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What Should Fans Expect From Trubisky?

Obviously, expectations are high for the NFL sophomore. A look at recent history creates a minimum baseline for success.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Twenty-seven quarterbacks have been taken in the first round over a ten-year span from 2008 to 2017. They have made nearly 46,533 passing attempts for 325,573 yards. That is the next best thing to an average of 7 yards per attempt. Admittedly, a simple measure of yards per attempt is not the ultimate quarterback stat, but it is a decent shorthand for efficiency. First-round quarterbacks seem to manage about that degree of success. Some do it by connecting a lot (Ryan Tannehill’s roughly 63% completion percentage and 7.0 Y/A), while some do it with a bit less precision but bigger connections (Andrew Luck’s 59% completion percentage for 7.2 Y/A).

In his first year, Mitchell Trubisky was well below that overall mark with 6.45 Y/A, but that’s not really matching apples to apples. Looking at it that way compares the rookie’s year under John Fox with the careers of players like Matt Ryan (7.47) and Cam Newton (7.33). Let’s also admit, though, that there are players in the mix that Bears fans do not want Trubisky to emulate at all (Paxton Lynch’s career 6.19 Y/A come to mind, and Christian Ponder’s 6.3 Y/A cannot be considered a success). If it doesn’t make sense to compare Trubisky to a seasoned, veteran pro bowler, then it also does not make any sense to let Trubisky “hide” behind the poor performances of a Blaine Gabbert or a Johnny Manziel.

Thus, instead of comparing Trubisky to all twenty-seven of these players, I want to look at a more select group, and I want to compare them at similar points in their career. Even for top draft picks, playing time does not come readily after repeated failure. While it is a crude approximation, players who have started at least sixty percent of the games available to them since they were drafted are probably pretty good. That lets me include Jared Goff (69%) and Sam Bradford (63%) while excluding Mark Sanchez (56%) and Josh Freeman (55%). That feels right. It also traps Teddy Bridgewater on the wrong side of the divide, and it puts the stamp of approval on Blake Bortles, so no system is perfect. Still, cutting the pool in half to players who have been available and who have earned playing time is a pretty good first step.

Excluding Trubisky himself, the 60% game starts cutoff gives me a group of a dozen players, including seven Pro Bowlers. The worst of them has a solid 1.4:1 TD to Int ratio. This is a decent group. If Trubisky plays to this level, he will be a successful quarterback in the NFL, even if his team gets mixed results. That is something else this group has in common. Most of these quarterbacks went into shaky situations, themselves. For example, Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, and Cam Newton all went to some pretty awful teams, to say the least. While opinions might vary on whether or not they have done enough to elevate their teams, they have all managed to play decently despite being drafted to what were weak teams at the time.

So, what did these players do in their second seasons*? Well, they had a combined completion percentage of around 60%, and they manage about 7.2 yards per attempt. They had 2.1 touchdowns per interception while being sacked 2.3 times per game. In fact, this Frankenstein “successful first-round QB” would have the following per-game stat line: 21/34 for 248 yards, 1.7 TDs, 0.8 Ints, 2.3 sacks, and 3 rushing attempts for 15 yards. Cam Newton and Andrew Luck account for 60% of all of the rushing TDs by this group, so that’s probably a non-factor. Rounding those TDs and Ints to whole numbers gives us a per-game passer rating of 91.3.

That’s not exceptional, but it’s not bad. Only once in this millenium (Jay Cutler in 2015) has a Bears quarterback sustained that level of play across eight or more starts, even if there were two other moments when players did so for shorter times (Josh McCown in 2013 and Brian Hoyer in 2016). If Trubisky stays healthy for a full season and manages that stat line, or something like it, he will be in the top half of his peer group and would be one of the best Bears quarterbacks in two decades. Obviously, it would be nice if he did something more, especially with Matt Nagy to guide him. However, that is the least that should be expected of him.

*Stafford only played three games due to injury, here, so I used his third season.