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.