CHICAGO — Andy Dalton may be the Chicago Bears “QB1” for now, but general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy have spent the last several months examining whether their quarterback of the future is in this year’s draft class.
With five quarterbacks expected to go early in the first round, the Bears have weighed the possibilities of trading up from their No. 20 selection or picking up a Day 2 or 3 quarterback option. The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the top pick, and most analysts believe the New York Jets will select BYU quarterback Zach Wilson at No. 2.
Speculation abounds over how the draft board will play out after that, starting with the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons at No. 3 and No. 4, respectively. As the Bears near a crucial draft for Pace and Nagy, here are eight quarterbacks that could be on their radar.
Justin Fields, Ohio State
— Height, weight: 6-3, 227
— Why the Bears will draft him: The Bears need an injection of excitement at the quarterback position, and Fields is nothing if not exciting. He has an impressive combination of size and speed, with NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah believing he can be “a home run hitter” as a runner at the next level. Fields also has impressive arm strength and is notably versatile — able to be effective out of the shotgun or from under center, in the pocket or on the move. Furthermore, he checks the boxes for toughness and leadership ability. Some talent evaluators point to Fields’ production in Ohio State’s College Football Playoff semifinal win over Clemson last season as irrefutable evidence of his competitive hunger and ability to shine on a big stage. Fields sparked that upset by completing 22 of his 28 passes for 385 yards and six touchdowns. (He was less impactful in a blowout loss to Alabama for the national title.) Still, if Fields somehow slips out of the top five or even the top 10 of the draft, Pace should be ready to consider an aggressive trade up.
— Why they won’t: Fields will have to answer questions about his ability to quickly work through progressions on a consistent basis. There’s a sense within some pockets of the league that he’ll need time to develop his field vision, polish his mechanics and handle pressure better in order to become a franchise-changing NFL starter. Significant questions also remain about Fields’ ability to handle zone coverages, a flaw that contributed to Mitch Trubisky’s unraveling with the Bears. That’s a weakness that is not to be discarded nonchalantly. NFL Network reported Wednesday that Fields is managing epilepsy, but the disorder hasn’t affected his football career and doctors believe he will grow out of it.
— Analyst’s take: “I’ve compared (Fields) to Justin Herbert. And there were some legitimate concerns on Herbert’s college film. But what did L.A. do? They bet on the traits. The physical traits and those physical tools that Herbert brings to the field, you see a lot of similarities with Justin Fields. He has the arm talent to attack all three levels of the field. He’s a very accurate deep-ball thrower. … And what he also gives you are those dual-threat traits. You can scheme him as a runner. But when you look at his Ohio State tape, I would label him as a pocket thrower who can be schemed as a runner in critical game situations — third-and-short or especially in the low red zone. You want Justin Fields to be a ball carrier (there) because he has ball carrier vision and he plays that position with that physical element. Which you also see from him inside the pocket.” — ESPN analyst Matt Bowen
Trey Lance, North Dakota State
— Height/weight: 6-4, 224
— Why the Bears will draft him: As a redshirt freshman in 2019, Lance led North Dakota State to a 16-0 season and an FCS national championship. He set an NCAA record over all divisions by not throwing an interception in 287 pass attempts. He threw for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns and also rushed for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns. Draft analysts from ESPN, NFL Network and the Athletic have Lance as the third-ranked quarterback in the draft behind Lawrence and Wilson because of his physical traits, skill set and makeup. Jeremiah compared Lance to Steve McNair, noting his physicality, toughness, powerful arm and ability to rally his teammates as strengths.
— Why they won’t: As with Mac Jones and Fields, there’s a possibility the Bears wouldn’t be able to draft Lance if they wanted to. Multiple outlets have speculated that the 49ers at No. 3 and the Falcons at No. 4 are both interested in the Minnesota native. Lance’s lack of experience — both in general and against quality competition — is a point of pause. After his stellar freshman season, North Dakota State played only one fall game, in which Lance completed 15 of 30 passes for 149 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and had 15 carries for 143 yards and two touchdowns. When the FCS season was moved to the spring, Lance opted out to focus on the draft. He has 17 college starts under his belt, and more than one analyst believes he will need a year to develop, with deep-ball accuracy among the improvements needed. With Pace and Nagy under pressure to show progress in 2021, would they zero in on a 20-year-old prospect that requires patience?
— Analyst’s take: “Trey is going to need some time. The only thing that would hold me back on that is I don’t know if he’s going to be ready to (play) right away. You’d have to be patient with him. But when you talk to the folks at North Dakota State, this kid is incredibly intelligent. … He can direct fronts. He can do all the stuff at the line of scrimmage you need to do. He’s a fantastic athlete and runner. He’s got a power arm that fits (in a cold-weather) division later in the year. I just think all the character stuff I’ve gotten has been off the charts.” — Jeremiah
Mac Jones, Alabama
— Height, weight: 6-3, 217
Why the Bears will draft him: In terms of processing and showing an ability to not only read defenses but make good decisions quickly, there may not be a quarterback in this class who is better. That’s a quality that would be highly appealing to Nagy, who was spoiled to work with an elite processor like Alex Smith for five seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Jones has infectious energy as a leader. He is consistently calm and steady from within the pocket. And he’s coming into the draft after a season in which he threw for a FBS-best 4,500 yards with 41 touchdown passes and only four interceptions while helping propel Alabama to a national championship. Jones is exceptionally accurate and has been lauded for his competitive tenacity. Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban sees the potential for Jones to be a high-level starter at the next level, thanks to his ability to be a shrewd and efficient manager of the offense: “Mac has ability to make plays because he’s smart, he’s accurate and he’s going to throw the ball to the right place.”
— Why they won’t: Jones may very well get scooped up early — and the Bears’ evaluations of him will then be stashed away in the back of a file drawer. In addition, Jones’ arm strength is ordinary and could be easily exposed at the next level. He doesn’t have the high-level athleticism that will allow him to consistently make improvised plays as he learns the complexity of the NFL game. And there’s a worry in some circles that Jones’ college production was a byproduct of the riches of talent he had around him, both on the offensive line and with his playmakers.
—Analyst’s take: “He’s a surgeon. Of all these guys, he probably processes as quickly as anybody that’s coming out in this draft. It’s recognizing pre-snap coverage if (the defense) changes coverage at the snap of the ball and being able to instantly know where to go with the ball without any hesitation. That to me is the secret sauce.” — ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit
Davis Mills, Stanford
— Height/weight: 6-4, 217.
— Why the Bears will draft him: Mills, a potential second-round pick, was a five-star recruit out of the Atlanta area and the top-ranked quarterback nationally out of high school. Over 14 games — including 11 starts — with Stanford in 2019 and 2020, Mills completed 287 of 438 passes (66%) for 3,468 yards with 18 touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Mills has size and arm talent, and Jeremiah also noted Mills’ intelligence and poise.
— Why they won’t: Mills made only 11 college starts, in part because of a shortened 2020 season due to COVID-19. That inexperience can show up in his decision-making, analysts said, and the team that picks him likely will need time for development. A history of knee injuries dating back to high school also are worth noting.
— Analyst’s take: “Davis Mills is a guy that, one, has got a beautiful deep ball. Two, compact release. Three, more athletic than we get to see because of the Stanford offense. Coached very well in that Stanford program. Five, I love the trajectory and touch that he places on the football. So there’s a lot of the physical attributes that make you go, ‘This is why he was the No. 1 quarterback coming out of high school.’ But then there is the, ‘Well, why did the talent sometimes not transfer on to game tape?’ And again, those are questions about scheme, personnel, coaching, game situations, all of those things. You have to kind of create another season of data for him because he had such limited play time.” — ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky
Kellen Mond, Texas A&M
— Height/weight: 6-3, 211
— Why the Bears will draft him: Mond is among the most experienced of the second-tier quarterbacks, with 44 starts at Texas A&M. He leaves the program as the career record holder in several categories, including passing yards (9,661), touchdown passes (71) and total offensive yards (11,269). Orlovsky was impressed with Mond’s development year over year and believes the coaching and responsibility he was given under Jimbo Fisher will serve him well. Mond, who was the Senior Bowl MVP, is athletic with a good, quick arm, and he noted on conference call after his pro day that he is proud of the culture he helped build at Texas A&M. Fisher praised Mond’s intelligence, drive and work ethic: “We always talk about the physical skills, but I think it’s the mental skills and the mental drive and fortitude to be able to succeed with the ups and downs of playing that position that I see him grind on. His willingness to say, ‘These are my goals, (and I should) match my day-to-day habits to reach those goals.’ Kellen loves the process of football as much as he likes playing football, and I think all the great guys do. They like all of the work, all of the things leading up to it. And you have to, because that’s what eliminates the pressure, knowing that I’m prepared to do what I’ve got to do.”
— Why they won’t: Mond had 59% accuracy in his career, though he completed a career-high 63% of his passes in 2020. He also threw 27 interceptions — nine each in 2018 and 2019 before cutting it down to three in 2020. Inconsistency in accuracy and playmaking is among the biggest concerns of multiple analysts.
— Analyst’s take: “Probably just the size would ding him and some of the inconsistencies as a younger player. But I like him, and he’s got a quick arm. He’s got a live arm. He can create and extend a little bit. Talking to the guys down there at A&M, they said when they would get on the plane after games he would be standing up in the aisle with Jimbo Fisher already watching the tape with him, so he was always dialed in, always around the facility.” — Jeremiah
Kyle Trask, Florida
— Height/weight: 6-5, 236
— Why the Bears will draft him: Trask was a Heisman Trophy finalist after he threw for 4,283 yards with an FBS-leading 43 touchdown passes in 2020. A big, sturdy pocket passer, he finished his career by completing 68% of his passes for 7,386 yards, 69 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions. ESPN’s Todd McShay lauded his mind, and more than one analyst has talked about his physical and mental toughness.
— Why they won’t: Orlovsky labeled Trask as good at a lot of things — but not great. “I don’t think Kyle is great at anything, and I struggle to see what Kyle can go and be great at,” he said. “He’s good with his pocket movement. He’s good with his operational space. He’s got a good arm. He’s got good accuracy. He’s a good athlete. But where is the room for him to go be great?” Trask was a late bloomer as a backup in high school and in his first three seasons in Florida. Some analysts pointed to the talent of his playmakers — including potential 2021 first-rounders Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney — as helping his big numbers. Without the duo, he threw three interceptions and no touchdown passes in the Cotton Bowl. A lack of mobility is a weakness, leaving some to wonder if he would need a stacked offense around him to succeed. He suffered foot injuries early in his career at Florida.
— Analyst’s take: “He had talent around him. He had backs that could catch the ball out of the backfield. Accuracy was his strength. I would like to see him at times not lock on as much. He doesn’t give you much in the way of mobility in terms of putting pressure on the offensive line. But he came a long way in terms of what he was able to do in his career to get to the point where you’re talking about a second-round pick. It’s pretty amazing from where he was to where he is now.” — ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.
Jamie Newman, Georgia
— Height, weight: 6-3, 234
— Why the Bears will draft him: Newman should be available late on Day 2 and possibly even well into Day 3. And if the draft board doesn’t unfold in a way that allows the Bears to pick off the top shelf of quarterbacks, Newman could be worthy of consideration for the team’s Plan C or Plan D. Newman was a graduate transfer — from Wake Forest to Georgia — after the 2019 season. But he never threw a pass for the Bulldogs, opting out of the 2020 season due to concerns about COVID-19. That has left talent evaluators to make their judgments based largely on the 12 starts he made in 2019 for the Demon Deacons. Still, Newman has good size, a strong arm and has shown solid pocket presence and ability to be a dual threat. There appears to be potential there for some team to try and unlock.
— Why they won’t: Newman is considered by many evaluators to be raw and in need of significant development. And time and patience aren’t something Pace and Nagy are blessed with right now. Newman isn’t advanced at working through progressions and hasn’t shown the kind of high-level field vision NFL teams covet. He could have benefited greatly from a season of playing in Georgia’s offense against SEC competition.
— Analyst’s take: “It’s that ‘P’ word: potential. But not so much of the production. Obviously, you like the fact that his completion percentage continued to grow (at Wake Forest). His touchdown total grew. He had better than a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. All those are the easy numbers you can look at it. And I think because of his size and the fact that he’s a really good athlete, he may go higher (than Round 5) because you’re feeling like he has a chance. … I think he’s going to get his chance to develop. It would have been nice to see him play (last season). He has a lot of positive attributes that are uncoachable. Now you have to figure out if you can coach up the rest of them.” — SiriusXM NFL Radio analyst Mark Dominik
Ian Book, Notre Dame
— Height, weight: 6-0, 211
— Why the Bears will draft him: Book is almost certain to be on the board deep into Day 3 and would be in a mid- to late-round category of developmental quarterbacks that also includes Texas’ Sam Ehlinger, SMU’s Shane Buechele, Appalachian State’s Zac Thomas and Northwestern’s Peyton Ramsey. As Day 3 dice rolls go, Book has intriguing qualities. His mobility and ability to make plays off script are notable. He has upside as a rhythm passer and has shown the footwork and ballhandling skills to handle a substantial diet of run-pass option plays. Book can also be a scrambling threat as evidenced by his 1,517 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns during his college career. He started 35 games over three seasons for the Irish and threw for 8,948 yards with 72 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. So he has plenty of experience and was also an energizing leader who helped propel Notre Dame into the College Football Playoff this past season.
— Why they won’t: If the Bears make it to Saturday morning without adding a quarterback, there may be a citywide mutiny. The desperation to find a long-term answer is way too high for Pace to simply wait around for a Day 3 endeavor that has a low probability of succeeding. Book will be a gamble for whatever team drafts him. For starters, his arm strength is significantly limited and his ability to be a consistent deep threat is in question. He’s also on the shorter side and lacks pinpoint precision with his passing. At times, his pocket poise can become erratic. Book certainly has the potential to hang around the NFL for awhile, but it will likely be as a backup. And the Bears aren’t in the market right now for a dependable backup. They need a potential franchise-changing difference maker.
— Analyst’s take: “Ian Book reminds me a little bit of Andy Dalton, but probably not as high-level as that. Andy Dalton is super accurate. Ian Book is super accurate. Andy Dalton has a really quick release. Ian Book: really quick release. Andy Dalton is a more elusive athlete in the pocket than he is a runner. Ian Book is a more elusive athlete in the pocket than a runner, though he is a better runner than Andy Dalton. … There’s a lot of Ian’s talent that you like. But there’s concern where you say, ‘Why, with some really good athletes on that (Notre Dame) offense did their pass game not excel? Was that a little bit of his player limitation?’ With his size, is he big enough to be a guy who can stick in a fringe starter/backup role? Athletically and arm-talent wise, he has the chance to become a guy who at least raises your eyebrows at the position. I honestly look for him to be a guy who a team points to as saying, ‘OK we’re comfortable with him as a backup.’ Really smart. A ton of starts in big-time college football. And he has some traits that are transferrable. But physically, there’s nothing that stands out about him.” – Orlovsky