32 for 32: Is Mitch Trubisky the Next Carson Wentz?
Mitch Trubisky is poised to take a giant sophomore leap much like Carson Wentz did last season. In my debut article “Three Reasons to Buy Carson Wentz Early in 2017”, I explained why you should fade the public naysayers and believe in a sophomore season breakout for Wentz. I feel the same way about Mitch Trubisky that it’s almost eerie.
It may sound foolish to make such a claim, but there are just too many similarities for me to ignore. Trubisky and Wentz are similar prospects, with similar production, and similar situations.
Trubisky was only a one-year starter before forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL Draft, while Wentz had his breakout season for North Dakota State as a junior but saw his senior season cut short due to a broken wrist. Both finished with strikingly similar collegiate production, although Trubisky did it in Division I and in 11 fewer games.
*Tables are from Pro Football Reference.
Both Wentz and Trubisky offer the size that the NFL typically covets at the quarterback position. Wentz is taller at 6-foot-5, and weighs 237 pounds. Trubisky is a bit stockier and is listed at 6-foot-3, 222 pounds. Both are within the ideal size range for NFL quarterbacks.
While Wentz and Trubisky are the prototypical size, they are not just pocket quarterbacks due to their above-average athleticism. Trubisky ran a faster 40 time (4.67 compared to Wentz’s 4.77). Wentz has a slight edge in burst and agility, though. They both have a play-making gunslinger mentality but are not afraid to tuck it and run when necessary — the perfect combination for utilizing the Run-Pass Option (RPO).
The Situation — Started from the Bottom
Wentz and Trubisky both came into the league in similar fashion — both the Bears and Eagles traded up to the second overall pick to select their franchise quarterback. Unfortunately for quarterbacks getting picked at the top of the first round, they are usually drafted by losing teams with below-average talent on their roster.
Wentz Had it Bad
The Eagles had a strong offensive line (until Lane Johnson’s 10 game suspension), Zach Ertz, and a serviceable “big-slot” receiver in Jordan Matthews, but outside of them, they had a then-struggling Nelson Agholor (at the time graded out as PFF’s worst WR two years in a row), and the enigmatic Dorial Green-Beckham who is now out of the league. The Eagles were tops in league drops. It’s no surprise Wentz was only able to muster 0.34 fantasy points per dropback in his rookie year (33rd in the NFL).
Trubisky Had it Worse
As bad as Wentz had it as a rookie, Trubisky had it worse. Much worse. While the Bears boasted a talented backfield in Jordan Howard and electric satellite back, Tarik Cohen, they had arguably the worst pass-catchers in the NFL. Trubisky’s leading receivers were Kendall Wright, Josh Bellamy, and Dontrelle Inman. His athletic, starting tight end, Zach Miller, broke his leg in a gruesome injury that likely ended his career. Last but least, former first-round receiver Kevin White did what he always does — not play. It should shock no one that Trubisky struggled as a rookie with such a pedestrian supporting cast, averaging only 0.38 fantasy points per dropback (28th in the NFL).
In Wentz’s sophomore season, the Eagles were aggressive in surrounding Wentz with more talent. They added a field-stretcher in Torrey Smith, traded for running back Jay Ajayi, but their most significant upgrade was acquiring an alpha receiver for their young franchise quarterback in Alshon Jeffrey. Equipped with upgraded weapons on offense, Wentz jumped from 0.34 fantasy points per dropback to 0.57 (tied for second in the NFL with Cam Newton).
Borrowing the Eagles Blueprint
Heading into Trubisky’s sophomore season, the Bears have smartly followed a similar path but have been even more aggressive. The Bears completely overhauled their pass-catchers, most notably signing former Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson. In addition to ARob, they signed hyper-efficient and athletic move tight end Trey Burton to be Matt Nagy’s Kelce-lite, allowing 6-foot-6, 270-pound second-round pick Adam Shaheen to be the in-line tight end. The Bears also brought in an electric field-stretcher in Taylor Gabriel and invested a second-round pick in versatile and talented rookie WR Anthony Miller. In addition to the skill position upgrades, Ryan Pace and Nagy invested a top-40 pick in Iowa’s C/G James Daniels to keep Trubisky’s jersey clean. Kudos to Nagy and Pace for executing their offseason plan to perfection.
Out with the Old: John Fox and Dowell Loggains
I suppose John Fox and Ryan Pace deserve some credit, too, for trading up to the second overall pick to land Mitch Trubisky. However, they did just about everything wrong after that.
Instead of building his offense around Trubisky and leveraging his mobility, big-arm, and play-making ability, he opted to put his quarterback in handcuffs by running a vanilla offense. Fox was so predictable that a frustrated Jordan Howard opened-up to the NFL Network that opposing teams “knew what was coming, like, every play.” Howard wasn’t wrong. The Bears ran the ball at the seventh-highest rate in the NFL, while finishing dead last in passing attempts and yards.
In With the New: Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich
The Bears’ best offseason addition wasn’t a player, it was hiring Matt Nagy to be their new head coach. The Bears seem to be trying to replicate what Doug Pederson did with Carson Wentz and Nick Foles. It’s no coincidence that Pederson and Nagy are from the same Andy Reid coaching tree. Nagy and Pederson coached under Reid in Kansas City before Pederson left for Philadelphia. Nagy followed suit after being Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator.
Mark Helfrich, the heir to Chip Kelly’s thrown, was known for running one of the most efficient and fast-paced offenses in college football during his time in Oregon. In four seasons, Oregon averaged 42.6 points per game and 536.7 yards per game, which ranked second and third among FBS schools, during Helfrich’s tenure.
The Handcuffs Are Off
It may sound logical for a coaching staff to cater to their quarterback’s strengths, but Fox and Loggains failed to do so. Evan Silva astutely pointed out that Trubisky played almost exclusively out of the shotgun while playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels, yet Fox and Loggains only utilized shotgun on just half of his snaps. Nagy and Helfrich should easily boost that number.
No wonder Trubisky is excited for Nagy’s new offense, and you can tell from the following quote:
“I really feel I was built for this offense,” Trubisky said on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. “And it’s just dynamic, it’s creative, and it’s also balanced. And that’s what you want. We’re going to get the ball out quick. We’re going to deceive the defenses, and we’re going to spread the field, and we’re going to get (the ball) all over to our playmakers. We’re going to be balanced. We’re going to play fast. We’re going to be dynamic. And we’re going to stretch the field every which way. I just feel like this offense is going to utilize my talents more and the players we have around me. And hopefully, we can just get it rolling from there. So, I’m excited to keep diving in and keep working.”
More Run-Pass Options = More Fantasy Points
Nagy knows how to scheme his offense around an athletic quarterback. One of the easiest ways to leverage a quarterback’s athleticism is to incorporate more Run-Pass Options (aka RPO). The Eagles ran the most RPOs of any team in the NFL while the Chiefs finished second. It’s no coincidence that Alex Smith had by far his best fantasy season of his career under Nagy — finishing as the QB2 and hitting exactly 60 rushing attempts. It is also noteworthy that Wentz had 64 rushing attempts in just 13 games (4.92 attempts per game). That may not seem significant, but 60 rushing attempts is a fantasy cheat code.
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All things being equal, I’m looking for rushing upside in my fantasy quarterbacks. The one and only, Rich Hribar coined this phenomenon as “The Konami Code” because it raises both the floor and ceiling of fantasy quarterbacks. Especially if they reach the magic threshold of 60 attempts. Trubisky should be able to get there since he had 41 rushing attempts in 12 games (3.42 per game) and should see his raw snap count and RPO totals rise in 2018. It is worth noting that Alex Smith finished with exactly 60 rushes last season (4.0 attempts per game).
Nagy’s Offensive Offense
Nagy is aggressive and is always looking for ways to exploit mismatches and keep defenses on their heels. “We’re going to always attack you downfield,” Nagy said. “We’re going to make sure that you understand you can’t just sit there at 10 to 12 yards and just wait for these intermediate throws to be thrown. We’re going to go downfield, and we’re going to test you. Not every ball is going to be complete, and that’s okay. It’s going to stretch the defense.”
An aggressive offense is exactly what Trubisky needs. According to PFF, he was ranked third in QB rating when throwing deep (20+ yards), despite only attempting 9.1 percent of his pass attempts (fifth-lowest of starting QBs). Although it was a small sample size, it is encouraging to see Trubisky finish ahead of quarterbacks such as Kirk Cousins, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, and Carson Wentz in any category.
In addition to having a drastically improved coaching staff and receiving core Trubisky has the fifth-softest passing schedule, according to NFL analytics wizard Warren Sharp. One could argue that his schedule is even easier than it looks due to Seattle losing Richard Sherman, the Cardinals reportedly not planning on using Patrick Peterson to shadow this season, and luckily, we don’t have to worry about Minnesota’s defense in Week 17 since the fantasy playoffs will be over by then.
While I am all in on Trubisky having a breakout season there is a greater than zero percent chance he falls short of my expectations. Expecting such improvement from a second-year quarterback who at times struggled with accuracy (finished below 60% completion rate) and decision making (1:1 TD-to-INT ratio) isn’t exactly +EV. It is also possible that the Bears struggle, especially early in the season, with a young rookie coach, young QB, and new receivers (especially ARob, who hasn’t played since tearing his ACL in Week 1 of last season) in their first year together.
Low Risk – High Reward Investment
Even if Trubisky doesn’t reach his ceiling in year two, the best part about buying now is there is minimal risk and a potentially high reward for your investment. Recently his price has started to climb (visual via @beerswater/Best Ball Command Center), but you can still frequently draft him in rounds 13 to 15. Sometimes later if you’re lucky.
If Trubisky has the breakout season I expect, we should have been drafting him in the single digit-rounds next season, much like Carson Wentz. That would be a hefty return on your best-ball, dynasty, or redraft investment.
Taking a Stand
Mitch Trubisky’s rookie year was underwhelming, but the talent and potential are there. Much like Carson Wentz in 2017, the table is set for Trubisky to take a major leap in his sophomore NFL season. A forward-thinking offensive coaching staff, upgraded receiving core, and a soft defensive schedule could unlock Trubisky’s highest range of outcomes — becoming the next Carson Wentz.