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“He Was Okay”: Is Trubisky on the right path?

Bears fans are desperate for Trubisky to be an asset to the team. Compared to other sophomore quarterbacks from prior drafts, how is he doing?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Frank Clark, defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks, was not overly impressed by Mitchell Trubisky. In fact, his specific assessment was as follows:

“He was OK. Nothing special. I feel like he was OK. [He’s an] average quarterback,”

I’m not usually impressed by a player on a losing team taking shots at a player on the winning team, but I also have to admit that since I backed Trubisky as the safest quarterback of last year’s draft class, I might just be getting a little thin-skinned on the subject.

So, I started wondering how average Trubisky really is. Although statistics never tell the whole story, across a large enough sample size they can at least offer a general outline of what is going on once the whistle blows.

I pulled all first-round quarterbacks across a ten-year period, from 2007 to 2016, and looked only at their second-season stats. There were 26 of them, and it was about as diverse of a list as might be imagined. It includes (among others) Jake Locker, Paxton Lynch, EJ Manuel, Johnny Manziel, Brady Quinn, JaMarcus Russell, Tim Tebow, and Brandon Weeden. To be fair, it also includes Teddy Bridgewater, Joe Flacco, Jared Goff, Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, Carson Wentz.

All told, these quarterbacks played in 336 games in their sophomore seasons, averaging 13 games apiece. The per-game stat line averaged across the good, the bad, and the Bortles was 18/31 (59% completion) for 215 yards, 1.8 touchdowns for every interception thrown, and two sacks for around 29 lost yards. The average passer rating was 83.57 (the median passer rating was 81.45, or basically the intersection of Ryan Tannehill and Christian Ponder). Note, this is not the stat line for just the good players, but there is a certain amount of weighting that goes on, in that presumably better players were given more opportunities (although Tebow had 14 games and Russell had 15, so I’m not sure how much I want to assume there).

For the stat geeks out there, if I don’t plug in the numbers as a composite and just use achieved passer ratings on an individual basis (which will weight things differently, because some quarterbacks had fewer games going into their individual stat lines), the average passer rating is 82.16, with a standard deviation of +/- 9.2. That means that only Tebow, Lynch, Bradford, Quinn, and Weeden were really “below average”, while only Mariota, Freeman, Goff, and Wentz were really “above average.”

So, what all of this tells us is that if Trubisky manages a passer rating in the low-80s, he’s an average first-round quarterback in terms of sophomore performance. A passer rating in the low-90s means he’s actually above average, and a passer rating in the low 70s means he’s in some pretty rough company. Trubisky currently sits at an 80, meaning that he’s an average first-rounder for most intents and purposes.

I have trouble considering “average” to be a success, though, because when Christian Ponder, who was out of the league before his fifth season, is a median-level player, the list needs work. I wanted to be able to sort the players who moved the ball from the ones who just showed up, and so I turned to my preferred quarterback stat, ANY/A.

This group had an average ANY/A of 5.59, with a standard deviation of +/- of 1.03. The top quartile of players all broke the 6.0 mark: Carson Wentz (7.43), Marcus Mariota (7.14), Josh Freeman (6.94), Cam Newton (6.65), Joe Flacco (6.12), and Blake Bortles (6.09), and Andrew Luck (6.06). Jameis Winston just misses the cut at 5.98. I’ll buy that list. Josh Freeman stands out, but it’s worth noting he had a six-year career in the NFL.

The bottom quartile includes Ryan Tannehill (5.0), Christian Ponder (4.99), Tim Tebow (4.85), Blaine Gabbert (4.71), Brandon Weeden (4.51), Sam Bradford (4.49), and Paxton Lynch (2.76). While Tannehill and Bradford are still around, the rest of those guys washed out. Brady Quinn and Jake Locker are right at 5.1 ANY/A as well. I’d be worried if Trubisky finds himself in that company. However, don’t go looking up his ANY/A yet. Just...don’t. Two games make it really hard to establish a trend.

A couple of games at the start of the season in a new system probably don’t matter very much. If we want to be generous, we can take these first couple of games and tack them onto the end of last season, and judge Mitchell by his last twelve or thirteen games (the “typical” sophomore season).

By that standard, in order for Trubisky to be simply an average first-round QB, fans should hope that beginning after the bye week, he should have a stretch of games with a passer rating in the mid 80s and an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of at least 5.6. In order for him to actually be an asset to the team, either his passer rating should be 90+ or his ANY/A should be at or around the 6.0 mark. Otherwise, he is actually falling behind.

Most stats come from the incomparable Pro Football Reference, or are derived from the same.