For as far back as I can remember, I’ve always looked forward to the NFL Draft. Maybe in my 9-year old brain, it was a cheap way to get football back during the doldrums of baseball. I loved the player breakdowns and being the first in my 4th-grade class to know who the 49ers took in the third round of the 1990 draft.
For years, we had to take the pundits at the word. But today, football fiends have an endless amount of information at our fingertips allowing us to savor all the little nuances of a player, or find flaws a so-called expert may have missed.
With the 49ers picking second overall next month, the speculation on who they’ll select is gathering steam. For the next few weeks, we’ll look at a variety of draft possibilities and break down a player’s strengths and weaknesses.
The next time Hollywood makes a football movie, the man with the golden arm and the boyish good looks should be Mitchell Trubisky. He’s the ideal young man to be the face of a franchise. I have no doubt a mystical deity took the time to chisel Trubisky out of wood and called upon Thor to strike Trubisky’s right arm with mighty mjölnir, giving him a thunderbolt for an arm.
Trubisky is a pure raw talent coming out of college. He’s an accurate passer with an adjusted completion percentage of 75.1 percent according to Pro Football Focus. During his three-year college career, he only threw ten interceptions in college which Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan can’t say they accomplished.
The upside of a strong arm is it allows Trubisky to get himself out of trouble when the pocket gets a bit muddy. Plus, he can zing the ball to his receivers on inside routes like digs and drives crosses.
When Trubisky is patient, he relies on his fundamentals: feet, shoulders, right hip follow-through – to deliver an accurate strike. In the games I watched, he never seemed to get overly excited or too down after a bad series or through. I have to imagine he’s a calm presence in the huddle or during four/two-minute offenses.
Despite his average depth of target being at 9.9 yards, (Source: Pro Football Focus) Trubisky completes a lot of passes behind the line of scrimmage. Short throws allow his receivers to do the work after a catch, which can help build his confidence as a rookie NFL quarterback. If he can find a system that allows him to make a short throw, he can learn the finer points of running a professional offense without getting too overwhelmed.
Like every pick in the draft, Trubisky is not without his flaws, which his NFL coaches will need to fix or find a way around. Since we know the most important part of a quarterback’s game starts at his feet, his coach should start there.
Often, when Trubisky has time in the pocket, he stands still, or he’s hopping in place. He’s not climbing the pocket or moving with his shifted protection. When these factors combine, Trubisky relies too much on his arm strength, he locks onto a receiver and throws with poor fundamentals.
Rather than install offenses with three, five and seven-step drops, many high schools, and some colleges are installing run-pass option offenses. I could be in the minority, but I’m not a fan of this system at the college or professional level. It’s one thing to make a quick throw to an uncovered receiver or pick on a bad cornerback. But it’s a bit of lazy offense, and it’s coming back to hurt Trubisky. He lacks the proper footwork to run an NFL offense on day one, and it’s going to take far more time to get him up to speed in an NFL system.
While Kyle Shanahan has plays that work for rookie quarterbacks – play-action bootlegs that cut the field in half and the number of reads – there’s no way to run this kind of offense for a full 16 games.
Trubisky’s limited on-the-field time in college is a concern. He appeared in 19 games before starting 13 games his junior year. That’s not a lot of playing time, and if he doesn’t pan out as an NFL quarterback, you can bet you’ll hear, “He should have stayed at UNC for his senior year.”
Now, we should make clear that correlation does not equal causation; Sam Bradford started every game he played in college – 31 games – and had 893 pass attempts. He’s been a below-average quarterback in the NFL. Tom Brady played in 31 games in college and only started 25 of those. He’s winning Super Bowls, dating super models, dancing carnival and selling snake oil ‘performance’ meals to brainless Patriot fans.
Football isn’t a game that goes through significant change. An out route is still an out route, though it may have different names or numbers depending on the system. But the language, speed, reads and multiple offensive shifts certainly change.
Trubisky’s lake of playing time, combined with his experience in a run-pass option offense and inconsistent feet may end up hurting his draft stock come April. Though, the Browns are known to do wild and crazy things and may take Trubisky to drag the war-torn franchise out of an old, frigid Lazarus Pit.
None of these flaws are to doubt Trubisky’s overall ability, but he’s certainly not ready to jump right in and lead an NFL team to victory. Should the 49ers take him with the second overall pick, Trubisky would do best to follow in Aaron Rodger’s shoes and learn an NFL offense from the sideline during his first two years.