Before he became synonymous with a big-city bust, Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky seemed on the verge of a breakout.
At the end of the 2018 season, his second year, Trubisky had a Pro Bowl appearance to his name (albeit as a late replacement) and a last-minute fourth-quarter playoff drive on his resume (though it ended with a Cody Parkey double-doink). During the offseason, he sat on a Bears convention panel with Jim McMahon and talked about the responsibility that comes with being the center of attention in Chicago.
At that moment — for that summer — he appeared to be the Bears’ future at quarterback.
For Justin Fields, that time is now.
By the end of this season, the Bears must decide whether to give their quarterback a nine-figure contract or to use one of their two first-round picks to do what no Chicago general manager has ever been able to do: draft the long-term answer at the most important position in sports.
Through two seasons, Trubisky and Fields have enough in common to make Bears fans nervous. Both were surprise Bears first-round picks who began their careers sitting behind a veteran redhead signed only months earlier; watched as their head coach got fired at the end of Year 1; and were given offensive gurus who had mentored the most important quarterbacks in the sport.
The Bears hope that that’s where the similarities end — that Fields’ projection heads skyward in Year 3 in a way Trubisky’s never did.
Here’s how the two compared through their first two seasons:
Through two seasons, Trubisky averaged 56 more passing yards per game than Fields. He posted a better completion percentage and threw seven more touchdowns and two fewer interceptions. Trubisky’s 87.7 passer rating tops Fields’ 79.7.
Neither, though, have been good passers.
In their second seasons, both Fields and Trubisky were among the least accurate in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus uses two grades for acceptable throws: “Accurate-plus,” when a passer puts the ball in the exact location, and “accurate,” in which a receiver doesn’t have to slow down to make a play.
Only 8.9 percent of Fields’ throws last year were graded “accurate-plus,” ranking him 32nd in the NFL. PFF graded 53.2 percent as “accurate,” which ranked 30th.
In 2018, Trubisky had 12 percent of his throws labeled “accurate-plus,” which ranked 27th. Per PFF, 56.6 percent of his throws were labeled accurate, which ranked 30th.
Fields struggled last year on balls both short and deep. His accuracy on throws for 9 yards or fewer was 10.8 percent below the league average. His throws of 20-plus yards were 12.1 percent below league average. Intermediate throws, though, were 2.2 percent better than league average.
There’s reason to believe that was at least partly a product of the Bears’ subpar roster. PFF graded Fields as the 17th-best quarterback in a clean pocket last year. Trubisky was ranked 32nd in 2018.
EDGE: Trubisky in a rock fight.
Fields does one thing better than any other quarterback in football.
He just posted of the great rushing seasons by a quarterback in the history of the sport, finishing 63 yards shy of the NFL single-season record, 1,206, set by Lamar Jackson in 2019. His 178 rushing yards against the Dolphins set the NFL record for a regular-season game.
He was the most explosive rusher in the NFL at any position. He reached 15 mph or more 98 times, the most in the league, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Trubisky sprained his right shoulder in Week 11 of his second season, forcing him to miss two games. It affected his running. He averaged 4.8 carries and 35.4 rushing yards per game before the injury and 4 carries for 13.4 in the five games afterward.
Fields’ running prowess was enough to override some — but not all — of his passing deficiencies in his first two seasons.
EDGE: Fields by a mile.
The Bears’ offensive line was nasty enough last year to anchor the league’s best rushing attack. But they were historically inept at protecting him — and Fields was too stubborn to throw the ball away at times.
Fields was sacked on 14.75 percent of his dropbacks last year, the second highest mark ever for someone who threw at least 300 passes in a season. Only Don Meredith was sacked more often — and that was in 1964, two years before the first Super Bowl.
On his career, Fields has been sacked 13.4 percent of the time — the fifth-most ever for a quarterback who threw 500 passes or more.
Trubisky was sacked 6.72 percent of the time in his first two seasons.
EDGE: Trubisky had better pass-blockers.
Trubisky won 10 more games through his two years than Fields did.
The Bears’ approach between their first and second seasons, though, explain why.
They gave Trubisky a No. 1 receiver before his second season, signing Allen Robinson to a three-year, $42 million deal. On Sept. 1, 2018 — the eve of Trubisky’s second year — the Bears traded for edge rusher Khalil Mack and signed him to a six-year, $141 million contract, a record for defensive players.
Before Fields’ second year, the Bears turtled. They traded Mack, linebacker Roquan Smith and the franchise’s single-season sacks leader, Robert Quinn. They let Robinson, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and others walk in free agency. The Bears spent a league-high $93.3 million in dead cap space, paying players on other teams $15 million more than they did their own active players.
The Bears went 12-4 in 2018 — and a league-worst 3-14 last year.
EDGE: Trubisky’s Year 2 roster had five times the talent of the 2022 Bears.
Bears fans are right to roll their eyes when they hear coaches and teammates heap praise on a player who struggles on Sundays. For years, Trubisky’s poor performances were excused away by coaches saying he was absolutely nailing the same thing he failed at in practice.
Fields appears to have the proper demeanor and work ethic for the job. Coaches tell stories about finding Fields working at Halas Hall in the middle of the spring, alone. His teammates rally around him — and not out of obligation.
None of that matters if the Bears can’t find a way to form a competent passing attack this season. But it could portend great things if he does.
We know what Trubisky became. The biggest argument for Fields is what’s to come.
That’s the hope at Halas Hall, at least.
EDGE: Fields. But we’ll see.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Comparing Justin Fields and Mitch Trubisky through their first two seasons:
Category Fields (2021-22)/Trubisky (2017-18)
Completion percentage 59.7/63.5
Passing yards per game 152.3/208.3
Passing TDs 24/31
Passer rating 79.7/87.7
Rushing yards per game 57.9/25.7
Rushing TDs 10/5