A countless number of electrons are inconvenienced every year in the form of “virtual ink,” trying to assess the progress of new quarterbacks in the NFL. With the Chicago Bears on the verge of the playoffs, it’s only reasonable to wonder if Trubisky is an asset to the Bears or if he is going to be a piece that holds them back. While it probably is too early to really say, the reality is that Trubisky has probably displayed his overall talent fairly well.
First, we need to separate “Trubisky the Player” from “Trubisky the Draft Pick.”
There will be fans who always judge Mitchell Trubisky by the standard of “might have been,” and many those same fans will typically look at the player and the outcome in a vacuum. For example, they might say that Ryan Pace should have taken Patrick Mahomes instead of Mitchell Trubisky, and then they might point to the honestly stellar performance of Mahomes in Kansas City so far. That is fine, but it overlooks that there is no way to guarantee that Mahomes would have been Mahomes in Chicago (it also assumes that what Mahomes is doing is sustainable, but I frankly hope it is--let Kansas City tear up the AFC for the next decade for all I care). It’s not out of the question that Mahomes has benefitted from being inserted into an established offense where he is the only “new” piece, but it would also be disingenuous to suggest that he’s not making the most of the opportunities in front of him.
Likewise, it is easy to look at the 2017 NFL Draft in a vacuum and say that if Pace would have waited, he still could have had one of Trubisky, Mahomes, or Watson in the draft and ended up with more draft picks. How much better would the Bears have been then?
Simply put, we don’t know.
More than that, it is naive to assume that things only would have gotten better. For example, if Pace had waited and drafted a developmental pass-rusher with that “missing” third-round pick, would he have had the nerve to go after Khalil Mack? Would the Raiders have taken the Bears’ offer in that case? If the Bears had drafted Watson, with his injury in 2017, how attractive is the team as a landing spot for Matt Nagy? There might even be a scenario where the Bears are left holding the bag after making an offer to professional backtracker Josh McDaniels. Likewise, they might (shudder) end up with John Fox for another year.
Playing ‘what if’ games is fun up until a point, but it is also irrelevant after only a few iterations. Is there an argument to be made that Pace could have played the 2017 draft better? Sure. However, that argument is not directly relevant to Trubisky the Chicago Bear.
Second, we need to establish Trubisky’s floor.
Generally speaking, a given eight-game stretch from a quarterback’s career is pretty illustrative of his potential. The worst eight-game stretch is (unsurprisingly) the first eight games of his career. Without real offensive weapons and under a head coach who is currently unemployed, Trubisky had a sub-55% completion rating (106/193) and only managed 1237 yard, with 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. His passer rating? 74.56. That would have been 29th in the NFL last year, right behind Trubisky’s actual rank of 28th. That’s bad, but it’s worth comparing that to the net quarterback rating the top four quarterbacks (Mayfield, Darnold, Allen, and Rosen) taken in 2018 have assembled right out of the gate--a 75.25 (they have 58% completion rating and a 1:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio).
In other words, Trubisky looked like a true rookie quarterback when he was a true rookie quarterback, but he did not look terrible. He did not look like a bust. He had some overthrows. He had some poor plays. He definitely made mistakes. However, as a first-year quarterback, he was typical.
Third, we need a realistic assessment of his ceiling.
Trubisky’s best stretch of eight consecutive games, with the best offensive weapons available in free agency and with a truly innovative head coach, is the run from the Seattle game (Week 2) through the first Detroit game (Week 10).
In that time, he completed nearly 66% of his passes (167/255) for 2133 yards, and he managed 19 touchdowns with only 7 interceptions. His passer rating was 104.91 and he had 7.8 adjusted net yards per attempt. In that time he faced two of the worst pass defenses in football (using passer rating allowed) in the form of the Lions and Buccaneers; he also faced two of the best in the form of the Bills and the Jets. In fact, the average rank of the passer ratings he faced in this time period was 16.4, or dead in the middle of the league.
So, if everything goes right, that’s probably the most the Bears could hope for out of Trubisky. Even in this year of inflated ratings, that would make him a top ten quarterback, but not elite. He would be an asset but not a world-beater.
Finally, we have to ask if Trubisky can pick a team up and engineer a win.
Given that this season he only has 17 attempts when the team is trailing in the last four minutes, there is at least some reason to believe that Trubisky has not really carried the Bears to a victory all that often because the opportunities simply have not been there. The Patriots game was close to out of reach based on the score in the last eight minutes (although Trubisky did have a chance to narrow that lead on the earlier drive). Still, the Bears have largely been in the lead or out of position while Trubisky has played. Nonetheless, there is some reason for optimism, here.
Across 23 games, Trubisky has two game-winning drives and exactly one fourth-quarter comeback. His one comeback was against Arizona, and it was not pretty. The Bears drove from their own 16 and barely managed to make it to field goal range, aided by an unnecessary roughness penalty. Despite a passer rating on this drive below 69, Trubisky technically did enough to win the game, but it left the Cardinals enough time for two more possessions, and if either had resulted in a field goal, the Bears would have been on the wrong end of the score. This is--at best--a mediocre data point.
However, the same kind of honestly needs to be applied to a Bears’ loss. Against Miami, Trubisky did manage both a potential game-winning drive (to go up 28-21 in the fourth) and again in overtime. The first was immediately wiped out by a 75-yard touchdown pass and the second was undone by a missed Parkey field goal attempt.
In other words, it’s inaccurate to say that Trubisky cannot pick a team up and string together the play he needs to win a football game. He has done it twice this season already. It is, however, accurate to say that he is proving to be an asset to the team, but not a game-breaker. So long as the defense and the head coach stay at their current level, that might be enough.
More importantly, what the current structure of the Bears provides for is a perfect training platform. He can play meaningful football, he can take chances, and he can learn on the job. Along the way, he can develop the ability to manage a game (or more) while supported by a complete team around him. It’s hard to imagine a better scenario for a young qb.