After two preseason games, the hot rookie name for the Chicago Bears is undrafted free agent quarterback Tyson Bagent from Division II Shepherd University in West Virginia. In the first two games, Bagent has looked very poised and sharp, and we can arguably say he has outperformed most of the quarterbacks drafted this year, including those in the first round. How can an undrafted rookie play so well so early in his career?
I have a theory, and most of it has to do with his playing experience while in college.
When I began scouting in the NFL in the early 1980s, there was a strict rule of thumb that came into play when evaluating quarterbacks, and that was based on the amount of playing experience the player had. To be considered as a high draft pick, a quarterback needed to be a starter for two to three seasons and attempt a minimum of 900 passes in his career.
Most evaluators and decision-makers stuck with that rule until about 12 – 15 years ago. Then the decision-makers began drafting quarterbacks off pure talent and what they "can be" versus what they are now. We have seen that play out in recent years with quarterbacks such as Mitch Trubisky, Trey Lance and many others. We have also seen that the success rate of these players with minimal college experience is iffy.
If we look at the "old rule," Tyson Bagent fits it to a T. Tyson played and started in 53 games while in college and attempted 2040 passes. He completed 1400 for a 68.6% completion percentage, and his touchdown to interception ratio was 159 TDs and 48 interceptions. Basically, it was a 3-to-1 ratio which is very good. I can't remember a quarterback prospect throwing that many passes while in college. Using the "old rule," he threw well over twice the minimum throws.
If we compare that to the number of throws that Bryce Young, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson threw while in college, he had almost as many throws as those three COMBINED! The three top quarterbacks in the 2023 Draft Class threw a combined 2172 passes while in college. That gives you a very good idea of how much playing experience Bagent got as a college player. Granted, he played at a much lower level of comp, but experience is experience. He has seen several different defensive schemes and was able to adjust to those various schemes and have success.
Bagent was not an unknown quantity in the scouting world. Every team knew about him and his production. He was invited to play in the Senior Bowl and had a strong week there. Not only did he play well while in Mobile, but his coach that week was the Bears' Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy. Getsy got first-hand knowledge of how Bagent learns, retains and reacts to new surroundings. Getsy's experience with Bagent was invaluable in the evaluation process.
So why wasn't Bagent drafted? The most likely reason was the level of comp he played in. Shepherd though in West Virginia, plays in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, which as I stated, is a Division II League. Several NFL players have come out of that Conference, Including some former Bears (Big Cat Williams, Chris Villarreal), but overall, the caliber of players in the League isn't close to Power-5. Very few clubs will risk a draft choice on a quarterback who played at that level.
It still remains to be seen how Baget will turn out, but from what we have seen to date, he looks to be, at worst, a quality backup in the League. He has very good quarterback size, has the athleticism to make plays with his feet, can process quickly, shows a quick release, has a strong arm with a tight ball and is accurate. These are all traits we look for in every quarterback.
When Bears Head Coach Matt Eberflus said after the game that the Bears' number two quarterback is still an ongoing competition, he was saying that the staff is very impressed with how Bagent has played to date. What will be telling is how much playtime Bagent gets in the preseason finale versus Buffalo this coming Saturday afternoon.
If Bagent turns out to be a successful quarterback, it wouldn't be the first time that a UDFA or late draft pick turned out to be successful. Last year Brock Purdy from Iowa State was the last pick in the Draft by San Francisco, yet by mid-season, he became the quarterback of the future for the 49ers. Purdy was a three-and-a-half-year starter at Iowa State with 46 starts to his name. He also attempted better than 1400 throws while at Iowa State. In other words, he fits the "old rule" very well.
Just maybe the top evaluators and decision-makers should go back to the future.