Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson are in the NFL playoffs for the second consecutive season, playing against each other in the AFC divisional round. While the Chiefs and Texans won their divisions again, Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears didn’t qualify for a return to the playoffs, finishing behind both the Packers and Vikings in the NFC North.
All three quarterbacks were taken in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. As time goes by and Mahomes and Watson increasingly look like much better NFL players, the question remains: How did the Bears take Trubisky (No. 2 overall) over both Mahomes (No. 10 overall) and Watson (No. 12 overall)?
Here’s quick look back at how it went down.
Why the Bears drafted Mitchell Trubisky
Then third-year general manager Ryan Pace was the driving force behind the Trubisky selection. With 49ers GM John Lynch in attendance for Trubisky’s pro day at North Carolina, they looked like the team most interested. Instead, Chicago made San Francisco an offer it couldn’t refuse to trade up from No. 3 overall to No. 2: that pick, two third-rounders over two years and a fourth-rounder.
There were different questions about Trubisky, Mahomes and Watson going into the draft. For Trubisky, those concerns were mainly about his limited college starting experience. In terms of arm, pocket awareness, accuracy and athleticism, Trubisky checked the most boxes with his tape and workouts. Mahomes had the bigger arm. Watson had the championship-winning pedigree.
The perception was Mahomes was a bit raw coming out of Texas Tech. The knock on Watson was that he needed to become more consistent, related to his delivery and accuracy. Some teams also were uncomfortable catering to his running ability.
Bears coach John Fox was a big presence at Watson’s pro day, where Clemson coach Dabo Swinney sold Watson as “Michael Jordan.” But between signing Mike Glennon to a big deal as a bridge QB and a real debate on whether Trubisky, Mahomes, Watson or Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer was the best QB prospect in the class, Chicago wasn’t seen as a team locked into addressing the position so early.
Pace, knowing the Bears’ recent revolving-door history at quarterback, wanted the stability with which he became familiar while working as the Saints’ director of player personnel. Trubisky was impressive enough in the most ways at the time for Pace to think he could as efficient as Drew Brees.
Fox was headed toward being replaced after one more season, so the near future won over the immediate present. Glennon, as expected, proved he was badly overpaid. Trubisky started 12 games, hinting at his promise despite a shaky supporting cast.
Mahomes enjoyed a meteoric rise up the draft boards, and there was a boom-or-bust feeling with him. There was sound reasoning for the Bears to go with Trubisky as their “safest” pick between a few unknown quantities.
The Bears made the 2018 offseason all about lifting Trubisky, as they hired Matt Nagy to replace Fox and then invested free-agent and draft capital into significantly upgrading the receiving corps. Pace backed up his Trubisky pick as Sporting News’ Executive of the Year. Trubisky passed and ran the Bears to a division title, but it was overshadowed by Mahomes becoming the runaway NFL MVP in his first season starting in Year 2.
Trubisky and Nagy have not meshed, and for some reason, Trubisky reined in his running skills to his detriment in 2019. He is now facing a make-or-break fourth season to determine his status moving forward in Chicago.
Why the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes
Nagy was still in Kansas City as Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator during the 2017 draft. John Dorsey was still the GM before being fired later in the offseason. Brett Veach, before being promoted to replace Dorsey, was the co-director of player personnel.
That four-man combination made the Chiefs the team the most enamored with Mahomes.
Dorsey once saw the rifle of Brett Favre work for him in Green Bay, and Mahomes’ arm proved to be comparable. Veach vouched most for Mahomes after warming up to his massive pro-ready talent early in the draft process. Reid accepted how Mahomes could master his offense with his accuracy and his athleticism. Like Mahomes, Nagy was a confident, prolific, high-volume downfield college passer at Delaware. The stars aligned for Mahomes to get his shot in Kansas City.
The Chiefs had the luxury of already having a playoff team and a strong veteran QB solution with Alex Smith. They were aggressive, too, in trading up to get Mahomes, giving up the No. 27 overall pick, a third-rounder and a 2018 first-rounder to move up all the way to No. 10.
In recent drafts, quarterback boards have varied from team to team based how they feel a particular player can fit their offensive system and philosophy, rather than a pure ranking of QBs. The Bears’ and Chiefs’ front offices simply were called to different QBs.
In reality, the Bears didn’t pass on Mahomes because he didn’t really get the consideration Trubisky did. Had the Chiefs been the ones picking first, Mahomes would have gone ahead of Trubisky.
Why the Texans drafted Deshaun Watson
The Texans had an affinity for taking players from Clemson (DeAndre Hopkins, first round in 2013) and South Carolina (Jadeveon Clowney, first overall in 2014) high in recent drafts. Late team owner Bob McNair was a native of North Carolina and went to South Carolina.
Watson got plenty of attention for dominating in the Palmetto State, leading Clemson to the 2016 national championship and having a stellar individual college career that fell just of a Heisman Trophy. The Texans also aggressively traded up to No. 12 by giving up No. 25 and a 2018 first-rounder to the Browns to make sure they got Watson.
Now former GM Rick Smith was all over scouting Watson and what the QB could bring to Houston with off-the-charts intangibles to go with a special skill set, much like Veach was with Mahomes and Pace was with Trubisky. Coach Bill O’Brien buying into Watson as a potential prized pupil was huge, because we know what has happened since Watson as a rookie quickly displaced Tom Savage as starter.
Knowing what we know now about all three QBs, 20-20 hindsight says the order would have been Mahomes, Watson, Trubisky. Because NFL drafting is an inexact science based on prospect projections, the Bears did their best based on the information they had.
The bottom line: Between quarterbacks like Mahomes, Watson, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, NFL teams thinking outside the box and more about upside has rewarded them. There’s no such thing as a safe pick at the league’s most important position.