The Breakdown: Mitch Trubisky
Mitch Trubisky came into the 2016 college football season as an unknown junior from Mentor, OH. Today, Trubisky is considered one of the elite prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft cycle and has a chance to be taken with the first overall pick. This deadly accurate, athletic quarterback ascended in a relatively lackluster North Carolina Tar Heel offense and assaulted opponents with intermediate passes all season long.
Trubisky, like any draft prospect, is not a perfect specimen. Aspects of his game are incredibly efficient and others lack the refinement that necessitates success at the NFL level. Seeing how he performs at the NFL Combine will be quite interesting, as he’s a fine athlete along with a very efficient pocket passer.
First and foremost, Trubisky passes the eye test when it comes to NFL quarterbacks. At 6’3″ and weighing 225 pounds, he has the prototypical quarterback size and a muscular build. Athletically, this kid can move extremely well and uses his speed and size to get around the pocket while also keeping his eyes down the field. It’s rare to see a quarterback with this kind of height and weight be as shifty and athletic as Trubisky is.
Building off the previous point, there were times, specifically against Florida State, that Trubisky eluded multiple defensive lineman in the pocket and got away from the pass rush. Not every time will result in a completion or even a positive gain, but the extension of plays is only a positive with how athletic NFL defenses are becoming.
While he may not have the best arm talent in this draft, Trubisky makes up for it with incredible accuracy and touch on his deep to intermediate throws. This sounds like a negative, but his arm strength is more than adequate enough for the next level. In the North Carolina offense, many of the plays were telegraphed or near the line of scrimmage, so it was difficult to always gauge how strong of an arm the young quarterback possessed in terms of distance. Players like DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame likely have stronger arms, but he lacks the accuracy and downfield touch that sets this kid apart.
Accuracy and decision making is truly where Mitch Trubisky sets himself apart from the rest of the quarterbacks in this draft class. When I scouted players like Kizer and Deshaun Watson I was surprised at just how many passes were off target or simply bad decisions. In Watson’s case, it seemed like he was always trying to hit the big play or feed the football to the electric Mike Williams. Kizer, on the other hand, lacks sufficient talent around him on his offensive line and at wide receiver. Trubisky has the same deficiencies at skill positions and from his blockers, but doesn’t make the same mistakes as the far more experienced Watson and Kizer (Watson may have the top receiving threat in the nation).
In certain plays, Trubisky will cheat a defense with his eyes and hit his second read in a split second. It’s very rare that the young quarterback makes a poor decision passing the football or inaccurate throws down the field (look to negatives to see the counter argument to this point). Trubisky takes his shots down the field, but they are usually after he decimated the opposing defense with countless check-downs that got his offense first downs. The quick plays show how fast Trubisky’s mind and arm move, as he doesn’t always hit his first read on these plays. In the 2017 draft cycle, this kid has the fastest mind out of the entire crop of quarterbacks.
One last positive about Trubisky is his pocket presence. Not one time in the five games I scouted from 2016 did I see him feel ‘phantom pressure’ from nowhere. To me, that’s one of the true positives of his game. I don’t see a player that is afraid to take a hit and he will throw through the pressure smothering him for a completion. At times, this can lead to sacks and fumbles, but he always keeps his eyes down the field and is looking to pull the trigger on the first player he sees open. If no receiver is open, Trubisky can fit through a small lane and pick up positive yardage on the run. Against Florida State, the ability to outrun a defense and fit through small creases came into play when he ran for a touchdown on what was supposed to be a screen pass.
Many of the negatives that hover around Trubisky’s game are part of the North Carolina offensive philosophy. In many of the ways I was critical of Marcus Mariota at Oregon, I have to be critical of Trubisky at UNC. The difference is that Mariota utilized his athleticism far more often than the less experienced quarterback. There are remarkable similarities between the two offenses aside from the designed quarterback runs that Oregon was known for. UNC’s offense consists of the spread out of the shotgun, screen passes and the option.
From repeated viewings of tape, it doesn’t seem like the North Carolina offense is incredibly complex and Mitch Trubisky is asked to make far more telegraphed plays and throws than the typical NFL quarterback will make. Quarterbacks all have their reads and who the ball should go to on routes, but that’s not how it seems to work at UNC. The major concern here is whether or not Trubisky is able to read complex NFL defenses.
For a player like Marcus Mariota, who I had the exact same concerns with, it took some development and coddling from the Tennessee Titans to really push his development forward. Mariota is a fine NFL quarterback in 2016, but 2015 was a rough year based on his downfield accuracy and confidence throwing the deep ball. I see many parallels between the two, even with Trubisky being more of a pocket passer, and he could have the same type of developmental period as the former Oregon Duck.
Another potential negative for Trubisky is the amounts of vicious hits he takes from not reading defensive blitzes correctly. Some of these issues are based on the limited experience the first year starter has, but there were a plethora of plays in which a defensive end would take an outside angle and he would have absolutely no feel for the defensive player bearing down on him. Plays like the one I just described lead to lame duck passes, fumbles and injuries. Experience should correct Trubisky’s inability to feel a pocket from anywhere but in front of him, but some NFL starters are never able to learn that trait.
A real question mark I have is what happened against Duke and Virginia Tech. With only four interceptions on the year and eight over the course of three seasons in Chapel Hill, it’s safe to say that Trubisky is extremely efficient with the football. However, against Duke and Virginia Tech, he threw his entire seasons worth of picks and both games ended in Tar Heel losses. Virginia Tech was easily the worst game of his season, as he completed less than 40 percent of his passes and had no touchdowns in the 34-3 blowout. While the game was literally played in a hurricane, the biggest issue in the loss was his overall decision making and grip on the football.
Most of these issues will improve with experience, but the biggest question is how long it will take for him to develop these skills and become a viable NFL starter.
Comparing Trubisky to other NFL quarterbacks was a difficult task. The arm talent he exhibits, along with his size, screams Sam Bradford. Like Bradford, Mitch Trubisky makes quick decisions and methodically dissects opposing defenses with short and intermediate throws. After lulling the defense into a false sense of security, Trubisky will take his deep shots down the field and make the defense pay.
A simple comparison to Sam Bradford doesn’t tell the whole story, however. Unlike Bradford, Trubisky is an above average athlete for the position and will run with the football and escape pressure in the pocket. He combines his solid pocket awareness with his athleticism to extend plays and give his receivers time down the field. When Trubisky pulls down the football and decides to take off, I see some young Donovan McNabb in his game.
Consider Trubisky a combination of Sam Bradford and Donovan McNabb. While Trubisky isn’t as accurate as Bradford or athletic as McNabb, the combination of each of their skill sets shows why he is likely to be one of the first players taken in the 2017 NFL Draft if he decides to declare.
Mitch Trubisky comes away with an elite first round grade after I watched multiple games of tape from the 2016 season. Unlike other draft eligible quarterbacks, Trubisky ascended and brought his play to en elite level in his first year as a starter. Don’t be shocked to hear his name called in the first five picks with the Cleveland Browns, San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears likely to be picking near the top this coming April.
There are definitely issues with his game, namely the lack of experience and offense he plays in, but he is easily the top quarterback in this class when talking about the prototypical NFL quarterback.
Seeing where Trubisky ends up could affect his development, as each one of the aforementioned teams have offensive deficiencies beyond the quarterback position. The best fit for him may be the Cleveland Browns, as they have focused on building their receiving talent with players like Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman. The Browns also have Hue Jackson manning the helm and his work with Andy Dalton and Carson Palmer can’t be ignored because of how poorly his tenure with Cleveland has started.