Emma: Bears Looking For Hope With A Franchise Quarterback

By Chris Emma–

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (CBS) — A future of great promise for the Bears could be here at the NFL Combine, represented in one of these quarterback prospects.

Perhaps there’s a franchise-altering quarterback at the combine, the kind of player who defines an era. After all, the last decade has proved that it takes an elite quarterback to win championships.

The Bears are preparing to part ways with the owner of many passing records in their long history, and Jay Cutler’s legacy in Chicago is quite complicated. He will soon be gone, and then general manager Ryan Pace must find who’s next. Ultimately, it will be his most critical step as general manager.

Scouts have been skeptical of what this quarterback class can be. The foursome of Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes represent the cream of the crop. Many view it as a weak group.

“Who’s to say this quarterback class won’t be one of the best,” Trubisky said. “Only time will tell.”

This quartet of quarterbacks comes with high upside, but there’s a flaw in question for each. They all have a big but.

Watson led Clemson to the national championship, but he threw 17 interceptions in 15 games. Trubisky played well as a junior at North Carolina, but that was his first and only season as a starter. Mahomes has potential to rise above the rest, but he hails from an Air Raid system that isn’t as complicated as an NFL offense is likely to be. Kizer has all the physical tools to be successful, but he’s coming off an abysmal 4-8 season at Notre Dame.

When each quarterback enters meetings with prospective suitors, these are the first questions to arise. How they answer could shake up draft boards.

“I’ve seen quite a bit,” Kizer said. “I was able to play in the snow, I was able to play in the rain, I was able to win games we were supposed to win, I was able to experience a not-so-good season this past season. I think I’ve learned from it all and that all those experiences will prepare me to be able to play hopefully in that first game next season.”

Rookie 49ers general manager John Lynch said Kizer “blew the doors off” in his interview this week. Mahomes has drawn praise for the way he’s answered questions of his fit as an NFL quarterback. Trubisky, who’s now asked to be referred to as Mitchell, has garnered high praise for his work ethic.

Then there’s Watson, who hasn’t needed to say as much given he just led his team to a championship. His reputation as a leader and clutch performer is well known. One NFL head coach whose team is set at the position offered Watson as his top quarterback, citing his natural tendencies as a leader.

Bears coach John Fox would agree with that counterpart. Leadership is the first trait he seeks in a quarterback.

“When you can inspire the people around you, I think those guys tend to be a little bit better — especially at the next level, especially at the quarterback position,” Fox said in January.

Trubisky rose to the scene after throwing 30 touchdowns to just six interceptions in his lone season starting at North Carolina. His lack of experience can be answered with a strong showing in his throwing session Saturday. Trubisky has shown velocity on a tight spiral and the ability to extend plays with his feet.

The Bears are slated to meet formally with Trubisky, though they may not have a chance to take him with the third pick. The Browns are strongly considering Trubisky with the top pick, Cleveland.com reported.

“I feel like I’m in a really good spot to take my game to the next level, and I feel really confident,” Trubisky said.

Soon enough, draft boards could have Mahomes rising high. First comes his chance to strip the “system” label from the skeptics. Texas Tech quarterbacks haven’t exactly proved the reputation wrong in the past, but Mahomes may be different. His arm is powerful, and his feet are impressive. If he can take those physical tools and show he can make the right reads in a defense, success will follow.

“I feel like I’m going to be one of the best quarterbacks in this class, if not the best,” Mahomes said, echoing the words of many in Indianapolis.

Pace has plenty of factors in play as he makes this critical decision for his franchise. Perhaps he likes Miami’s Brad Kaaya or Pitt’s Nate Peterman better than these four quarterbacks at the top of their class. The Bears have conducted extensive work in scouting every option available.

While a bridge like Mike Glennon or Brian Hoyer fits, this looming decision is for the future of the franchise. Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter — whose team allowed Glennon to hit the open market — was asked in November what 2015 top pick Jameis Winston brings to the building each day.

“Hope,” he replied.

This NFL Combine offers quarterbacks with plenty of upside but some flaws to examine. It’s a unique class, with four standouts and no clear-cut No. 1. There’s great work needed to decipher, work that can alter a franchise or bust.

The Bears can find hope of their own in Indianapolis.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670 and like his Facebook page.

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