Jameis Winston

Bears QB Big Board, 7.0: Is it time to consider Jameis Winston?

Bears QB Big Board, 7.0: Is it time to consider Jameis Winston?

Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky entered Week 15's game against the Green Bay Packers on a bit of a hot streak. He posted back-to-back games with a passer rating above 115.0 and was the primary reason why Chicago won three games in a row.

But his uneven performance in a losing effort against the Packers brought an unavoidable question back to the forefront: Is Trubisky really the guy who can lead this team on a legitimate Super Bowl run?

Sunday night's game against the Chiefs will magnify Trubisky's shortcomings. He'll be compared to Patrick Mahomes from the minute the game starts until the final whistle blows. He should be used to it by now. Trubisky's early-career failures have been compared and contrasted with Mahomes and Houston's Deshaun Watson since their rookie seasons in 2017.

At some point, the Bears have to put pressure on Trubisky to put up or shut up. And it can't just be for two or three-game spurts. He has to be consistently good, with the occasional great, in order to justify unwavering support from coach Matty Nagy and the rest of the organization.

If Trubisky flops over the next two games, one player to keep an eye on as a potential target for general manager Ryan Pace is Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. The former No. 1 overall pick is on an expiring contract and there's been no indication whether Tampa Bay will use the franchise tag on him. 

Winston is having a ridiculous season statistically. He's thrown for 4,573 yards and 30 touchdowns, both of which would be single-season franchise records for the Bears, and he still has two games to go. It's the third time in Winston's five seasons as a pro that he's eclipsed 4,000 passing yards. No Bears quarterback has ever crossed the 4,000-yard threshold in franchise history.

Winston's high production also comes with a high rate of turnovers. He's thrown a career-high 24 interceptions so far this year and has thrown at least 14 interceptions in four of his five seasons.

But that's to be expected from a player like Winston, who's an aggressive downfield passer. He has the kind of elite arm talent that would make Nagy's offense hum. He's also just 25 years old, the same age as Trubisky, yet he's proven much more capable of putting a team on his back and scoring points in bunches.

This isn't to say Winston is a trustworthy alternative to Trubisky. He isn't. He's closer to Jay Cutler than he is Mahomes, but it appears safe to say most Bears fans would line up for another few seasons of Cutler right now.

As a result, Winston is moving up the Bears QB Big Board. If he isn't franchised, Pace may just have to go all-in.

Bears QB Big Board (Dec. 19, 2019)

1. Mitch Trubisky (Bears)
previous: 1 (Dec. 12)

2. Jameis Winston (Buccaneers)
previous: Outside looking In (Dec. 12)

3. Ryan Tannehill (Titans)
previous: 3  (Dec. 12)

4. Andy Dalton (Bengals)
previous: 2 (Dec. 12)

5. Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
previous: 4 (Dec. 12)

6. Marcus Mariota (Titans)
previous: 5 (Dec. 12)

Outside looking in (list cut down to three)...

-Jake Fromm (Georgia)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 3)

-Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)
previous: 6 (Dec. 12)

- Cam Newton (Panthers)
previous: outside looking in (Dec. 12)

Why early expectations for Mitch Trubisky should be high

Why early expectations for Mitch Trubisky should be high

All of the Mitch Truisky expectation qualifiers have been installed — no magic wand for the offense, only 13 college starts, not out of a pro-style system at North Carolina, and so on and so on. But irrespective of any pressure on the job statuses of GM Ryan Pace or coach John Fox, the expectations of the rookie quarterback over the next season-and-a-half or so should be more, far more, not less.

The reason lies in one of those things that run counter to most conventional-wisdom assumptions about quarterbacking in the NFL. The Bears hope, in the deepest corners of the franchise, that it continues.

That “it” is the strong — as in “near”- or actual “playoff-grade” — play of quarterbacks within their first three and often fewer seasons, a time frame which was once the norm and still is arguably preferred. Aaron Rodgers sat several years behind Brett Favre after arriving as the Green Bay Packers’ No. 1 draft choice in 2005 (20 picks after the Bears had grabbed Cedric Benson), and “I was very thankful for the opportunity, now as I look back, to grow,” Rodgers said before the Bears game this year.

But in an era when defenses have become increasingly sophisticated, and numbers of top college quarterbacks are coming out of spread offenses and systems far from “pro style,” quarterbacks have had positive impacts with increasing suddenness.

Consider some case studies from the last several years:

Player | Team | Drafted | Result

Teddy Bridgewater | Vikings | 2014 | 2015 NFC North champions

Jared Goff | Rams | 2016 | 3-1, leading NFC West, current No. 3-ranked passer in 2017

Robert Griffin III | Redskins | 2012 | NFC East champions, rookie season

Andrew Luck | Colts | 2012 | Playoffs first 3 seasons

Dak Prescott | Cowboys | 2016 | NFC East champions in 2016

Carson Wentz | Eagles | 2016 | 3-1, leading NFC East

Jameis Winston | Bucs | 2015 | 2-14 Bucs in 2014 were 6-10 in 2015 and 9-7 last season

Success is far from automatic, and to some extent lies in the eye of the beholder and has a time element. “Everybody was calling Goff a bust sometimes last season,” said Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains, now with his hand on the Trubisky steering wheel and throttle. “And the teams around the guys are obviously enormous factors.”

To wit: Goff went No. 1 overall, usually a spot belonging to the most woeful team from the previous year. But he went to a Rams team coming off a 7-9 season that dumped its draft to move up from 15th for him. Likewise, Wentz went to a 7-9 team (Philadelphia) that traded up. These weren’t Peyton Manning going to 3-13 Indianapolis and Ryan Leaf to 4-12 San Diego (1998).

But Luck was the No. 1-overall pick by an Indianapolis team that went 3-13 in 2011, then 11-5 in Luck’s first year. Washington was 5-11 in 2011, then 10-6 and NFC East champions in RGIII’s rookie season.

Trubisky has gone to a 3-13 team, one with among the least productive groups of wide receivers in the NFL. On the other hand, after Troy Brown, name two other New England Patriots wide receivers from their early Super Bowls.

Note to the rookie: It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools (see: Jay Cutler).

And Tom Brady had started zero games and thrown all of 3 passes, 2 incomplete, as a rookie backup on a 5-11 Patriots team in 2000 before starting in relief of Drew Bledsoe in 2001.

But the game and the players, particularly the quarterbacks have changed.

“In 2005, I don’t think the quarterbacks were as ready to play as maybe some of the guys are now,” Rodgers said. “There’s better coaching, better awareness, there’s better coaching at a younger level. If you’re not in a ‘raise-you-foot-up, look-the-sideline, let-the-coach-call-the-play offense,’ you’re doing some more stuff now at the college level.”

All the Bears ask is for Trubisky to do more stuff now at the NFL level.

For either Jameis Winston or the Bears’ secondary, something’s gotta give

For either Jameis Winston or the Bears’ secondary, something’s gotta give

Only three quarterbacks had a higher percentage of their passes intercepted last year than Jameis Winston, who threw 18 picks in his 567 throws (3.2 percent). By pure totals, those 18 interceptions were only behind the 21 thrown by Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. 

Compare Winston’s turnover numbers to Matt Ryan’s last year (seven interceptions in 534 passes, 1.3 percent), and the point is: The Bears’ defense should have more opportunities for takeaways in Week 2 than they did in Week 1. But can a defense that only had eight interceptions last year convert them?

“Jameis is a guy who believes in his arm, he believes in his receivers,” linebacker Sam Acho said. “He's going to throw into double coverage, he's going to make some throws that we're going to have opportunities to pick off. We have to take advantage of those opportunities. He's going to be in the pocket, he's going to be staying in the pocket, so we have to get after him, try and force a fumble on him and try and change the game.”

Winston’s risk-taking comes an ability to make explosive plays, which was on full display last year when the Bears picked off the former No. 1 overall pick once (by Harold Jones-Quartey) and sacked him four times — and still lost, 36-10. Still, the Bucs are 8-12 when Winston throws an interception and 7-5 when he doesn’t. And when Winston throws two interceptions, Tampa Bay is 1-7. 

“Every interception has a story to it and I would expect those interceptions will come down for him in Year 3,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. 

Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans pointed to Winston’s risk-taking as an area in which he might improve this year, too. If he can, he could finish the 2017 season as a top 10 quarterback. 

But much like the Bears’ defense needing to prove its takeaway drought will end, Winston needs to prove his propensity for turnovers is a thing of the past, too. One of those two narratives will change — or at least start to change — on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.