The Bears are bad — but not bad enough.
Were the season to end today, they’d draft No. 16 overall on April 29 — far too late to land Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields, quarterbacks who will be the top two picks if they leave college.
If the Bears pick a passer — and they should, as Nick Foles has proved he’s not a realistic starter next year — they’ll be forced to squint and project and evaluate the next tier of passers.
The two in that tier — North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Alabama’s Mac Jones — have so little experience, though, that investing in them is risky.
This season, there are fewer data points than ever. NFL teams aren’t attending games or visiting college practices, making information-gathering — or even casual conversations with a player’s coach, family and friends — more difficult.
Game tape matters. So does sample size. Just ask Bears fans.
“Mitch Trubisky had only 13 [college] starts, career,” ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said this week. “It’s a red flag.
“With Mac and Trey, they have the talent. There’s no question they have the ability.”
Jones has started 10 games since Tua Tagovailoa dislocated his hip a year ago this week. Surrounded by NFL-caliber blockers, runners and receivers, he has thrown 16 touchdown passes and only two interceptions this season.
Lance had one of the best 2019 seasons — at any level of football — when he threw an NCAA-record 287 passes without an interception and won the FCS title game’s Most Outstanding Player award.
He played one game this season — a showcase against Central Arkansas booked by the Bison, whose conference season was moved to the spring — before turning pro. He finished his career 17-0.
Lance is a redshirt sophomore who won’t turn 21 until the week after the draft. He has one year of FCS experience. When he reports to training camp next year, he will have played one college game in 18 months.
And he could be drafted in the top half of the first round.
“That’s something we’ve never had before,” Kiper said. “And we’ll probably never have again.”
The Bears have to sort through it all.
“It’s never been easy, and it never will be easy, to evaluate quarterbacks,” Kiper said. “Even with all the resources, [teams] still make big, huge mistakes.
“I’m not going to bring up Trubisky over [Deshaun] Watson and [Patrick] Mahomes — that’s not really fair at this stage, but it was a case where Mitch only had 13 starts.
“You live from experience. You learn from experience. Now I think people are going to look at that — for Lance and Mac Jones.”
The top 2
Lawrence has been the projected 2021 No. 1 overall pick for more than a calendar year. His season was disrupted last month when he tested positive for the coronavirus, but he should return Saturday against Florida State.
Fields, the favorite to be selected second overall, threw 41 touchdown passes and three interceptions last year after transferring from Georgia. He has played three games this season because of the Big Ten’s late start.
“They’re the givens,” Kiper said. “They’re the two guys that you know a lot about.’’
Despite the Big Ten starting its season late, Fields will have plenty of film by the end of the year, especially if the Buckeyes play for the league title and are in the college playoffs.
“For Trevor and Justin Fields, I don’t think [experience] is going to be a concern,” Kiper said. “For Trevor and Mac Jones, that will be a concern.”
The Darnold factor
The winless Jets are on pace to draft first overall. They’d almost certainly take Lawrence — and trade their own quarterback.
Sam Darnold has struggled since being selected with the third pick of the 2018 draft, posting a 78.3 passer rating and an 11-21 record as a starter. He has a sprained right shoulder and might not play again this season.
“They’re gonna have to trade him,” Kiper said. “That makes it very interesting to teams like the Bears.”
Darnold isn’t broken. At 23½, he’s seven months younger than Joe Burrow, the No. 1 pick in the last draft.
Teams will lean on their scouting reports from when Darnold left USC, rather than his showing in a toxic Jets environment.
“Every team’s gotta decide, looking at a quarterback: Would you be better off with Sam Darnold than Trey Lance, Sam Darnold than Mac Jones?” Kiper said.
What would he cost? In April 2019, the Cardinals drafted quarterback Kyler Murray first and traded 2018 first-rounder Josh Rosen to the Dolphins. They got a late second-round pick (No. 62) and a 2020 fifth-rounder.
Perhaps Darnold fetches a second- and a fourth-round pick, Kiper said.
“Would you rather have to give up a 2 and a 4 to get Darnold, and then you [use] a first to help your quarterback?’’ Kiper said. “That’s something everybody in that position is thinking about right now.”
In an uncertain season, the stakes of drafting the right QB are as high as ever.
“This is either gonna make you or break you,” Kiper said.
The rest of the projected draft class has an extensive body of work.
Texas senior Sam Ehlinger has thrown more than 1,400 college passes. Iowa State junior Brock Purdy claims more than 900.
BYU junior Zach Wilson has thrown more than 700. Florida senior Kyle Trask has more than 600 and will be 23 by draft day.
Neither has the potential of Lance or Jones. But they have experience, which is comforting for any general manager whose job is on the line. Some of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks were flawed prospects. Neither Tom Brady, Drew Brees nor Russell Wilson was drafted in the first round. Some thought Lamar Jackson, the reigning MVP, would have to switch to receiver coming out of college.
As if it weren’t hard enough already, the draft is a crapshoot this year.
Now the Bears have to navigate it.
“It’s not like this is a perfect science,” Kiper said.