The Chicago Bears secured the man they believe is their quarterback of the future when they grabbed Mitch Trubisky with the 2nd overall pick in the draft. There has been plenty of discussion about the wisdom of that move, so I am not here to add to that.
Here is what I am curious about: as a Bears fan, what can I look forward to in the next few years if Trubisky does or does not pan out?
Quarterback is the most important position in football, so it makes sense that hitting or missing on one will have a significant impact on the immediate future of the franchise. This is especially true when you have committed such a high pick – a premium resource -to a quarterback and thus are determined to give him a few years to succeed.
Thus I went back and looked at all of the quarterbacks drafted in the top 5 of the draft over the last 20 years to see how the franchise drafting them fared for the 5 years after the draft. Since I’m looking at 5 years, the most recent draft I could use was 2012, so the sample here looked at all 26 quarterbacks drafted in the top 5 between 1993 and 2012.
I roughly split the quarterbacks into hits (those who became quality long-term starters) and busts. There were two – Sam Bradford and Kerry Collins – who I didn’t think really fit either category, so I excluded them from the study. These guys stuck around for a while but didn’t always play well. It’s not fair to call them busts, but they certainly weren’t hits either, in my opinion. I found 13 quarterbacks who hit and 11 who busted (full data can be viewed here).
I tracked the team’s wins for the next 5 years after drafting a quarterback that high. Unsurprisingly, teams with quarterbacks who succeeded tended to do quite well, while teams with quarterbacks who busted tended to do quite poorly. There are all sorts of different patterns; some teams took years to do well with their new QB, while others found instant success. Some found early success and tailed off, some fluctuated, and others with QBs who ultimately ended up busting found early success and then tailed off.
There were, however, a few key markers that stood out. These are things I will be watching for from the Bears over the next 5 years.
Bad in Year One
The rookie season after drafting a QB hasn’t shown much difference for teams who’s QB will eventually bust vs. those who will ultimately find success. The average team with a QB who will ultimately hit won 6.7 games in his rookie season, while that number was 5.3 for teams with a QB who would eventually bust. With a standard deviation of >2.5 for both sets, that’s not really a difference worth noting.
Most teams are bad in their QB’s rookie year. 7/13 teams with QBs who would eventually hit won 6 or fewer games, while only 3 won 10+ (the typical threshold for a playoff team). For bust QBs, those numbers were 8 and 1 out of 11, respectively. There are certainly exceptions, but history tells us the Bears are likely going to be bad in 2017. Looking at their current roster, common sense probably tells us that too.
Big jump in year Two
Year 2 starts to be when we can see a difference between teams who drafted a good QB and teams who drafted a bust. Teams with QBs who hit jumped to an average of 9.2 wins in year 2, a level they would stay near for the remainder of the 5 seasons. 5/13 posted 10+ win seasons, while only 1 lost 10+ games.
For the teams whose QB would bust, things did not look as rosy. The average number of wins remained low at 6.0. Only 2/11 teams won 10+ games, and 8/11 lost 10 or more, just like in their rookie seasons.
10 wins by year three
By the end of three years, the team drafting a successful QB should have seen significant success. 10/13 teams in this category had at least one season winning 10+ games in the first 3 years, with 5 of them winning 10+ games at least twice in that span. In contrast, only 3/11 teams who drafted a bust won 10+ games in the first 3 years, and only 1 of them accomplished that feat twice.
10 wins at least Twice in next Five years
That repeated team success is something to look forward to if a top 5 quarterback pans out. 8 out of 13 teams who drafted a good QB won 10+ games at least twice in his first 5 years, with 7 of them-more than half the entire sample-doing so 3 or more times. A This illustrates how much fun the near future should be if Mitchell Trubisky pans out.
Of course, on the flip side is the misery the next 5 years will bring should Trubisky bust. Only 3 out of 11 teams who drafted a bust won 10+ games even once in the next 5 years, and only 1 did so twice. Teams in this group won an average of 6.2 games per year over that 5 year span, with only 2 averaging 8 or more wins per season.
Not a single team from this group won 10+ games in years 4 or 5 after drafting a bust QB, largely because that is the time when they are finally admitting the QB is a bust and starting all over again. Every bust QB got at least 2 years with the team that drafted him, with all but 1 getting at least 3. If Trubisky is a bust, the Bears likely won’t admit it until after 2019 or 2020, and then they need to go about finding their next QB and letting him grow into the job.
Based on this study, it seems reasonable to expect the Bears are going to be bad in 2017 regardless of whether Mitch Trubisky ultimately pans out or not. But 2018 should be when we can start to tell whether he will ultimately succeed or be a bust. By 2019, the Bears should have won 10+ games at least once, and they will likely do so multiple times between 2018 and 2021.
If that does not prove to be the case, it seems very likely Bears fans are in for a long next 5 years, with maybe one fluke good year but a whole lot of 6-10 (or worse) seasons coming our way.
I don’t know about any of you, but I for one have had enough of those the last 3 years (with one more likely coming in 2017). So here’s hoping Mitch Trubisky is the real deal, because I want to have fun watching the Bears again, starting in 2018.