Another year and another quarterback search is underway in Chicago. It has become clear that Mitch Trubisky is not the answer and newly acquired Nick Foles is a stop-gap at best. With the most important position in all of sports in flux, the Bears have to acquire quarterbacks anyway they can. They can’t leave any stones unturned.
The odds of hitting a home run on a late-run quarterback is slim. For every Tom Brady, there are 100 David Fales, Nathan Enderles and Dan LeFevours. What the Bears should be trying to do is hit a solid double. At this point, a squeaker through the infield would be a refreshing change.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility the Bears could get a developmental quarterback late in this draft who can potentially start a few games down the road and at the very least turn into a solid backup.
Unlike most years, there are actually a few intriguing options late in the draft with some development potential. With the trade of their fourth-round comp pick for Foles, they have probably taken themselves out of the running for more highly regarded prospects like Washington State’s Anthony Gordon or Florida International’s James Morgan.
Let’s take a look at four guys who the Bears could have their sites on come draft weekend.
1. Jake Luton (Oregon State)
Luton is a tall pocket passer at over 6-foot-6 with big hands and long arms that he uses like a whip to create some impressive zip on his passes. He trusts his arm and can make all the throws necessary to compete in the NFL. He is far from a gunslinger as he doesn’t take unnecessary risks and is careful with the football as evidenced by his 1.9 percent interception rate for his career.
However, his aversion to risk, while admirable, can be one of his weaknesses as well. He has some early career Alex Smith vibes in his game, without the athleticism, and is too quick to come off of his downfield reads and check down. He is at his best when he can attack teams downfield. In 2019, he completed 26 of his 51 passes 20 plus yards downfield and threw 13 touchdowns without being intercepted. His 136.2 passer rating in deep situations was the highest in the entire nation.
When his base is set and he is able to step into his throws, he shows good zip and touch. He has good pocket awareness, but if he isn’t granted the opportunity to throw from a clean pocket, his accuracy deteriorates. And even when throwing from a clean pocket, I would describe him as accurate but not precise. This is especially true in the short and intermediate passing game, where he is just a little off, which limits the run after catch potential of his receivers.
His biggest issues in regards to accuracy come from his long arms, which require a long and not easily repeatable delivery. His footwork can also become sloppy at times, especially when under pressure, and he locks his hips, which doesn’t allow him to properly rotate through his throws.
Overall, Luton is best suited for a vertical passing game, and that may not be as appealing to a team like the Bears, who focus on getting the ball out quickly. But his potential is undeniable and all 32 teams should be interested in his talents on Day 3. His lack of athleticism and elongated release limit his potential. If he can clean up his mechanics and footwork, he could become a solid starter in this league no matter what scheme.
2. Tyler Huntley (Utah)
Huntley’s game is one much more suited, at this time, to the Bears’ current offense. He thrives getting the ball out quickly and decisively to his playmakers and letting them do the hard work. He is smart with the football and rarely puts his team in a position to lose. In 2019, he only had six turnover worthy throws, leading to only four interceptions.
What really gets you excited about Huntley is his accuracy in the short and intermediate game. He has a well below-average arm, but he has a quick, compact release, which will help mitigate his lack of ideal height and arm strength as long as he is in a West Coast offense.
His legs and mobility are also a weapon. Unlike most athletic college quarterbacks, he does not flee the pocket unnecessarily to take off and run. He uses his quickness and mobility to move around the pocket, keeping his head up to survey the field and only scrambles if no one is open. He is also a threat on zone reads and speed options, which we have seen the Bears use with Trubisky as well.
Huntley’s calling card is his athleticism and mobility. But he’s a good athlete, not a great athlete. He’s not on the athletic level of Lamar Jackson and doesn’t have the size of a Cam Newton, which will limit his utility on designed quarterback runs. He will have to make his living in the ground game by taking what the defense gives him and sliding to avoid contact.
He also was buoyed by a strong run game at Utah. Most of his downfield passing success came on hard play actions, causing safeties to crash towards the line of scrimmage and this allowed wide receivers to get open downfield. That won’t be the case in the pros where defenders are much more disciplined. The Bears have not had a strong run game the last few seasons and there is not much reason to believe that will change.
Huntley’s accuracy, quick decision making and mobility make him a very intriguing late-round option for the Bears. He is a QB who, in the right system, could probably play right away. With the Bears, he would have the luxury of sitting for a year. Although, at this point, his arm likely isn’t getting any stronger and he isn’t getting any bigger, which limits his ceiling. He isn’t going to be a guy who will, by himself, win you games. But he won’t lose them for you and that has value.
3. Cole McDonald (Hawaii)
You do not see a lot of quarterbacks with NFL level arm strength, accuracy and athleticism on Day 3 of the NFL Draft. But that is exactly what you will get with McDonald. Unfortunately, you will also get someone who is wildly inconsistent.
Let’s start with the good. McDonald can make any throw asked of him. He’s got good size at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds and a big arm that allows him to fit the ball into some tight windows. When given time in the pocket, he couples that big arm with better accuracy than expected out of someone with an elongated release.
He completed 31 passes labeled as “big-time throws,” according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked as the seventh most in all of college football. He completed nearly 64 percent of his passes despite having the third-highest average depth of target at 12.4 yards. Clearly, he has the arm talent to get drafted.
He also has elite athleticism for the position. In addition to his passing stats, he added nearly 400 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns. He proved this was no fluke at the combine, where he ran a sub 4.6 40-yard dash and tested above the 90th percentile in the 10-yard split, vertical and broad jump.
And now to the bad.
As you can see from the graphic above, grades courtesy of Pro Football Focus, McDonald completely unravels under pressure.
Luckily for Hawaii fans, he was only pressured on 20.4 percent of his dropbacks, the lowest mark in the country. That most likely won’t be the case in the NFL and his pocket presence will need to improve substantially before he takes an NFL snap.
He also struggles when his first read is not open. Hawaii operates a very simple college offense with four-plus wide receivers on every play. Most colleges do not have one or two NFL level cornerbacks let alone four or five. It was a one-read offense and if that read was covered, McDonald struggled to go through his progressions and find the open man.
As mentioned above, he was highly successful in creating big plays. Unfortunately, he also was responsible for a lot of turnover worthy plays with 29 in only 14 games. That number ranked 108th among qualifying quarterbacks.
Overall, McDonald has a clear developmental upside. He will greatly benefit from the opportunity to sit on a practice squad for a few years and is nowhere near a candidate to start as a rookie. The team that is patient with McDonald could be rewarded with possibly an above-average NFL starter. But at this point, he is so far from his ceiling it’s more likely he is out of the NFL completely by the time his rookie contract is up.
4. Josh Love (San Diego State)
No one is flying under the radar quite like Love. It’s understandable, though, because nothing really jumps off the page when looking at his resume. He has good arm strength but not great arm strength. He’s an average to slightly below-average athlete. He put up good stats but not great stats. All while being slightly undersized and playing at a smaller school.
However, when you dig deeper, you start to see how he can win in the NFL. He does all the little things that make an NFL quarterback successful.
And it starts with his pocket presence. He’s not a great athlete but he is able to maneuver in the pocket, avoid rushers and find the open man. He was pressured on nearly 29 percent of his dropbacks, the most of anyone on this list, but was only sacked 13 times. His 9 percent pressure to sack percentage was one of the best in college football in large part due to his ability to manipulate the pocket.
Not only was he able to avoid sacks when under pressure … he thrived there.
In the graphic above, he was second in passing grade when under pressure and third in EPA/play. Pressure doesn’t rattle him and a hand in his face rarely affects his accuracy. He consistently stands tall in the pocket, takes a hit and still manages to deliver an accurate ball to an open receiver. No matter who drafts these quarterbacks they are going to face pressure in the NFL. While NFL pass rushers are a step above what he saw in the Mountain West Conference, he proved he can handle it.
Love has a quick, compact release and gets through his progressions quickly, which allows him to stay a step ahead of the defense. His decision making is already advanced for his level of experience, so he already has a step up on the competition. He also has a great feel for the position, often varying his ball speed and throws with great touch and anticipation.
Love has improved every year in college and I don’t see any reason that won’t continue with more experience. He is a player the Bears can grab late and stick on the practice squad for a year or two. He probably will never be a star, but it would not surprise me to see him become an above-average backup who might be able to have a few seasons as an average starter.
Can someone explain to me why San Jose State QB Josh Love isn't getting more… love? Almost 4,000 yards, 22 TDs, only 8 INTs. Great accuracy and pocket presence. Maybe he doesn't have the greatest arm but hes smart with the football. Bears should give him a chance on day three pic.twitter.com/0z0hEl0qjR
— Stephen Letizia (@StephenLetizia) April 1, 2020