Jedi Knight or Sith Lord: Is Mitchell Trubisky Good for the Chicago Bears?
By Ha Kung Wong
I love Star Wars.
So I was particularly excited to see a trailer dropped for the new “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” movie. Somehow missed it because you were living under a rock, or you have particularly poor taste in movies? No worries, here it is!
But let’s get real. There’s no way this there will ever be a “Last Jedi”. LucasFilms (a.k.a. Disney a.k.a. The Current Rulers of the Known Universe) know a good thing when they got it, meaning there will be continuations, prequels and spin offs for many many years to come. Don’t believe me? Check out this cast photo for the upcoming Han Solo spin off movie.
Sure, you’re probably wondering what Haymitch Abernathy from “The Hunger Games” and Daenerys Taygaryan from “Game of Thrones” are doing there. And you have to wonder whether Chewbacca has his eyes closed. Heck, I know what that’s like, as I’ve had bunches of pictures with my eyes closed. Did you know it takes on average only 1/3 of a second to blink? But for some reason, it always ends up exactly when someone takes a picture. That’s some crazy coincidence, isn’t it? It’s about as random as getting killed by lightening (2,000,000 to 1), winning the lottery (175,000,000 to 1), or finding out that the girl you liked and kissed in “Empire Strikes Back” is actually your sister (only Luke Skywalker ever). But I digress.
The point is, for those of you who have questionable judgment and have never watched Star Wars before, those with the Force can go in either direction — good (a.k.a. Jedi) or evil (a.k.a. Sith). The same concept is true of every prospect in the NFL draft, no matter how high he’s drafted. He could be good (a.k.a. a super star franchise player) or bad (a.k.a. a bust). Just look at the whole Peyton Manning vs. Ryan Leaf thing. One is a 14-time Pro Bowler and 2-time Super Bowl Champ, and the other is, well, Ryan Leaf.
All this is particularly true for the Chicago Bears’ 1st Round pick, Mitchell Trubisky.
And he’ll be under a significant amount of scrutiny seeing as how the Bears traded away numerous picks, including their 3rd overall pick, 3rd round and 4th round picks from 2017 and a 3rd round pick in 2018, to get him.
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) April 28, 2017
And Trubisky has some big shoes to fill, being just the third Tar Heel to be selected 2nd Overall in the NFL Draft.
Bears trade up to draft Mitchell Trubisky No. 2
3rd North Carolina player selected No. 2 overall
Julius Peppers 2002
Lawrence Taylor 1981 pic.twitter.com/yRA5uZzEqG
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 28, 2017
Trubisky has been saying all the right things since he got to Chicago, even in light of the mass criticism he’s seen from fans and NFL pundits alike regarding his selection 2nd overall. And being selected so high and at such price will put significant pressure on the Bears to play him, even though they paid $16 Million for Mike Glennon to run the offense. But, for once, I completely agree with former Bears QB turn CBS color commentator Jay Cutler.
“If [the Bears’ season is] going downhill, I really don’t see any reason to play the kid. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of people calling for his name because you draft him at No. 2 and you draft him for a reason and that’s to play football and win games.”
And what of the fact that Cutler was himself a 1st Round pick, and other successful rookie QBs like Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger?
“I feel like my situation is different than his. I was on a very veteran team. [Denver head coach] Mike Shanahan was offensive-driven and everything he did centered around the quarterback. That team was built a little different than the Bears are.
I mean, Russell Wilson, they put him in [as a rookie in Seattle], the defense was unbelievable, they ran the ball a lot, they protected him and moved the pocket. Then go back to Ben Roethlisberger. That first year he was making 12-15 throws per game, the Steelers ran the ball and protected him. You probably have to go back to Dan Marino to find a [first-year quarterback] that was thrown into the fire and asked to throw the ball 30-40 times per game to win. It’s really hard to do as a young quarterback.”
Cutler is right. Not only does it not make sense to throw Trubisky into the fire and hope he finds a way, effectively setting him up to fail with a subpar offensive line, but I’ve already discussed how Glennon isn’t actually that bad and could be a good fit for the Bears. If nothing else, after giving him such a huge contract, though admittedly one which is easy to walk away from after one year, you might as well give him every opportunity to prove he can be the guy while Trubisky has to time to get up to speed after just 13 college starts.
But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. The big question is, once Trubisky gets on the field, will he fit with what the Bears are doing? Let’s take a look.
The Light Side…or the Dark Side?
I’ve discussed how much I like Trubisky, but the primary issue is his lack of experience generally (only 13 college starts) and his lack of experience under center specifically (98% of college stats from shotgun). Both of those issues make for a challenging transition to the NFL.
Jon Gruden highlighted these concerns in his “QB Camp”, which Trubisky appeared on in April.
“I’m concerned. I’m no different than a lot of coaches that say ‘I want a three-year starter. I want a minimum of 24 victories. I want two bowl wins.’ (But) I want a good quarterback. That’s what I want. I got kicked out of the league because I had a hard time sustaining at the quarterback position. Trubiusky is one of the top quarterback prospects in this draft, period. I wish I had more to study but that’s the way it is.”
And it was clear on “QB Camp” that Trubisky had trouble with some basic concepts of running the offense directly under center.
That being said, there’s a lot to like about Trubisky and his situation with the Bears. And the most important stat might not have anything to do with what he did on the field at North Carolina, but rather, what he did on the sidelines — wait. That’s right, he waited 3 years at UNC for his shot to be the starter, and he worked hard during all those years in preparation for his opportunity. With Glennon on a 2 year contract, it’s possible that he could be a sufficient enough game manager to give Trubisky time to get acclimated to the NFL, and to taking snaps and running the offense under center.
The Bears had the 20th ranked pass offense as per DVOA with the 8th least passing TDs (19), 4th most INTs (19), and the 8th worst combined passer rating in the 2016 season. On the bright side, they also allowed the 7th least sacks (28). Clearly, even with a modicum of protection, there were plenty of bad decisions made in the pocket. But, with time, bad decisions can be coached. And that’s exactly what Trubisky will need.
But patience isn’t the only thing to like about Trubisky and his fit with the Bears.
Blitz pressure can be an issue, particularly from the NFC North opponent Minnesota Vikings. According to Pro Football Focus, Trubisky had an adjusted completion percentage of 76.9% when blitzed in college, the third-highest percentage in the draft class. To put that in perspective, the most successful NFL QB in 2016 against the blitz was Alex Smith, who completed just 66% of his passes against the blitz.
In addition, Trubisky had the sixth-highest passer rating (119.0) in the nation on deep passes targeted 20-plus yards downfield. That’s huge for an offense that’s often needed big plays to stay competitive.
So, which is it?
I hate to be the guy who doesn’t take a side, but that’s exactly what I see here. The potential for a good fit is definitely there, but not right away.
But at the end of the day, perhaps this is best for Trubisky. If the Bears stick to the plan and play Glennon for a full year, even if they do poorly, Trubisky might not have to do much to make things better in 2018.
If the Bears really want to give Trubisky the best chance to succeed, they’ll also work on shoring up the defense going into 2018, something they failed to do in 2017 so far. As Cutler pointed out, that’s exactly why other rookie QBs like Russell Wilson were successful. In addition, as long as Jordan Howard keeps developing as expected, a run heavy offense should also keep the pressure off. Finally, they need to solidify their receiving core. In 2016, the Bears had the 6th highest percentage of drops in the NFL (4.4%). And with losing Alshon Jeffery, not knowing what they have in a perpetually injured Kevin White, and adding Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright in the offseason, there are plenty of question marks among Bears WRs.
So is Trubisky a good fit for the Bears? Perhaps in 2018. But trading away all those picks to get him, plus a questionable draft that was surprisingly offense-centric, doesn’t do him any favors. And it’s already clear that Glennon understandably isn’t thrilled about the acquisition, nor does he necessarily qualify as a veteran presence that could help Trubisky grow. Whether this is the start of a great QB competition between two high end QBs, or an expensive fiasco requiring another reboot for the Bears is yet to be seen.
The sum total of this is that I almost certainly won’t be looking at a potential playoff run from the Bears this year. In the meantime, however, at least I can look forward to that new Star Wars movie in December. Which, sadly, is what I’ve been telling myself over the last two Bears seasons as well. Here’s hoping for 2018, because as a Star Wars fan that had to suffer through the horrible prequels, I certainly know that anything is possible.