. And it's particularly true with the 2017 NFL draft.

There was much debate about who the top quarterback prospect in 2017 was. It centered around Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and even DeShone Kizer. In fact, Kizer was considered a first-round prospect for much of the run-up to draft weekend and was rated ahead of Mahomes by NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah just three weeks before the first round kicked off.

We know how it all played out. The Bears traded up from No. 3 to No. 2 overall to draft Trubisky, while the Texans and Chiefs made aggressive moves up the first round to grab their guys, too. Houston for Watson, Kansas City for Mahomes. We also know how the first three seasons as pros have worked out for these guys. Mahomes and Watson have become perennial MVP candidates while Trubisky may be fighting for his job in Chicago this offseason.

General manager Ryan Pace has taken more than his fair share of criticism for his selection of Trubisky, especially now that there's an established body of work to compare his pick against the other guys. Barring a miraculous career turnaround, Trubisky will remain a distant third when it comes to the hierarchy of quarterbacks from the 2017 first round.

Sunday night's game against the Chiefs will bring this painful narrative to the national spotlight. It won't be fun for Bears fans. It's a painful truth that will take many years for Chicago's football faithful to recover from. But the selection of Trubisky over Mahomes wasn't the byproduct of football negligence or front-office incompetence. In fact, many respected NFL draft analysts -- who now criticize Pace for his decision -- probably would've made the same call. 

"Trubisky is a high-end quarterback prospect who possesses NFL size, a big arm and the ability to throw with accuracy from the pocket or on the move," NFL Network's Lance Zierlein wrote in his scouting report. "Despite playing in a spread-based offense, he's a full-field reader who does a very good job of getting an early read on the safeties before crafting his course of action. Trubisky will have to become much more pocket aware and do a better job of recognizing and attacking blitzes to back NFL defensive coordinators off. He hasn't put all the pieces together yet, but the puzzle is all right in front. Trubisky projects as a good starting quarterback with a high floor and the potential to be great. NFL Comparison: Matthew Stafford."

Mahomes, meanwhile, was given a Jay Cutler comp by Zierlein:

"Mahomes is a big, confident quarterback who brings a variety of physical tools to the party, but he's developed some bad habits and doesn't have a very repeatable process as a passer. Mahomes' ability to improvise and extend plays can lead to big plays for his offense, but he will have to prove he can operate with better anticipation and be willing to take what the defense gives him in order to win from the pocket. Mahomes will be a work in progress, but he's a high ceiling, low floor prospect."

The Bears were fresh off a disappointing Cutler era the season before picking Trubisky and certainly weren't going to take another quarterback who had a similar volatile skill set entering the league. We know now that the risk was one worth taking, but that's that hindsight thing again.

But this isn't to say there weren't warning signs flashing all around Trubisky. Take these notes from NFL Network's Bucky Brooks, who polled several league scouts about Trubisky prior to the draft:

  • "Call me crazy but I see a little Derek Carr in his game. From the poise, decisiveness and quick delivery to the precision passing and athleticism, he looks like the real deal. ... The inexperience bothers me and I can't stop wondering why he couldn't beat out Marquise Williams (for the starting job in 2014-15)." -- AFC senior personnel executive
  • "He has all of the tools. I like his arm talent, arm strength, and athleticism. He is the prototypical quarterback that you draw up. ... I just worry about the one-year wonder deal and the fact that he couldn't beat out Marquise Williams for two years. I don't care what anyone says. If he was (that good), he should've been able to win the starting job. There's something wrong with that!" -- AFC scout
  • "I like Trubisky's skills. He can make all of the throws and move around. I'm a little worried about his lack of experience, though. He hasn't played in enough games to really know what he will become as a pro." -- AFC college scouting director
  • "He definitely has skills. He can make all of the throws and do everything that coaches want to see. Plus, he is athletic enough to make things happen on the move. ... My main concern is the inexperience and his leadership skills. I don't know if he has the 'it' factor. I've never really seen him display any emotion or rally his guys when I've been at games." -- AFC scout


Concern about Trubisky's inexperience was very real, and that inexperience has revealed itself through his first 39 regular-season starts in the NFL. 

Still, Trubisky's raw talent was appealing. Sports Illustrated compared him to Ryan Tannehill, who's managed to have a productive career and has reinvented himself this season in Tennessee.

As for Mahomes? SI predicted he'd be a Matthew Stafford-type.

The Godfather of the NFL Draft, Mel Kiper, may have had the most accurate take of all the draft analysts leading into draft weekend that year.

"If you're going to draft Trubisky, you have to feel like this," Kiper said. "If he had gone back (to school) he would have been the No. 1 pick (next season) lock, stock and barrel. We know that. We know he's not ready, we wish he had another year but we have to develop this kid. We don't have to let him sit for three or four years like Aaron Rodgers, but we gotta develop him - redshirt him - not force him in there. If you handle Trubisky well, you may have something. If you expect him to be Dak Prescott and go out there and play well as a rookie, forget about it. It isn't happening."

As for Mahomes?

“He can sling it,” Kiper said during a conference call on April 24. “He has a heck of an arm. He’s adept at throwing the deep ball. He can move around. He has very underrated mobility. He has no conscience about him. I always say, you can’t fear interceptions. You can’t fear making mistakes. The only way to make big plays is taking some chances downfield. The dinking and dunking makes you sick. The way he plays is invigorating."

Invigorating. Yep, that pretty much sums up Mahomes' game.

There's nothing the Bears can do about the 2017 draft now. It's over and done with. Trubisky, who has a career record of 22-17 as a starter, hasn't been a total bust (yet) and will more than likely get another year to prove he was at least a reasonable choice by Pace. He'll never be the 'right' choice, but a reasonable one? That's the best Chicago can hope for right now.

Buckle up, Bears fans. Sunday night won't be fun. There will be a lot of old wounds re-opened and a whole lot of salt thrown in them with every Mahomes touchdown pass. 

But as we're seeing this season with Ravens QB Lamar Jackson, who was the fifth quarterback selected in the 2018 draft, evaluating the most important position in sports is never easy. Teams get it wrong. And unfortunately, the Bears got it wrong in 2017.

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Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Bears need a tight end.

It's a narrative that started bubbling since the middle of the 2019 regular season when it became apparent that neither Trey Burton nor Adam Shaheen was the answer at the position for the Bears. Coach Matt Nagy was forced to turn to undrafted rookie Jesper Horsted and little-known veteran J.P. Holtz to find production for his offense. It was a big problem for Nagy, whose system calls for a playmaking tight end like Travis Kelce to hit its maximum potential.

To be fair, there's only a few at that level (Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz) in the league right now. But the Bears have to do their due diligence this offseason to try and find a 'lite' version of that guy. One player in free agency who has a resume of recent production as a pass-catcher to maybe be 'that guy' is Eric Ebron, who's coming off of a down year with the Colts.

Ebron appeared in just 11 games last season and finished with 31 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns. It was a stark contrast from 2018 when he scored 13 touchdowns and was one of the NFL's best playmakers at the position.

RELATED: Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The problem with Ebron as a viable target for Chicago is that his tenure in the league produced more seasons like 2019 than 2018, but his pedigree as a former top-10 pick with high-end athletic traits warrants at least a look for a possible one-year prove-it deal.

At 26 years old, Ebron still has a lot of good football left in his legs. His market value should come in lower than Burton's $8 million per season; according to Spotrac, Ebron's expected contract this offseason will pay him around $7.5 million per year. Compared to the likely cost for players like Austin Hooper (Falcons) and Hunter Henry (Chargers), Ebron will be a bargain.

Ryan Pace will be bargain shopping in March, and Ebron may end up on the discount rack after the first wave of free agency concludes. Teams will be hesitant to offer him the kind of multi-year deal he's going to seek, which will give the Bears a chance to swoop in and lure him with the prove-it theory. He's young enough to earn a lucrative contract in 2021 if he posts big-time numbers in 2020, which Nagy's offense will give him the chance to do if he stays healthy.

Even the worst version of Ebron is better than the best of what Chicago has on its roster right now. He should rank highly on their offseason wish list, assuming his market remains where it logically should.

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Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The Bears have been connected to all of the big-name free agent quarterbacks this offseason. General manager Ryan Pace is expected to add competition for the starting job in free agency or the 2020 NFL draft after incumbent and former second overall pick, Mitch Trubisky, regressed mightily in his third season last year.

But rather than focus on players like Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and even Marcus Mariota, it makes more sense to pay close attention to the next tier of free agent passers who could offer a potential upgrade from Trubisky while not necessarily creating shockwaves through Halas Hall upon signing.

One quarterback who fits that description perfectly is Case Keenum, the journeyman starter who's entering his 10th season in the league. 

Keenum is coming off of back-to-back forgettable seasons with the Broncos and Redskins, but it wasn't long ago when he was one of the better storylines in the NFL after leading the Vikings to 11 wins in 14 starts in 2017. He threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions that year and earned himself a respectable two-year, $36 million contract with Denver in 2018. His tenure as a Bronco lasted just one season (he finished 2018 with a 6-10 record) and his time as the Redskins starter was short-lived in 2019. He started just eight games for Washington.

For his career, Keenum's completed 62.4% of his passes and has thrown 75 touchdowns compared to 47 interceptions.

Keenum's resume isn't overly impressive, which is why he's a great fit for what Pace should try to accomplish over the next two months. He has to find a competent starter who can take advantage of everything else the Bears have going for them (namely, a championship-caliber defense) and who can be aggressive enough on offense to score enough points to win the close games. Keenum proved in 2017 that he can do that, especially when he has a good supporting case around him.

Keenum also qualifies as a solid bridge quarterback in the event Trubisky crashes and burns in 2020. At 32 years old, he's young enough to keep the starting job for a couple of seasons while Chicago attempts to find a younger long-term answer under center. 

Last but not least, he's going to be cheap. He didn't have a good year in 2019, and he was making just $3.5 million with the Redskins. There will be a limited market for his services this March, which means the Bears should be able to land him at a backup's salary despite his starter's upside. And that matters, especially for a team that's trying to free up salary cap space for other positions of need along the offensive line and secondary.

Keenum won't move the needle much for Bears fans in March, but landing a player of his caliber could ultimately be the difference between the Bears missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season and making a deep playoff run.