Should the Bears draft Mac Jones if he is available at #20?
Updated: Feb 3, 2021
In a year of turbulence and uncertainty, one man towered above the rest. He was a record-setting, name-making, defense-terrorizing man in the shotgun. Who was that man you might ask? It’s none other than Heisman Trophy finalist Mac Jones.
After a redshirt freshman year, and two years on the pine watching Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts under center, Jones finally got his big shot in 2020: A full season as Alabama’s starting QB. He only had a mere four collegiate starts to his name prior to 2020, throwing for a fairly impressive 1,500 yards at a 68% clip in those limited 2019 appearances. Still, doubters and naysayers were less than enthusiastic about his 2020 chances.
But the critics were surely wrong. The kid from Jacksonville, Florida proved his worth over the course of this season. He put up over 4,000 yards with a record-setting 77% completion rate, along with 34 touchdowns and only 4 picks. According to ESPN, he had a QBR of 96 and a pass efficiency of 204, both the highest for any NCAA quarterback ever (and, I might add, higher than any quarterback in this year’s draft). He finished third in the Heisman voting, and his favorite wide receiver finished first.
Yet CBS Sports lists him as only the 25th best NFL prospect, and Todd McShay and Mel Kiper have him as the third quarterback taken, behind Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. So why are so many people projecting him to be just a late first rounder with such explosive stats? It’s because Jones is not without his question marks. For one, he is still somewhat unproven. He had only one spectacular season, whereas Lawrence and Fields both have been proven passers for a few years. He wasn’t highly touted out of high school and didn’t start for Alabama until late in his second year. And, frankly, few NFL teams selecting after Jones’ hometown Jaguars and the New York Jets in this year’s draft have outrageously glaring quarterback needs to the point that they’d have no chance of winning games in 2021 unless they address the position. However, you can definitely make the argument that Carolina should think quarterback in Round 1, and the Washington Football Team might need an immediate answer at signal-caller due to Alex Smith’s always-questionable durability in the pocket. (Try not to make general statements like “no other team.” When you make statements like that, it’s like you didn’t do your homework).
Additionally, Jones has had some off-the-field field scares, with a DUI charge in 2017 and a subsequent one-game suspension. Granted 2017 was a long time ago at the end of this teenage punk years, but still...driving under the influence is no laughing matter.
With Mac Jones currently projected as a late-first rounder, one team is undoubtedly considering taking a chance on the Heisman candidate. The Chicago Bears, after weaseling their way into the playoffs, are currently projected to pick around the 20th spot in this year’s draft. So, with Jones’ questions marks, should the problem-laden Bears draft him?
Of course, the Bears already have a quarterback they drafted number two overall four years ago. But Mitch Trubisky has been on a downward trajectory since his 2018 Pro-Bowl season. After being handed the starting job for 3 years, Trubisky entered the 2020 season in a tight battle with recently acquired Nick Foles for the starting position. He narrowly won the job, and he wound up throwing for a little over 2,000 yards on 67% accuracy and a decent 16 touchdowns and 8 picks. Not exactly MVP-caliber numbers.
Frankly, it just doesn’t seem to me like Trubisky will get much better than what he has already shown. Despite leading the Bears to the playoffs twice in his four seasons (albeit by narrow margins), his overall career has seen him ranked 28th in QBR and in the bottom ten in both passing touchdowns and interceptions. And he doesn’t fit all that well into head coach Matt Nagy’s west coast, college-style offense. Despite running a 4.67 40-yard dash, Trubisky only mustered 200 yards rushing this season in the Run Pass Option-heavy offense. He threw more deep balls in 2020 than any other quarterback, yet ranked 31st in passing yards. And at a salary hit of around $10 million a year, he is not cheap enough to excuse such rankings. Plus, GM Ryan Pace didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, so he’s an unrestricted free agent going into the spring of 2021.
It seems clear that what you see is what you get with Trubisky. He’ll be a middle-of-the-pack dude in the Bears current system, and not much more. And with transitive property logic in mind, the Bears will end up being a middle-of-the-pack team that will only occasionally surprise and squeak into the playoffs’ last open spot like they did this year.
So, in my opinion, it seems clear that it is time to depart from the North Carolina alumnus if the Bears want to do better than consistent lackluster seasons and backend wild card appearances.
But, is Mac Jones the right replacement? Can he solve the quarterback problems that have plagued Chicago for several years?
First, let’s evaluate if Jones can even fit in Nagy’s system. We know Nagy to run a college-style, RPO-heavy offense that loves the deep ball. Coincidentally, the defensive king Nick Saban was quoted this year as admitting that, in today’s college football, a good defense isn’t enough. A team needs a good offense to survive. To cope with the changing landscape, Saban has introduced more run schemes and less drop back passing situations to keep defenses on their toes. Sound familiar? The Bears employ a very similar strategy. And with Jones’ success in the Crimson Tide’s system, it is not a far leap to presume he might fare better in Chicago than Trubisky. Additionally, Jones’ arm strength has allowed him to lead the country in yards per attempt with 11.3, so when Nagy wants a deep ball, Jones can deliver. Mac Jones would almost certainly be a good fit for the Bears’ offense.
However, if George McCaskey and the Bears want to learn from their previous mistakes, they have to figure out which head coach and general manager works best for the Bears. Is the answer Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy? It’s too soon to tell, but that GM-head coach pairing has been anything but a sure thing. The Bears have looked better down the stretch, but a six-game losing streak earlier in the year saw this offense look even worse than when Lovie Smith led the charge on the sidelines.
So if George McCaskey and President Ted Phillips like Mac Jones, they’ll need to find a head coach that can definitely work well with Jones. (Think Sean McVay and Jared Goff). Furthermore, does Phillips trust Ryan Pace after the shaky decisions he’s made since 2015? My point is the Bears have a lot of decisions to make, especially if they get embarrassed on Sunday to the New OR-lins Saints.
But it’s not just about Mac Jones, because the Bears have other options. With the 20th pick, Virginia Tech offensive tackle Christian Darrisaw will likely be available and could shore up Chicago’s ailing offensive line. Another quarterback prospect in Florida’s Kyle Trask will likely be available: Not only in the first round, but possibly in the mid-round as well. There has also been some talk that the Bears could look to acquire a veteran RPO-style quarterback like Teddy Bridgewater or Marcus Mariota this offseason as well.
The thing is the Bears have to be aggressive if they want a QB in the first two rounds. Atlanta could draft the QB of the future, and the Detroit Lions are heavily rumored to move on from Matthew Stafford in the offseason. Combine that with the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots not being happy with their current quarterback situations, and you have a pickle in Chicago. It’s a perplexing situation where Chicago has to determine if a veteran or rookie is the best fit for their offense of the future.
However, it seems to me that: (a), Jones is a better athlete with a higher upside than Kyle Trask, and (b), the Bears might be better off investing in their future glory than working to simply fill holes for the short term. Sure, a Mariota or Christian Darrisaw might provide a moderate boost to an ailing team, but very rarely do veteran quarterback signings or offensive line picks convert a decent team into a great one overnight. The teams we now think of as Super Bowl contenders, like the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers, found their franchise quarterback in the draft. In fact, almost every dynasty I can think of was built on the backs of draft giants, like Tom Brady’s Patriots, Drew Brees’ Saints, and even Dan Marino’s Dolphins and Joe Montana’s 49ers.
And that brings me to my next point: While most Super Bowl champion quarterbacks are former first-rounders, you can find great ones later on in the draft. So if Ryan Pace (or the new general manager) isn’t sold on Jones in the first round, there’s a chance that Kyle Trask or whoever else might become their Drew Brees, Joe Montana, Russell Wilson, or Tom Brady of the future. That’s because Brees, Montana, Wilson, and Brady are non-first rounders.
I don’t mean to sound blasphemous by comparing Trask to Brady. All I’m saying is you don’t have to reach for your signal-caller. For every Josh Allen in the draft, there’s a Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel, Blaine Gabbert, and others who will doom your team’s future for years to come because you reached for a QB when you could’ve filled another hole on your roster.
So, if the Bears ever want to make the leap from good to great, they have to continue to try to find greatness in the draft. How do they find that greatness on draft day? Well, it’s a combination of factors. 1) Going with your gut feeling. 2) Evaluating what the scouts tell you. 3) Looking at their combine results. 4) Looking at next-level statistics to see if a prospect breaks tackles, dominates from the line of scrimmage, can get the ball out quick, etc.
Will Mac Jones fill all 4? It is hard to say. But with his impressive 9-start resume and likely fit into the Chicago system, I really think it will be worth the gamble for the Bears to take a chance on the Nick Saban product. Or, of course, the Bears could stay the course and hope Trubisky magically turns into a Chicago hero. Take your pick.