NFL draft makeover: Which QB can end Bears’ longtime misery at the position?

Eric Edholm
·8-min read

Every week during the 2020 NFL season, we’re going to — just being honest here — overreact to what we’ve seen on the field the previous Sunday and start projecting NFL draft prospects to teams that might need help at certain spots.

Think of it as a mini one-team mock draft, with early (Rounds 1-2), middle (Rounds 3-4) and late (Round 5 and later) prospects at each team’s respective position of concern.

This week’s NFL draft makeover is the Chicago Bears. When might their seemingly eternal quarterback problem end?

(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
(Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

The Chicago Bears, one of the NFL’s original franchises, has zero 4,000-yard passers in their 100-plus seasons of existence. The Houston Texans, who will celebrate their 20th anniversary in two years, have had four.

No Bears QB has reached the 30-touchdown threshold. Ever! Even the Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals each have had multiple 30-touchdown passers … since 2005 alone.

The Bears have had one quarterback (Jim McMahon in 1985) ever voted to the Pro Bowl.

Yes, it’s true that Mitchell Trubisky was named to the squad two seasons ago as an injury replacement after two other QBs backed out. But calling Trubisky a Pro Bowl quarterback is like calling Vince Young the same. It’s true but, well, it’s kind of not also.

And we’re more than certain that fellow draft classmate and Pro Bowl teammate Patrick Mahomes meant well with this tweet at the time …

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… although Bears fans certainly viewed it another, more painful way.

The Bears have tried just about every method, and with different people making the decisions, to find a franchise quarterback. Depending on how you define Jay Cutler’s time in Chicago, it has been roughly forever since the team could boast having one.

Former general manager Jerry Angelo drafted Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton, and traded for Cutler in 2008. The next general manager in line, Phil Emery, signed one notable QB (Jason Campbell) and drafted one QB (David Fales, Round 6, 2014).

Current GM Ryan Pace has combed the QB market in myriad ways in his five-plus years on the job. There have been draft picks (Trubisky No. 2 overall in 2017, infamously ahead of Mahomes and Deshaun Watson), free-agent signings (Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, Mark Sanchez, Mike Glennon and Chase Daniel among them) and trade acquisitions (Nick Foles).

Very few of these have panned out with the Bears.

Foles, who replaced Trubisky late in the comeback victory in Atlanta this season, has been less effective on a per-snap basis than Trubisky. Is it possible that head coach Matt Nagy could go back to Trubisky this season? The fact that we’re even entertaining the idea tells you everything you need to know about the Bears’ current dilemma, one that sounds similar to most of its centennial existence.

Whatever the reason for this miasmatic blight in Chicago, it must be fixed — very soon — if the Bears are to take any kind of step up. The quarterback limitations are perpetually keeping this franchise in stasis. The Bears’ defensive window also might soon be closing if they have designs on winning in the next year or two.

With their current formula, the Bears’ more-than-competent defense doesn’t allow them to fall too far in the standings and thus find themselves in the range needed to draft a blue-chip QB. Nagy has a laudable .625 win percentage as head coach. And that has been with below-average quarterback play. Assuming the veteran route is off the table, the draft feels like the one place Chicago might find its man.

Early-round prospect

Mac Jones, Alabama

Trevor Lawrence isn’t in play. Ohio State’s Justin Fields might be out of reach, too. And let’s face it, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance — gifted as he appears to be — doesn’t seem to fit well here.

The Bears need a QB who can be ready to start out of the chute if needed. It’s hard to imagine that 17 FCS-level starts will convince many teams of that. Inexperience proved to be a big deal for Trubisky, even if the reasons for him not playing more were far different than they have been for Lance.

BYU QB Zach Wilson is the only realistic pipe dream here, and he’d fit beautifully in the system Nagy wants to run. (And yes, veteran Bears fans will make the obvious McMahon connections if it somehow came to pass. We’ll allow that for a day or two.)

That said, is Ryan Pace going to trade up for Wilson after the failed move up for Trubisky? Because that’s what we suspect it will take. We placed Wilson at No. 6 in our recent mock draft, and the Bears as of today are picking No. 18 with their 5-3 mark, very much in the playoff picture at the moment.

The Carolina Panthers started 5-3 last year and finished 5-11, ending up with the No. 7 overall pick. So it is possible ...

The Alabama offense is still humming along with Mac Jones under center. (Photo by Kent Gidley/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)
The Alabama offense is still humming along with Mac Jones under center. (Photo by Kent Gidley/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)

Jones might be the most realistic option for Chicago. He did not make my first-round mock last time, but it’s starting to look like he (and not Florida’s Kyle Trask) has the best shot of a fifth quarterback landing in Round 1. My best guess is that he goes somewhere between the mid-first and mid-second, as things stand now. That could change, up or down.

Jones is highly efficient, not prone to head-scratching mistakes and has far better deep-ball potential, based on his college tape, than any QB Nagy has had in Chicago. Is Jones mobile? No, which would cramp some of what Nagy wants.

Short of landing Wilson, Jones makes the most sense now that the Bears are back picking in Round 1 (and don’t have a ton of extra ammo to move up).

The Bears have three talented receivers in Allen Robinson (assuming they can keep him), Darnell Mooney and Anthony Miller, and a young tight end in Cole Kmet who has promise. They can still create a versatile, three-level passing attack with Jones throwing to that corps, plus David Montgomery.

Mid-round prospect

Kenny Pickett, Pitt

Pickett has missed two games with an ankle injury, and it’s looking like a third is probable this weekend. That’s too bad because Pickett was playing pretty darned well. He can lace the deep ball, and has some nice mobility and toughness.

The biggest jump in Pickett’s game this year was his throwing mechanics and his processing speed. In years past, the big plays were on display — they were too few and far between. His talent was teasing.

In between those, Pickett had a penchant for throwing into traffic or missing open looks. His 2019 tape was too uneven to give him more than a Day 3 grade.

Before his ankle injury, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett was having a strong 2020 season. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Before his ankle injury, Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett was having a strong 2020 season. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

So far in 2020, he has harnessed all of his throwing ability and athleticism, and done so with cleaner feet, quicker eyes and a better throwing base. When plays have broken down, he has bought more time and picked up first downs with his legs without compromising his setup, process and mental checklist.

That said, if there’s a QB in this class who gives you Trubisky vibes (the UNC version, anyway), it’s Pickett. Please, dear Bears fan, don’t drop us after delivering this message! But there’s certainly some truth to it.

With Pickett’s injury and the apparent depth atop the QB class, it appears that Pickett is more likely to go in the Round 3-4 range. That’s about how Trubisky should have graded out.

We’re just saying.

Late-round prospect

Jamie Newman, ex-Wake Forest and Georgia

Some readers might be surprised to see Newman fall into the late-round category here. Based on the feedback we received on Newman after he left Wake for Georgia — and before he opted out this season — it shouldn’t be a shock.

Summer grades on Newman fell more in the Round 4-6 range than they did the top-50 talk that was bandied about in some media circles. If Newman played at Georgia and added some wrinkles to his game, yes. Without that? No.

Former Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman hasn't played this season after transferring to Georgia. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Former Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman hasn't played this season after transferring to Georgia. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Athletically, he’s nice. Newman moves with ease and is a threat to pick up first downs as a runner. He deserves credit for hanging tough amid pressure behind a so-so Demon Deacons offensive line last season (outside of Justin Herron). On short and intermediate passes, Newman can be effective.

Outside of that, we’re ambivalent about his potential. The accuracy isn’t consistent based on his 2019 tape. He’s at his best throwing short and attacking the middle of the field.

The 6-3, 220-pound Newman’s deep passing and passing under pressure is also concerning. That’s a big reason why his stock value is muted. This is what an early Day 3 prospect looks like, folks, so the Bears likely wouldn’t go this route unless their QB solution is to land a different veteran and eat the salary-cap hit on Foles.

How likely is that? It’s tough to say.

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