When I conceived of this article, talk around the NFL was that Mitchell Trubisky was prepared to take a major step forward, Daniel Jones was going to be a bust, and Lamar Jackson was an illusion. I was unsure how many quarterbacks would meet my criteria of having at least 300 passing attempts, ten starts, and a birthday after 1993.
In fact, excluding Jameis Winston (who as I explained seemed more like the last of the old guard instead of the first of the new), thirteen different quarterbacks meet these thresholds.
Ordered by number of starts, the candidates are Jared Goff (54), Mitchell Trubisky (41), Deshaun Watson (37), Patrick Mahomes (31), Baker Mayfield (29), Josh Allen (27), Sam Darnold (26), Lamar Jackson (22), Kyler Murray (16), Josh Rosen (16), DeShone Kizer (15), Daniel Jones (12), and Gardner Minshew (12). It’s unlikely anyone considers Kizer or Rosen an actual candidate for a starting quarterback somewhere, and there are a lot of doubts out there about Minshew, to say the least. Still, this group demonstrates that the new quarterback generation has arrived.
I originally wanted to evaluate these quarterbacks in terms of promise, clutch, reliability, and let down. This article will look at three of those (promise, clutch, and let down), while next week’s piece will look at reliability and dig into some interesting aspects of the way I chose to evaluate that factor of a quarterback’s play.
First, there is the idea that a new quarterback should offer his team promise. I decided that I wanted to look at the best eight games of a young quarterback’s career, as defined by Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. The idea here was that I wanted to know which quarterbacks gave fans the most to hope for.
The expected names rose to the top. Lamar Jackson (11.81 ANY/A), Patrick Mahomes (11.71), Jared Goff (11.57) and Deshaun Watson (11.34) showed the most promise. However, Mitchell Trubisky (10.11) is solidly in 5th place, and well ahead of the median level of performance set by Sam Darnold (7.83), and it’s almost one full standard deviation above the mean (8.6, with a standard deviation of 2.33 for those who care).
To be fair, four of the five worst-rated quarterbacks here have the fewest games to pick from: Garnder Minshew (7.46), Daniel Jones (6.69), Josh Rosen (5.24), and DeShone Kizer (5.18) each have sixteen games or fewer under their belts. There’s probably something of a chicken-and-egg problem here, because some of those players would have had more opportunities had they simply played better. It’s also worth pointing out that the two players who essentially played their way out of work (Rosen and Kizer) are the two who are more than a full standard deviation below the mean.
Ultimately, though, Trubisky is playing almost as well as the top third of the young gun group. He is not a star and shows no sign of being one. He is, however, comfortably above mediocre in promise.
It’s one thing to be able to play well in a few games. Ten of the thirteen quarterbacks under consideration had at least a single game north of 10.0 ANY/A. Another thing fans want to see is that their quarterback can do well under pressure. While it’s really tough to demonstrate that “being clutch” is a thing instead of a narrative, I wanted to see which players delivered when they needed to do so. Hence, I calculated their passer rating in overtime and when trailing in the final four minutes of a game.
Lamar Jackson (133.1), Gardner Minshew (104.1), Josh Allen (100.9), Deshaun Watson (98.9), and Patrick Mahomes (94.4) were all above the average of 77.4 for the group. Mitchell Trubisky’s 69.4 was below the mean but still better than the median (Kyler Murray’s 67.3). On the other end of the spectrum, Josh Rosen (57.2) and DeShone Kizer (49.8) can at least reassure themselves that they aren’t Sam Darnold (39.9). In essence, Trubisky is roughly average for the young guns in terms of “clutch” passer rating.
Failure rate is, admittedly, a made-up statistic. I was curious how many times quarterbacks truly failed, and so I simply decided to see how many times they either took a sack or threw an interception as a percentage of the number of snaps that they took. It’s worth pointing out that a team that runs more will allow a quarterback to handoff the ball and therefore will offer him some protection here, but it’s also worth pointing out that a good quarterback should know when to throw the ball away. I think there’s something to be said for a quarterback’s ability to keep a play from going south.
Across the 22120 snaps played by these 13 men, 1108 were “self-defeats” in some way. That’s a rate of almost exactly 5%. Josh Rosen led the way with a failure rate of 8.2%, blowing right past DeShone Kizer’s horrific 7% rate. Daniel Jones (6.1%), Deshaun Watson (6%), and Kyler Murray (6%) all have excuses for their failures, but they still struggled--whatever the reasons.
Meanwhile, Lamar Jackson (3.1%), Patrick Mahomes (3.2%), Jared Goff (4.3%), and Gardner Minshew (4.3%) were much more promising. Coming in 5th? Chicago’s own Mitchell Trubisky, with a respectable 4.7% failure rate (the median was the 5.2% recorded by Baker Mayfield).
Mitchell Trubisky is not a star among the young quarterbacks. He is not a failure. Instead, he is almost the spitting image of the man he replaced—not Mike Glennon, but instead Jay Cutler. Trubisky is just a bit better than average in some categories, and he shows enough promise on a consistent enough basis that it seems like he should be better than he is. A lot of draft capital was given up to acquire him, and so far he is being outperformed by other players the Bears could have had instead.
Trubisky is in the shadow of draft-mates Mahomes and Watson, and he is being outplayed by Jackson and Goff. Allen and Minshew are better than him in some categories, and it seems likely that at least one or two of the younger players will take a step forward. This average-plus level of play could be enough for a team under the perfect circumstances, but it is frustrating given the fact that his inconsistencies seem to be wasting the potential of an amazing defense.
However, by these measures, Trubisky is not a bad young quarterback. He just isn’t a good one.