The Chicago Bears entered the 2017 NFL Draft knowing they needed to add their franchise quarterback to the roster. Sitting at third overall, all of the quarterbacks would have been on the board, but they felt the need to trade up to the second overall pick to select Mitchell Trubisky, a one-year starter out of North Carolina.
Regardless as to why the Bears made the trade, the San Francisco 49ers were the clear winners of the deal based on the talent they were able to take a risk on and add to their roster. Chicago traded the third overall pick in the draft along with a third-rounder (pick 67), a fourth-rounder (pick 111), and a 2018 third-rounder (pick 70) for the second overall pick.
With those picks, San Francisco used the 2017 third-rounder as part of a stepping stone trade to ultimately move up again, this time to select a wide receiver, Dante Pettis. The 49ers then used the fourth-rounder to trade up and select linebacker Reuben Foster. Lastly, the 2018 selection was used to select NFL Pro Bowler, linebacker Fred Warner.
Given that San Francisco’s plan was to select defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, which was notably reported with general manager John Lynch’s initial interaction with the former Stanford Cardinal, trading down one spot made the most sense. They were able to obtain a very good linebacker, depth at wideout, and took a chance on a one-time promising linebacker, how does a team not take such a deal?
Being selected early does not equate to success
On paper, the selection of Trubisky at the time appeared like the right call, especially considering that no one knows how any of these prospects’ careers will play out. However, had Chicago just stayed at three, they could have kept the picks they gave up to help their young quarterback. With the picks they lost, they could have added players like Cooper Kupp, Kareem Hunt, Jonnu Smith, Kenny Golladay, and Mark Andrews who were all still on the board.
Trubisky has certainly shown some flashes in the Windy City, but because he has not made similar progress compared to others in his draft class, his selection has become the most scrutinized pick by fans and media alike.
In three NFL seasons, Trubisky has yet to start all 16 games in a single year. In addition, he has an overall record of 23-18, with a 48:29 touchdown to interception ratio, and a 63.4 percent completion ratio. Had Trubisky’s play not taken a step back from 2018, in which he ultimately helped lead the Bears to the playoffs, we would not see him as a fringe starting quarterback. However, due to his failings, Chicago recently declined his fifth-year option and decided to add competition in veteran Nick Foles.
The problem with the competition that was added is that, at the end of the day, Chicago didn’t really improve their QB situation. Since entering the NFL in 2012, Foles is now with his fifth NFL team. He has never played a full season and has not started double-digit games since 2015 when he was with the then St. Louis Rams. He does, however, boast a 71:35 TD to INT ratio along with a Super Bowl MVP. Realistically, the Bears did not add an answer to their quarterback problem, but rather a backup who has had a few nice moments in the NFL.
What could have been
As much as the selection of Trubisky can be scrutinized, it is not that cut and dry. A player’s skill only goes so far. Plenty of other factors such as coaching, offensive weapons, and line play also impact a player, especially a quarterback’s chances of success. Let’s be honest: Chicago has not had much to support Trubisky after he became a Bear.
On the contrary, the two other quarterbacks drafted that year, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes, were provided with weapons needed to be successful. Watson had a very good wide receiving corps led by DeAndre Hopkins. While Mahomes has had a very solid running game, an elite tight end in Travis Kelce, a dynamic wide receiving corps, and one of the best coaches in Andy Reid to learn from.
Upon entering the 2017 NFL Draft, all of the top quarterbacks had their flaws. Despite some of his strengths coming out of North Carolina, such as climbing the pocket while keeping his eyes up as well as his mobility, Trubisky’s mechanics and ball security were a couple of areas where he needed to improve upon when entering the NFL.
Meanwhile, Watson was a very gifted athlete coming out of Clemson who had good mechanics with one notable flaw, he threw flat-footed on occasion. It wasn’t a major problem, but one that was mentioned often during his recruitment process. Despite that, Watson has lived up to expectations, in part due to his aforementioned impressive wide reeving corps.
Watson continues to be an impressive passer who can also hurt defenses on the ground if he chooses to run. He is not Michael Vick in his prime by any means but he is more than capable of making plays on the regular with his legs. Watson is a top-10 quarterback who despite having less to work with now on offense, should continue to make progress as a starter.
Now, would Watson become the player he is and continues to improve upon had he gone to Chicago instead of Houston? Anything is possible but again, skills only go so far. He would have had less to work with as a young quarterback despite more stability with the coaching and front office staff. So with that in mind, I believe he would have been a good quarterback for the Bears but nothing like what we have seen up to this point.
Mahomes has a rocket of an arm. Playing baseball and being able to throw at different angles certainly helps his play on the field. That has gone back prior to his time at Texas Tech, but while playing for the Red Raiders, it was evident his arm strength was on another level, which was ideal given he was in an air raid offense. His ability to adjust on the fly and set up prior to releasing was also impressive, especially on the run.
That said, coming into the 2017 Draft, his unorthodox arm angles, quick release, and playing in an air raid offense for some, were concerns. The Kansas City Chiefs clearly were not hesitant as they traded up to select him. He has gone on to win the Super Bowl, is on the verge of resetting the market for quarterbacks financially, and many believe he is already the best player in the league.
Why Trubisky differs from the other two
Despite having worked with Reid, Bears head coach Matt Nagy has not been able to get consistency from Trubisky nor has he taken other areas of his offense to another level. Could Trubisky be playing better if it weren’t for Nagy? Possibly, but at the end of the day, it is about adjustments. So who is failing to make the adjustments necessary to succeed?
If instead of trading up for Trubisky, the Bears had selected Mahomes, would they be as good as the Chiefs are right now? As much as I want to be optimistic about what could have been had Mahomes landed in the Windy City, he ended up in the right spot with the Chiefs. Had Mahomes gone to Chicago it would have taken longer for him to develop and instead of him being arguably the best quarterback in the league, we would have just seen a good quarterback who would go on to play with subpar to average talent accumulated on offense.
Trubisky is not a bad quarterback necessarily, but he is now facing his last chance at being a starter in the NFL. Of course in hindsight everyone would want a Watson or Mahomes over Trubisky, but ultimately, some franchise had to end up with the short end of the stick from that draft.
If the Bears are not in the hunt for the playoffs due to Trubisky’s play this fall, the calls for Foles starting and ultimately bringing in a long-term signal-caller will come sooner in the season than the franchise would like to hear. He must get back to playing like he did when he took Chicago to the playoffs. Otherwise, big changes could be implemented as a result beyond just a change at quarterback.
Ryan Rosko is PFN’s NFL Draft director. You can follow him @SkoSports on Twitter.