There are two current sets of commercials that really tickle me.
Interestingly enough, they are both commercials from the same insurance company. First up are the Baker Mayfield Progressive commercials, where they treat FirstEnergy Stadium as his home. As someone who recently moved into a new house, the version where he is trying to ascertain which smoke alarm is chirping hits home.
Another that hits home are the Progressive commercials with the tagline “we can’t stop you from becoming your parents…” I have to admit, as a man on the cusp of turning 43, with two children of my own, there are moments where my mind flashes back to things my parents told me, as I see myself doing the very things or saying the very things to my children. For example, I remember my parents telling me on yet another occasion when I needed to clean my room that “when you grow up you’ll be cleaning after your kids all the time, and you’ll always be harping on them to clean up.”
At the time, I laughed it off. I loved the idea of a “lived-in look” so to speak.
Monday, with the kids home from school due to a dusting of snow in the Maryland suburbs of DC (seriously, we need to talk about how Maryland handles winter weather), I found myself flashing back to those moments as I hurriedly cleaned up behind them.
There is of course another lesson from my parents that I am sure many of you heard from your parents as well: Everything in life is a lesson, even the mistakes.
This week, Ryan Pace and the Chicago Bears face perhaps the biggest “what if” of their current state of play, when Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs come to town. They will face another next season when the Bears square off against the AFC South teams ... including Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans.
What could have been.
However, instead of dwelling on how the Bears would fare with either Watson or Mahomes, let’s try and make this productive. Building off the lessons of our parents, let’s turn this into a learning experience. What lessons can be learned about the quarterback evaluation process by the Bears’ decision back in 2017?
Let’s look at each of these three quarterbacks and see what lessons we can extrapolate.
Patrick Mahomes - Scout the Traits Not the Scheme
Think back to Mahomes and his pre-draft process. Often times, the “negatives” or “weaknesses” present in a profile of him centered on the offense he was playing in at Texas Tech. For example, in one such writeup it was stated that “...Mahomes does indeed face the steep learning curve that comes with a transition from Texas Tech’s system to the NFL. He will have to adjust to working under center, at least on occasion, while digesting reads and coverages.” Another read “Mahomes played in a spread offense at Texas Tech. At its core, the spread offense is incredibly simple. It looks to create mismatches and outnumber defenders, with the quarterback only having to read small parts of the field. In the NFL, you have to be able to see the entire field.” A third read that again, Mahomes faces a “[s]teep learning curve coming from the Texas Tech spread/wide open system.”
Putting aside for a moment that those reports understated the complexity of the Texas Tech offense (something that was highlighted in this pre-draft profile, or in this piece by Doug Farrar where he sat down with the quarterback to watch film) these criticisms more than anything else go to the scheme fit of the player.
They also gloss over the traits that Mahomes displayed in college. The incredible arm talent. The ability to make any throw from any platform. The willingness to be aggressive and challenge windows in the passing game that would terrify most other college quarterbacks...yet are the kinds of windows you face regularly in the NFL. All of the things about Mahomes that caused some to label him a “gunslinger” and a passer who was overly aggressive, are the traits that make him the coverboy of Madden 20, and one of the game’s brightest young stars.
The scheme fit matters, and understanding what the QB was asked to do in college is worth studying. But more importantly is what the player does from a trait-based perspective. If he is a special enough quarterback, he will fit in almost any system. Getting caught up in what he was asked to do in college might not matter, if you will be asking him to do something different in the NFL. Or, perhaps more critically important, is this question: Is he so good at what he does in the college game that you’d be wise to adapt your offense to what he is used to doing?
Deshaun Watson - Competitive Toughness Matters
It sure does.
As I often do, I would like to turn to the wisdom of others to make this point. Relying on various coaching clinic presentations as outlined in Coaching Quarterbacks: By the Experts (Second and Third Edition), we can hear things like the following:
“The quarterback has to be a leader. He has to be your coach on the field. He is the person you trust with the football every single play. His job is to make everyone else successful, and when things break down, he has to make a play...The great quarterbacks are not the ones who have the most talent. They are the ones in the huddle who show leadership and confidence. They get the players on their team to play better than they are.”
-Mike Bellotti, Former Head Coach, University of Oregon
“Another key attribute for quarterbacks is being a positive leader. He has to be an encourager, not a discourager. Probably the number one thing I talk to quarterbacks about is to be an encourager of other people. I have heard coaches talk about their team having a chance to be good, if only their quarterback had some leadership ability. We teach ‘leadership’ the same way we teach the quarterback to read cover 3 or cover 2. It takes no special ability to be an encourager of his teammates. The quarterback is a player who is looked up to and a person who typically gets much of the glory on your team. If he is constantly encouraging his teammates, he is building respect for himself on the team.”
-Todd Dodge, Head Coach, Carroll High School (TX)
“I can’t stress enough to you the importance of the leadership attribute. Is he going to be a leader? This may be the most important point here. Is he going to be consistent in everything he does, both on and off the field? Many of you are teachers. Many of your best leaders are the students that you never hear about. They are never in trouble. They are not sitting in the office for some discipline problem. Is he a leader in drills? Is he the first to finish? Is he going to be the person who makes sure everyone is on time for practice and class? Is he the player who is going to finish the last rep when no one is watching? That is what we are looking for. In the end, he must be a leader on and off the field.”-David Huffine, Head Coach, Chaparral High School (AZ)
“He must be a competitor. He must hate to lose. He must be competitive in practice. He must be ready to compete in all phases of the game. He must be confident. He must have confidence to the borderline of being cocky. He must inspire confidence in his teammates. He must have credibility. We hear the expression, ‘You’re the man.’ In football, the quarterback must be The Man. His teammates must believe in him. When it is third-and-six on the last drive and you must stick the ball in the end zone, the team must believe in him.”
-Bobby Lamb, Head Coach, Mercer University
“Many people do not think about toughness at the quarterback position, but we believe the quarterback has to be the toughest player on the field. I think it requires more toughness to stand in the pocket, knowing you are going to take a shot and deliver the ball, than it is to come downhill and hit a ballcarrier. I played quarterback, and I know it takes a lot of courage to stand in and take the shot after you have been hit a number of times...The next area involves the most difficult parts of evaluating a quarterback. These are the million-dollar questions as to whether a quarterback will be successful or not. These are the things you cannot see on a film. They are the intangibles in a quarterback. The first quarterback intangible that we consider is his drive to be the best. We look for the quarterback who comes in every day trying to figure out the game of football. He has the inner drive to work every day to get better. I believe the quarterback must have that more than any other position. There is so much that has to get done at that position, that if he does not have the inner drive, he cannot succeed...The next intangible factor is leadership. Everyone talks about leadership. However, you must study and clearly understand leadership before you can develop it...Leadership to us is helping your team and other players achieve their goals. That is our definition of leadership...We want our toughest most competitive player with the ball in his hands on every play. I love to see what those players are all about. I like to hear his coaches talk about how competitive he is. They will tell you he is the worst loser you ever want to be around. It does not matter whether he plays ping-pong, TiddlyWinks, Monopoly, or football, he does not like to lose.”
-Chris Petersen, Head Coach, University of Washington
Petersen outlines the importance of the intangibles in this clinic discussion, and he also outlines the difficulty in identifying these traits on film. You might not always be able to glean a quarterback’s toughness, competitive nature or leadership abilities no matter how much film you watch of that player. However, there are moments you can identify, or situations that test the player, that can help illuminate these issues.
For example, whenever I study a quarterback I try and watch games against elite competition, games on the road, games in adverse weather conditions, and games where the quarterback’s team loses. How does the player handle those situations? Is the player still fighting until the very last snap, or does the QB seem to pack it in as the going gets tough? Does the player look to fight through adverse conditions, or adversity on the field?
Enter Deshaun Watson.
Often the scouting process leads you to an indelible moment. An image or a play that is seared into your memory. During the 2017 draft process one that was always on my mind was the image of Watson against Alabama, getting helicoptered by Reuben Foster, the Crimson Tide linebacker, on a third down in the National Championship Game. Putting everything on the line, including his physical well-being, to deliver his team a victory.
Read back through these quotes with that image in mind.
It is easy to get caught up in things like arm strength, velocity, radar gun numbers, interceptions and some other things we notice on film or in data to discount a quarterback prospect. But inherent in the position is the ability to lead. To inspire those around you. Watson might not have hit 55 mph on the gun at the Combine. Perhaps he threw too many interceptions in college. Yet he elevated the level of play in those around him.
At a bare minimum, it is worth sitting down with him to hear more.
Mitchell Trubisky - So Does Experience
Turning to Trubisky, if there is a lesson to be learned from his draft process, perhaps it is this: Experience matters too.
The Bill Parcells rules for drafting a quarterback might be tougher and tougher to satisfy, with so many passers leaving school early. That makes it difficult to check these boxes: Start 30 games, and win 23. Many prospects are leaving school before they can possibly hit either of those thresholds.
But Trubisky stands out in that he was a one-year starter in college. Dating back to 2000, quarterbacks with such few time as “the guy” have enjoyed mixed results in the NFL. Mark Sanchez was one example. Cam Newton is another (although he did have time in junior college as a starter where he led Blinn College to the NJCAA National Championship). Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins are still writing their stories as we speak.
So is Trubisky.
Now I do not want to go down the path of “how good can he be, he did not beat out Marquise Williams in college.” That is an unfair criticism. Williams was a popular player in UNC’s locker room and try as we might, this is not simply Madden where the players are just names on a screen. See the previous point: Leadership matters.
But one season as a starter limits the number of live, in-game reps that a quarterback can experience before entering the NFL. That is going to steepen the developmental curve for them as they acclimate to life in the league.
Meaning that the organization needs to have a clear path in place for how they are going to handle his transition. From a scheme fit perspective, from a coaching staff perspective, from a personnel perspective, to everything else you can think of.
Did Chicago have that in place for Trubisky? Certainly not during his rookie season. Perhaps they put that in place with the hiring of Matt Nagy, but some recent frustrations with play-calling, expressed this week by the quarterback himself, lead me to question the current support system around the passer.
Without the backdrop of personal experience to rely on, the young quarterback needs critical assistance from those around him to be successful.
Pace will, rightly or wrongly, be judged on the decision to pass on Mahomes and Watson to select Trubisky. Whether that decision ultimately costs him his job in Chicago remains to be seen. But assuming Pace eventually gets another opportunity to try and find a potential franchise quarterback, he needs to take some hard lessons from how he handled this process, and what he can learn from each passer, to heart the next time he goes down the QB evaluation road.