Heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, the national consensus around the league was that the quarterback class was “weak.”
Among the top QBs, neither Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes stood out to be considered the best of the group and each had their respective flaws.
- Trubisky lacked the experience with only starting 13 games at North Carolina
- Watson had a tendency to turnover the ball (32 interceptions in three years) at Clemson
- Mahomes was identified as a byproduct of the high-scoring offense at Texas Tech
But fast forward a year for the three former first-round picks, and oh, what a difference a season makes to what is expected from each quarterback in Year 2.
Trubisky showed flashes of what he could become with little to no playmakers. Watson played at a Pro Bowl caliber level before tearing his ACL. And Mahomes only needed the preseason and one regular season game to excite Chiefs fans for the future.
Trubisky, Watson and Mahomes are all positioned to have breakout sophomore seasons, but the Bears’ franchise QB will have the most success in 2018.
Despite Trubisky only starting one full season in college, he ended his rookie season with 12 regular season starts, which was five more than Watson and 11 more than Mahomes
For 12 weeks, Trubisky took reps with the first-team offense and those reps cannot go unnoticed in a young quarterback’s development. Ever since Trubisky took over in Week 5 against the Minnesota Vikings, he has prepared as the starter, which will pay dividends on how he approaches this season.
To go along with gaining valuable practice experience, Trubisky accumulated far more game time reps. According to Pro Football Reference, last season Trubisky registered the most offensive snaps with 724, Watson came in second with 464 and Mahomes had the least with 62.
However, with Trubisky playing in more games, he has also experienced more offensive struggles. There were countless times last season where Trubisky and the offense failed to keep drives alive and ultimately let the team down.
But, the early struggles were a good thing for Trubisky. The 23-year-old needed to go through adversity to grow. And at times when the offense looked like they would repeat their disappointing efforts, Trubisky would show perseverance by making a play that would spark a resurgence in his unit.
The play that comes to mind happened in Week 6 vs. the Baltimore Ravens. With the game tied 24-24 in the fourth quarter on the Ravens’ 41-yard line and the offense facing a third-and-11, Trubisky avoided two defenders and completed an 18-yard pass to Kendall Wright to move the chains. Four plays later, the Bears scored the game-winning field goal.
The more experience these young quarterbacks get against opposing defenses, the better each will become in reading coverages, diagnosing plays and making the right read. Nothing beats game time reps and Trubisky has the edge on Watson and Mahomes heading into 2018.
Let’s be honest, Trubisky, Watson and Mahomes are all in offensive systems that cater to their strengths and each will put them in positions to succeed. So, it’s tough to say who is in the best one. Especially considering that Trubisky hasn’t taken a regular season snap in Matt Nagy’s offense. Watson didn’t get to finish his first year in Bill O’Brien’s offense. And Mahomes barely played in Andy Reid’s offense.
Still, Trubisky playing in Nagy’s modernistic offense will provide a night-and-day difference from Dowell Loggains’ ancient system in 2017.
Remember Loggains’ offense, the one that consisted of drives starting with two straight runs then a pass, which was always short of the first down marker, and finally ended with a punt. It was also the offense that allowed defenses to dictate what it could or couldn’t do.
Well, those days are over.
Now, the offensive system is filled with run-pass options (RPOs), a variety of formations and an aggressive rather than passive philosophy. Trubisky and company are set to improve significantly from last season.
On any single play in Nagy’s system, Trubisky will be asked to read the defense and react accordingly depending on the coverage or how a particular player is positioned. This flexibility and the multitude of options is what was missing in the offense a season ago. Now, Trubisky won’t have to be so fixated on one way of running a play, but instead, will scan the entire field and make the right decision instead of a forced one.
Each team added some playmakers for the 2018 season to help their young quarterbacks. The Chiefs added wide receiver Sammy Watkins and the Texans added some pass catchers in the draft.
But nobody made more moves than the Bears going into this season. The organization added Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton in free agency and drafted Anthony Miller in the second round to help address the team’s receiving woes.
The Bears are now loaded on offense. That phrase still looks weird to see, but for the first time in a long time, it’s true.
Last season, the Bears were forced to throw to receivers Wright, Dontrelle Inman, Trae McBride and Josh Bellamy. How Trubisky completed 59.4 percent of his passes is beyond me. But with only Bellamy remaining on the roster from the group that helped finish last in the league in receiving yards (3,085), the offense got some serious upgrades at the position in the offseason.
Each of the Bears’ new additions fit perfectly in how Nagy will utilize them in his offense. The main commonality between Trubisky’s new weapons is that they are versatile. All can be put on multiple positions on the field, run a variety of routes and can attack a defense in several ways.
Of course, everyone will be learning a new offense and it will take time to develop that chemistry and cohesion that makes some of the top offenses in the league so good, but this current unit is drastically better than last years.
Plus, with Gabriel being the oldest member of the new additions at 27, the core has plenty of time to grow and develop with Trubisky.
With Trubisky gaining valuable experience from his rookie season, now being in Nagy’s system, and gaining multiple new playmakers, he is ready to have the biggest season out of the 2017 first-round QBs.
Just For Fun
Who doesn’t like making projections? Just for fun, I predicted where Trubisky, Watson and Mahomes would finish against each other in each quarterback statistical category.