One of the hottest names heading into the 2017 NFL Draft is Mitch Trubisky out of North Carolina, who’s been pegged as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick in 2017 if he declares.
The young gunslinger was on display Friday in the Sun Bowl, where he was pitted against the Stanford Cardinal — a team that features a pass defense more than capable of making life difficult on opposing quarterbacks.
Needing a strong performance to justify his pre-draft hype, Trubisky had an extremely uneven outing during the team’s 25-23 loss.
It didn’t look like things would turn sour, however. He got off to a tremendous start on the Tar Heels’ first offensive possession, going 2-of-3 on that drive for 34 yards and a gorgeous touchdown strike to Ryan Switzer.
— Rob Rang (@RobRang) December 30, 2016
As fantastic as this first drive was for the redshirt junior, he was just as bad a couple drives later when he threw the ball right to Stanford safety Dallas Lloyd, who was playing robber in the middle of the field.
— Rob Rang (@RobRang) December 30, 2016
Trubisky’s decision making was once again questionable on the next drive when he ran to his right on a third down and then threw across his body into the middle of the field, almost getting intercepted once again. Then near the end of the first half, he did turn the ball over for a second time when he had the ball stripped by one of the refs on the field while scrambling for yards on the ground (watch here).
Needing to go the length of the field to score at the end of the first half, Trubisky airmailed a couple of deep passes, the final attempt actually landing well out of bounds down the right sideline. He finished the first half having completed 11-of-17 passes for 83 yards with a touchdown, the interception and a lost fumble.
It took a while for Trubisky to get going in the second half as well. He missed some golden opportunities, particularly on a deep pass that would have been a sure touchdown midway through the third quarter. But thanks to some balance on offense (aka the efforts of running back T.J. Logan), the Tar Heels took a one-point lead into the fourth quarter, 17-16.
That lead wouldn’t last long, however, as Trubisky’s third turnover of the game turned into points for the Cardinal when Lloyd jumped in front of another pass and took it to the house for six points. It was just a horrible decision by the quarterback, who never even saw the safety lurking…again (watch here).
The one big positive we did see in addition to his natural athleticism and strong arm was the way Trubisky stayed cool under pressure on the game’s final offensive possession.
Down by eight points and needing to go 97 yards to tie the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion, he made a few pin-point passes to move his offense down to the one-yard line, including a dart down the right sideline to Bug Howard for 44 yards. Two drops on sure touchdown passes sunk the team’s chance to score from the Stanford 28-yard line.
Then after getting the ball to the one-yard line, Trubisky finished off the drive with a tremendous pass to Howard after escaping pressure. Needing the two-point conversion to tie the game, he was swallowed up by Solomon Thomas and Co., falling short of victory by two points.
Despite a strong finish, Trubisky’s mental mistakes stood out far more than his natural physical talents. We really saw the inexperience of a one-year quarterback in this one, and NFL teams looking for a franchise passer must realize he’s not ready to be thrown into the fire right away.
This is just Mitch Trubisky's 14th college start. Only 3 QBs with 15 or less drafted since'06: Cardale Jones, Osweiler, Cam Newton. #SunBowl
— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) December 30, 2016
Though Trubisky was phenomenal throughout the 2016 season (68.9 percent passer, 4,482 yards with 28 touchdowns and four interceptions), he isn’t as polished as his numbers suggest. We saw this in living color on Friday, as his mistakes were egregious and ones you wouldn’t expect from a top-tier quarterback.
A decision to come out of school early and enter the 2017 NFL Draft hasn’t yet happened. Trubisky will no doubt have discussions with his family, and others who counsel him, including head coach Larry Fedora, before any decision is made.
Based on what we saw Friday, one more year at North Carolina would do him some good. Then again, he might feel like his stock is still as high as it’s ever going to be, especially in a talent-poor draft at the quarterback position. And if he goes to a team that understands it’s going to take some time for him to develop, then it’s a win-win.
It’s going to be fascinating to see what happens next. One thing we know for certain is that Trubisky’s final game in 2016 didn’t go according to plan.