Since 1997, only three rookie quarterbacks have attempted at least 200 passes with a completion rate below 50 percent: Donovan McNabb (49.07 completion percentage, 216 attempts), Ryan Leaf (45.31 completion percentage, 245 attempts) and Craig Whelihan (49.79 completion percentage, 237 attempts).
Mitchell Trubisky is on pace to attempt 240 passes, and enters the Bears’ off week having completed 47.5 percent of his passes. If those numbers hold up, that’d be an odd group to join — one of the NFL’s most notable quarterback busts (Leaf), a future Hall of Famer (McNabb) and an anonymous former sixth-round pick (Whelihan). But Trubisky is nowhere near statistical path taken by Leaf, who threw 15 interceptions his rookie year and was out of the league within four years of being drafted thanks largely to his inability to take care of the football.
If Trubisky’s interception rate of 2.5 percent holds up and he throws 240 passes, that would equal six interceptions in his rookie year. There have been seven rookie quarterbacks to attempt at least 200 passes with an interception rate at 2.5 percent or below in the last 20 years: Dak Prescott (0.87 INT%), Carson Wentz (2.31 INT%), Derek Carr (2.00 INT%), Mike Glennon (2.16 INT%), Nick Foles (1.89 INT%), Robert Griffin III (1.27 INT%) and Charlie Batch (1.98 INT%).
How sustainable have those interception rates been?
Prescott: 0.87 percent (rookie), 1.2 percent (career)
Wentz: 2.31 percent (rookie), 2.2 percent (career)
Carr: 2.0 percent (rookie), 1.9 percent (career)
Glennon: 2.16 percent (rookie), 2.6 percent (career)
Foles: 1.89 percent (rookie), 2.1 percent (career)
Griffin: 1.27 percent (rookie), 2.1 percent (career)
Batch: 1.98 percent (rookie), 3.2 percent (career)
These aren’t without their extenuating circumstances, like Griffin’s serious knee injury or Glennon barely playing in 2015 and 2016 before struggling with the Bears this year. But the thought here is that learning to take care of the football as a rookie is generally a good thing, and good quarterbacks won’t see that percentage slide as their careers go on.
So far, Trubisky has shown he can do that. He hasn’t shown he can operate a complete offense yet, either due to the limitations of only starting 18 games since high school (13 at North Carolina, one in preseason, four in regular season) or because the pieces around him aren’t conducive to opening things up. But Trubisky’s natural ability is there, and isn’t going away no matter how conservative the gameplan is.
And if/when the Bears are ready to open up the offense for Trubisky — this year, next year, etc. — having that ability to take care of the football should greatly benefit him.
“I think some of it’s innate,” quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone said. “Some of it’s understanding hey, my progression, there’s nothing there, or there’s something wrong within the timing of the play and it’s time to move on. And when I move on and I break the pocket, I don’t have to force a ball on a second and seven call in the second quarter. It’s not a must-have situation.
“And for him to already understand that, and we do take as much pride as an offense with coach (Dowell) Loggains on down to talk about situations with him and the offense in general and constantly talk about it, but he does have the ability to understand hey, live to play another play here. And he’s very aware of the surroundings of the game, what’s going on, the situations of the game and again that’s to the fact that the guy obviously, it means something to him, this game and you can tell in his actions and his words.”