Part 7 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.
In public, Bears general manager Ryan Pace refuses to analyze exactly why he got the drafting of Mitch Trubisky so wrong.
In private, Pace and the rest of the team’s brain trust have conducted a postmortem on the No. 2 pick of 2017 to try to avoid making the same mistake again. They certainly wondered if they took a quarterback with too small a college sample size; Trubisky made 13 starts at North Carolina, the fewest of any passer taken in the first round since 2006.
With a week and a half left until this year’s draft, the Bears must come to peace with an uncomfortable fact: If they take a QB, he’s likely to be just as inexperienced.
The Bears, who have the No. 20 pick, will be boxed out of taking the first three passers. The Jaguars will take Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence at No. 1, and the Jets seem likely to draft BYU’s Zach Wilson at No. 2. The 49ers, who traded a fortune for the third overall pick, figure to choose from Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Alabama’s Mac Jones and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.
Jones has only 17 career starts. So does Lance, who played only one game this season — a fall exhibition — before opting out of the FCS powerhouse’s coronavirus-dictated spring season.
Stanford’s Davis Mills likely will be the sixth quarterback taken — and the first in the second round. Knee injuries and the -Pac-12’s late 2020 start limited him to 11 career college starts.
Typically, passers with such little experience fare poorly. In the last 15 years, only four quarterbacks taken in the first round started fewer than 17 college games: Trubisky, Cam Newton, Dwayne Haskins and Mark Sanchez. All but Newton, the 2015 MVP, have been busts.
The Bears, then, seem stuck — unless they do something bold. And that might be folly, even with Pace and coach Matt Nagy facing a win-or-else mandate.
Moving from No. 20 all the way up to No. 4 — the Falcons are entertaining offers — would cost the Bears the next three years’ worth of first-round picks, plus at least two second-rounders. For a salary-cap-strapped team in need of cheap, young talent, that seems too steep a price for the draft’s fourth-best QB. If the last of the top five QBs falls toward the teens, the Bears will find a trade more affordable — but it probably still would cost them first-round picks in 2021 and 2022.
The Bears’ quarterback hunt instead could carry over to Day 2 or beyond. Neither Mills nor Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond would solve the Bears’ problem or keep them from pursuing a veteran via trade.
The Jaguars’ Gardner Minshew, whom Bears quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo mentored in Jacksonville, could be available on draft night. He wouldn’t be the long-term answer, either, but the Bears still would have enough draft capital to trade if one hit the market later. Two star quarterbacks could change teams in the next year: the Texans’ Deshaun Watson, who is toxic until his sexual assault allegations are adjudicated, and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, for whom the Bears made a trade offer last month.
If they don’t fix their quarterback problem soon, Nagy and Pace might not be around when either becomes available.
The Bears’ need: What’s higher than high? Celestial? A team that hasn’t had a star quarterback since the Pleistocene Epoch let Mitch Trubisky walk, made a trade offer for Russell Wilson that the Seahawks rejected and signed “QB1” Andy Dalton to a one-year, $10 million deal. They’ll add another passer during draft weekend, either via draft or trade or by signing an undrafted free agent.
On the roster: Andy Dalton and Nick Foles.
The five best prospects: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Alabama’s Mac Jones and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.
Keep an eye on: The Patriots and the Washington Football Team, who draft 15th and 19th, respectively. Like the Bears, both teams signed placeholder veterans last month. Drafting at No. 20, the Bears would have to vault past both teams via trade to get a shot at the fourth or fifth passer in the draft. If the Bears search for a quarterback in Round 2, they might also have to compete with the same teams.
Close to home: Peyton Ramsey transferred to Northwestern from Indiana and was the main reason the Wildcats went from 3-9 in 2019 to the No. 10 team in the nation in the 2020 postseason Associated Press poll. Ramsey is under 6-2 and turns 24 in October, two facts that hurt his chances. But he started all but four games the last three years of his career and was a team captain twice — attributes that could earn him a practice-squad spot somewhere. He’s not expected to get drafted.