Going Deep: No-Risky Trubisky
In fantasy drafts this year, I want to see if I can Frankenstein a Patrick Mahomes without the premium investment by exploiting the attractive matchups of two signal callers. To do that, I need to find two undervalued assets I can target later in drafts after I’ve filled out the rest of my roster. Ideally, I’ll pair a steady vet like Philip Rivers that traditionally gets discounted at the draft table with a more volatile asset that could explode to the top of the rankings. It’s how I acquired shares of Mahomes last year – in a platoon with no expectations of the MVP season.
The early favorite to serve as the volatile asset this year is Mitchell Trubisky, the Chicago Bears 3rd-year signal caller. Early Average Draft Position (ADP) results are stunning as Trubisky is the 22nd signal-caller off the board, leaving him essentially free on draft day and falling to free agency in some leagues. This is the guy who finished 11th in fantasy points per game at the position despite a slow start in a new offensive system and a minor shoulder injury that impacted the last part of his season. You just have to ask yourself when you look at a glass if it’s half empty or half full.
Starting with the Week 4 demolition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Trubisky’s standard scoring looked like this: 55, 31, 33, 25, 8, 39, 10 (injury). That plays. He missed two games against the Lions and Giants, which would have likely burnished his resume and left fantasy gamers with a better taste in their mouths. As it stands, Trubisky is a bargain.
Maybe people expect Trubisky to regress in his second year in the Matt Nagy system. This seems antithetical to basic football knowledge that a QB typically shows significant gains in year two of an offense, but that’s the sentiment that gets tossed around. Maybe owners think the Bears are going to be so good that the Bears will never need to throw the ball or that Chicago home games will all be played in gale force winds – I’m not sure either of those is worth worrying about. We’re interested in exploiting market inefficiencies and this one is ripe for the picking.
The Case for Trubisky
The North Carolina product came into the league with little collegiate experience in a John Fox philosophy that demanded even less of the QB. Case in point was the 17-3 win against the Carolina Panthers where Trubisky completed 4 of 7 passes. That is not a typo – in a game the Bears won, Trubisky only attempted seven passes while playing the entire game. In that sense, Trubisky’s 2018 fantasy draft position was understandable in that he went largely undrafted or was a late round speculation buy.
General Manager Ryan Pace tried to change all that when he brought in creative play caller Matt Nagy to be the team’s newest Head Coach. What followed was an impressive restocking of the shelves with free agent acquisitions Allen Robinson II, a viable WR1 coming off an ACL injury, Taylor Gabriel, a speedy outside threat, and Trey Burton, the clever move tight end of “Philly Special” fame. Anthony Miller, a competitive rookie out of Memphis, added an underneath element from the slot position and Tarik Cohen found joy in a system designed to take advantage of his explosive play ability. All in all, this is the best set of Chicago Bears playmakers in, well, that’s not a great history so let’s just agree it’s a viable set of playmakers at Trubisky’s disposal.
All of this added up to a solid, if unspectacular, sophomore campaign. The good news for 2019, as far as the Bears and Trubisky are concerned, is that they added rookie David Montgomery, a better fit at running back to this offense, and a sure-handed receiver named Riley Ridley to compete as a fourth wideout. Every other starter, including an excellent pass blocking offensive line, is back and healthy.
Let’s start off with a player comparison, shall we?
The closest cousins to Nagy’s system are Andy Reid’s Chiefs and Doug Pederson’s Eagles. I’m not going to use Mahomes as a comp – he’s vaulted himself into another stratosphere – but Alex Smith and Carson Wentz are fair game. Player A is Carson Wentz during his rookie campaign in 2016, his first with Pederson.
Player B is Alex Smith during his first campaign with Matt Nagy as the primary offensive coach under Andy Reid (2016), which leaves Trubisky as Player C last season (2018), his first with Nagy. Smith and Trubisky’s seasons are prorated to 16 games to give a fair comparison to Wentz. What should jump out more than anything is that Trubisky stacks up well against these two players in every category.
So what happens in the second year with Wentz under Pederson and Smith under Reid / Nagy? Again, the numbers are prorated to 16 games to account for injury.
Both 2017 campaigns saw a significant jump in yards, yards per completion, and TDs while cutting down on the interception rate. For both players, that meant taking more shots down the field as the passing game opened up while actually taking better care of the ball. So let’s get back to Trubisky.
With a modest gain in YPC and TDs, Trubisky’s hypothetical 2019 looks pretty good (projections are my own).
As a pure passer, that puts Trubisky somewhere in the #10 range in the yardage and completions categories while slightly higher for TD rate. All of this is before we get to the X Factor.
The Kid Can Run
We can put quarterbacks in one of three buckets: those that only run as a last resort (Rivers, Drew Brees), those that can run when the play breaks down (Aaron Rodgers, Baker Mayfield), and those that are legitimate threats as runners. Of those quarterbacks that might be considered in the final bucket, only eight averaged over 20 yards per game on the ground last season.
Two of those players – Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson – will set up interesting value propositions of their own but don’t project to bring enough to the passing game to outweigh Trubisky in the Matt Nagy system. The remaining six players listed below are sorted by yards per game in 2018:
I would imagine that the only surprising name might be Jameis Winston as he had much greater success on the ground in 2018 than in his first 3 seasons. The other names – Cam Newton, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Marcus Mariota – will be of no surprise. Trubisky’s name might surprise some but it shouldn’t.
Trubisky is gifted with his legs and averaged more yards per carry than anyone on this list. Because of this, Nagy will call designed runs for Trubisky with regularity and he can tuck the ball and run to extend drives when pass plays break down as needed. That skill is worth an extra couple of bonus points per week that can come in handy. When he hits pay dirt, it can be the difference between a close win and a close loss.
Adding in a similar output on the ground to the projected passing stats moves Trubisky up to solid QB1 territory if all goes well. Given where you can get him on draft day, you can still hedge your bets with another QB you like to mitigate any perceived risks.
For example, you could set aside rounds 9 and 10 for this strategy and pick up Rivers or Tom Brady before nabbing Trubisky, comfortably before his ADP. This allows you to fill your RB, WR, TE, and top backup slots before addressing the position. For what it’s worth, I’d do the same thing for Carson Wentz or Cam Newton by pairing them with a steady presence.
And for those of you that like to think way ahead, the Bears host the Chiefs and their Swiss cheese defense when championship trophies are handed out in week 16. In a year where the Bears have championship aspirations of their own, Trubisky may be the underrated asset you need to hoist a virtual trophy of your own.
Featured image by Nathan Mills (@NathanMillsPL on Twitter)