The Bears have an abysmal history of drafting and developing quarterbacks. Whether it be surrounding them with an underwhelming supporting cast, throwing them into the fire too early, or limiting them with terrible playcalling, the franchise is guilty of committing every cardinal sin imaginable in the development process.
All prior transgressions have led them to be the only franchise in the league without a 4000-yard passer, a low bar to clear in today’s passing league.

With that said, we have officially reached uncharted territory. The new regime seems to actually get it. Even after adding a quality pass-catching running back, D’Andre Swift, a capable tight end, Gerald Everett, and a perennial Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen, they still selected a receiver (and the best player on the board), Rome Odunze, with the ninth overall pick.

They followed that up by addressing the offensive line depth with the selection of Kiran Amegadjie in the third round.

The Bears’ front office has surrounded Caleb Williams with an unimaginable group of talented playmakers.

Their ability to set him up to succeed is not only rare for Chicago (which goes without saying), but it is also rare across the league that a player of his caliber has such a direct path to playing high-level football right out of the gate, even in the modern-day NFL where there is such an emphasis on the passing game.

My apologies if you expected this piece to include pre-21st-century quarterback situations. The NFL was a vastly different league at that point, and I think it is most apt to compare the shape of Chicago’s roster with more recent examples of teams implementing a highly touted quarterback. I would argue that the league underwent a massive transition in how they evaluated the quarterback position around the time that Cam Newton burst onto the scene in 2011, and he helped usher in a new era of the meta quarterback prospect. As such, he feels like a logical start to this case study.

Is Williams’ situation similar to, say, Dan Marino’s? Sure, Marino fell way later than he should have in the 1983 draft and went to a talented team with quality pass-catchers and an elite defense. However, one would have to grade them on a curve to make an accurate and fair comparison (on a side note, the only player to reach Marino’s early-career dominance was Patrick Mahomes).

So, with that in mind, how does Williams’ supporting cast stack up with his relevant peers?

Cam Newton // 2011 1st overall pick 

The Panthers desperately needed a spark on the offensive side of the ball entering the 2011 NFL Draft, as they went 2-14 the year prior and only scored 17 total touchdowns in the process. Luckily, that’s exactly what they got in Cam Newton, who received rave reviews as a rare athletic specimen at the quarterback position.

While they may have struggled mightily to move the ball with Jimmy Clausen under center, they were not devoid of talent on the offensive side of the ball. The Panthers had two viable running backs in DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and a quality offensive line headlined by Ryan Kalil, who was coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances. As for the pass-catchers, Newton relied heavily on Steve Smith and had two quality tight ends at his disposal, Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey.

At that point, their talent on the defensive side of the ball was middling at best. They had a few talented players, such as Greg Hardy, Chris Gamble, and Thomas Davis, but they were unproven overall. Newton still raised the play of those around him and became the first rookie quarterback to reach the 4000-yard mark, but it’s safe to say the Bears have a significantly better situation around Williams.

Andrew Luck // 2012 1st overall pick

Andrew Luck is the player Williams gets most often compared to as a prospect, as the Stanford product received praise as a football prodigy from a young age. He was such an elite prospect that there was a ‘Suck for Luck’ campaign in the 2011 season. The Colts sucked plenty, and they were the winner of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes when all was said and done.

While the Andrew Luck experience was ultimately remembered as a ‘what could have been’ due to their inability to protect him, they made a strong first impression when it came to making sure he had a well-rounded supporting cast, as eight of their ten draft picks came on the offensive side of the ball. He had two quality receivers in T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne and two quality tight ends in Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener. His offensive line, meanwhile, played in the NFL.

The Colts still had a few of their top playmakers from the previous era, but they were on the back end of their career at that point. Nevertheless, Luck picked up right where Manning left off and led the Colts to the playoffs in his first season. Still, the Bears have an edge in terms of their overall talent.

Robert Griffin III // 2012 2nd overall pick 

Robert Griffin III was another highly touted prospect in the 2012 class, and he was considered someone who would have been worthy of being a top pick if not for Luck. The (then) Redskins selected the dynamic dual-threat athlete with the second pick, and he made them look like geniuses for doing so early on, as he threw for 3200 yards and ran for another 815, winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in the process.

Griffin had a few reliable receivers in Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon but didn’t have much help in the passing game after those two. However, the running back lined up next to him, fellow rookie Alfred Morris, was arguably just as vital to their offensive success in their first year. Much like the Colts, the offensive line.. played in the NFL (besides Trent Williams, he was, and still is, very good).

The Redskins defense had a few great players in Ryan Kerrigan and London Fletcher, but they were also mostly underwhelming across the board, as well. Overall, Chicago has a major edge in talent, but you would be hard-pressed to find a better coaching staff than the one Washington assembled at that point.

Russell Wilson // 2012 75th overall pick

Russell Wilson is the only player on this list who wasn’t a highly touted prospect, but I felt the need to include him based on the similarities between the state of the Bears roster and Seattle’s in 2012 (and because he had one of the best rookie seasons of all time at that point). Wilson got dragged through the entire draft process for his lack of size, and he was somewhat of a pioneer for a few players mentioned below, as there was a massive stigma around quarterbacks who measure in under 6′ prior to his arrival.

Wilson won the starting job in training camp and never looked back. Marshawn Lynch’s presence made him more of a supporting character on offense early in his career, but he was still highly efficient whenever they put the ball in his hands. They didn’t have star power at receiver (unlike Chicago), but they did have quality depth at the position. The offensive line was also significantly better than his fellow 2012 draft picks mentioned above.

Seattle’s vaunted ‘Legion of Boom’ defense is what makes them the closest comparison out of every quarterback on this list. Williams will surely want more on his plate as the top overall pick, but Seattle’s ball control formula worked wonders on Wilson, and I could see the Bears taking a similar approach early on. Overall, I think the Seahawks had a (surprisingly slight) edge in defensive talent, but Chicago’s offensive talent (especially in the receiving corps) leaves Seattle’s in the dust.

Jameis Winston // 2015 1st overall pick 

Jameis Winston has become somewhat of a meme (literally everything he does is unintentionally hilarious), but he was an elite quarterback prospect coming out of Florida State in 2015. The Buccaneers, who were coming off a 2-14 record, thought they were getting a franchise quarterback in Winston when they selected him with the top pick that year.

When it comes to the offensive supporting cast, few others had a better situation than Winston. He was throwing the ball to two elite receivers, Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, and had a very good (albeit often injured) running back in Doug Martin. The Bucs also boasted an impressive offensive line with the help of two solid rookie starters, Ali Marpet and Donovan Smith.

They also had an elite front seven on the defensive side of the ball (although their secondary left a lot to be desired). Winston showed flashes (and was actually selected to the Pro Bowl) during an impressive rookie season, but his success ultimately failed to translate to the win column, as they finished the season 6-10. Despite their high-level talent, it is safe to say the Bears have a much more talented roster.

Jared Goff // 2016 1st overall pick 

It’s pretty wild to think about how it’s been nearly a decade since Jared Goff was the top pick in 2016. The Rams, who finished 7-9 the year prior, traded a slew of draft picks to move up from 15 to draft him, and they thought they were getting a game-changing pocket passer who could make every throw on the field.

Practically everything that could go wrong did go wrong in Goff’s first year in Los Angeles, and his sub-par receiving corps was the main reason for that. The Cal product lost all seven games he started and had to throw to the likes of Kenny Britt and Tavon Austin. While he benefitted (if you can call it that) from having Todd Gurley in the backfield, he even struggled mightily behind their abysmal offensive line.

The Rams had a solid defensive front but ultimately struggled due to the overall ineffectiveness of the offense. McVay arrived a year later and fixed practically all their issues on the offensive side of the ball, but Goff’s first season is a prime example of how not to develop your young quarterback. The Bears’ current situation clears this by a mile.

Mitch Trubisky // 2017 2nd overall pick

Hello, darkness, my old friend. Speaking of how not to develop your young quarterback, we have come to the Mitch Trubisky section of this breakdown. If you’re still sensitive to the name, I would suggest skipping this part. The Bears.. traded up one spot to select the North Carolina product with the second overall pick in the 2017 Draft, and many thought Ryan Pace (who previously spent time with New Orleans) found Chicago’s version of Drew Brees in the man with only 13 collegiate starts.

The Bears knew it might take some time for Trubisky to be ready to play, which was also why they broke the bank on Mike Glennon in the offseason. Nevertheless, they also decided to throw the rook into the fire with an abysmal supporting cast (to say the least) that featured Kendall Wright and Josh Bellamy as his top two receivers. They did, however, have a solid backfield duo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen and a quality offensive line, but that was not enough for them to finish with an even league-average offense.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears didn’t have many big names (at least at that point), but they played much better as a unit than the sum of their parts indicated. Nevertheless, the season was a total mess, and Trubisky’s underwhelming showing was the most disappointing aspect of it. Needless to say, they are in a much better position with the current roster (and regime).

Baker Mayfield // 2018 1st overall pick 

Baker Mayfield was a highly polarizing prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft. Many believed he had more than enough talent to get selected at the top of the draft, but questions remained about his maturity, especially with Cleveland, who went 0-16 the year prior, holding the first pick just a few years after the Johnny Manziel debacle. Nevertheless, the Browns bought into his talent and selected him first overall.

Mayfield took over the starting job early in the season and immediately provided a jolt to the Browns passing attack. He leaned heavily on Jarvis Landry and David Njoku as the pass-catchers behind them left much to be desired. Cleveland did, however, field a great running game led by fellow rookie Nick Chubb and a strong offensive line.

Cleveland’s defense boasted talented players on both the defensive line and the secondary, but they were still getting their feet underneath them at that point and struggled mightily throughout the season. Overall, the Browns had enough offensive juice to allow Mayfield to keep his head above water, and they didn’t egregiously fail him (until they cheated on him years later) as some of the others mentioned above, but it is safe to say the Bears are in much better shape.

Kyler Murray // 2019 1st overall pick

Kyler Murray was lauded for his dual-threat abilities coming out of Oklahoma in 2019, and the Cardinals, who finished the 2018 season with a 3-13 record, selected him with the top pick and paired the Heisman Trophy winner up with his college coach Kliff Kingsbury.

The Cardinals looked like a complete mess at that point, as their first-round selection from the previous year, Josh Rosen, quickly proved to be a massive mistake (although you can’t say he lacked confidence). However, they had a few pieces that made life significantly easier on a first-year quarterback than in many instances above. For starters, Larry Fitzgerald provided Murray with an elite safety blanket (similar to the role Allen will play for Williams). Christian Kirk was also a dependable target for the Oklahoma product early on, and he had a solid (enough) offensive line in front of him.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Cardinals had one of the best pass-rushers of the 2010s in Chandler Jones and a few solid pieces in the secondary, including an aging Patrick Peterson and young Budda Baker. Overall, the defense wasn’t exactly world-beaters, which put Murray in a position where he had to play hero ball more often than not (and he usually held his own in that regard). Overall, this is another situation where the Bears have a major edge.

Joe Burrow // 2020 1st overall pick 

Joe Burrow virtually came out of nowhere to have one of the most prolific passing seasons in college football history for LSU in 2019 and skyrocketed up draft boards as a result. The Bengals landed on Burrow (in a downright stacked quarterback class) as their choice to be the heir apparent to Andy Dalton, and they selected the signal-caller with the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.

Burrow looked like he was on the fast track to the Andrew Luck career arch early in his career, as his talent was on display from the beginning, but Cincinnati’s offensive line was as porous as they come when he entered the league. That ultimately proved to be the Bengals’ downfall in year one of the Burrow experiment, which was looking like a smashing success before he suffered a torn ACL and MCL midway through the year.

However, the Bengals’ receiving corps was stacked even before Ja’Marr Chase arrived, as A.J. Green played the classic veteran receiver role (albeit much less enthusiastically), and they followed up the Burrow selection with another star pass-catcher in Tee Higgins in the second round. Tyler Boyd also resumed his role as one of the league’s most underrated slot weapons. The defense, on the other hand? They were as porous as the offensive front. Joe Burrow’s emergence (along with the addition of Ja’Marr Chase) has covered up many of the Bengals’ roster holes. Williams has a much softer landing spot than the situation Burrow got thrust into.

Trevor Lawrence // 2021 1st overall pick 

Before Williams came around, Trevor Lawrence was the last signal-caller to be the ‘best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck’ (which is a factor in my disdain for the ‘generational prospect’ term). The previously 1-15 Jaguars were happy to select him with the top pick in the draft, and many believed the selection would prove to be an immediate home run.

However, those who were ready to crown Jacksonville right out of the gate failed to recognize just how awful of a situation he was entering with the Jaguars. Lawrence was forced to rely on a late-career Marvin Jones and.. Laviska Shenault as his top pass-catchers. To make matters worse, the coaching staff, led by the always dependable, logical, and fair Urban Meyer, also seemed opposed to giving then-do-it-all workhorse running back James Robinson adequate usage.

The offensive line was also bad, and so was the defense. Somehow, those facts seem insignificant compared to everything else at play in Lawrence’s first year. All in all, this was one of the worst situations on this list. The Jags were so bad that they actually earned the first overall pick the following year. They are the first team to pull off that feat since.. well, I don’t know, but the Panthers might repeat the effort next season. More on that below.

Bryce Young // 2023 1st overall pick 

There were questions surrounding Bryce Young entering the 2023 NFL Draft, but most were centered around his height and whether he was better than CJ Stroud (and most analysts came to the conclusion he was) rather than whether he could play football at a high level. One year later, that narrative regarding the latter may have shifted, but that might not be entirely fair based on the level of talent around him.

Young’s only reliable weapon was a well-past-his-prime Adam Thielen, and he was forced to rely on DJ Chark and.. Jonathan Mingo. Simply put, they really could have used a player with DJ Moore’s game-breaking ability out wide. It’s a real shame that caliber of player is SO hard to find! Chuba Hubbard had a solid season out of the backfield with over 1100 total yards, but that felt like more of a necessity than an indictment of how good he is. Someone had to move the ball on that offense.

As for the offensive line.. they played in the NFL and were seemingly content with that accomplishment. Carolina had a few solid pieces on the defensive side of the ball but was littered with holes across the board. Much like many of the teams listed above, they didn’t have much going for them, and their hopeful franchise quarterback didn’t show enough promise to keep his head above water (I mean, he is, like, 5’10”, after all) when all was said and done. The Bears are in a much better positionand they have the Panthers to thank for that. 🙂

CJ Stroud // 2023 2nd overall pick

The 2023 Houston Texans are one of the more interesting case studies in recent memory. For starters, they, too, would probably have made the mistake of drafting Bryce Young if they hadn’t won a meaningless Week 18 game over the Colts at the end of the ’22 season. Luckily for them, they got a consolation prize from CJ Stroud, who some thought could be even better than Young.

There were also questions about how talented the Texans’ roster was entering the year. They were coming off a 3-13-1 record the year prior, and many thought they would experience their fair share of growing pains last season. Stroud would have to rely on an aging Robert Woods and two unproven targets in Tank Dell and Nico Collins. By midseason, it became painfully (for Panthers fans, mostly) clear that those concerns were unfounded, and Stroud’s addition to the offense was the most obvious reason for that, as he did what good quarterbacks do best- raise the level of talent around him.

Tight end Dalton Schultz, backup pass-catcher Noah Brown, and a solid running back in Devin Singletary also rounded out a surprisingly strong supporting cast for Stroud’s rookie season. They also had a good offensive line and a very solid defense under the tutelage of (also previously unproven) head coach DeMeco Ryans. They provided an ideal blueprint for the Bears to follow during Williams’ rookie season. The fact that expectations are much higher for the Bears than they were for Houston a year ago indicates that Chicago is in a better position, but it is hard to knock the Texans for how they handled Stroud’s development.

The Bears had the edge over practically all the teams mentioned above, which isn’t all that surprising since Chicago was only picking at the top of the draft through the pick they got from Carolina. With that said, I was a bit surprised to see just how bad the rosters around many of these players were, considering how much success many of them had. That shouldn’t be an issue with this current Bears roster, which makes this an overwhelmingly exciting time to be a Bears fan.

It finally feels different. Chicago not only lucked themselves into (I give Ryan Poles all the credit in the world for trading with Carolina last offseason, but they still got incredibly lucky the Panthers were higher on Young than they were Stroud) an elite quarterback prospect, but they actually seem committed to making life as easy as possible for him.

The Bears Super Bowl window will be WIDE open through the end of Williams’ rookie contract if he becomes 80% of what many believe he can be.


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