Last week’s NFL Would You Rather? pitted two of the league’s top comeback artists against each other in a battle of veteran experience and underrated (relative) youth. In the end, our poll skewed toward nine years of Matthew Stafford rather than three years of Tom Brady. Today, we’re back with another rhetorical based around quarterbacks — this time, two much less proven passers.
Case Keenum had gone from undrafted free agent to spot starter to Jared Goff placeholder before becoming the Vikings’ unlikely stalwart in 2017. The young veteran posted a 22:7 TD:INT ratio and recorded the league’s seventh-best passer rating (better than Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger) to lead Minnesota to the NFC title game. That breakout year earned him a two-year, $36 million deal to solve Denver’s quarterback woes.
The Chicago Bears took a different track to bring stability behind center after eight years of the Jay Cutler show. The franchise paid out the nose to move up one spot to No. 2 in the 2017 NFL Draft and select Mitchell Trubisky, a third-team All-ACC standout with one season of starting experience under his belt. The rookie was brought along slowly in 2017 with hopes he could make the leap from below-average passer to franchise cornerstone like Goff did before him. The addition of targets like Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton, and Anthony Miller should help him make strides in his second year as a pro.
But what if you had to choose between the two as your team’s starting quarterback? Would you be willing to bet Keenum’s success is sustainable? Could you trust an untested Trubisky to rise to his potential?
Today’s question: would you rather have Case Keenum or Mitchell Trubisky as your team’s quarterback for the next couple of years?
That’s the question we’re asking this week. Which passer would you pick, assuming you’ve got a league-average offense? In this case, let’s keep things simple and say, for argument’s sake, you’d be paying either one the $16 million Keenum will get this season.
The case for: Case Keenum’s revival
I know many of you probably read this question and didn’t think twice. Obviously, you go with the young guy who was the No. 2 pick in the draft and showed promise as a rookie, despite working with an admittedly lackluster arsenal of weapons.
Younger isn’t always better, though — especially at quarterback.
Some quarterbacks flame out, or the potential they flashed does nothing more than fade away. Others are later bloomers, guys who spend the early part of their career absorbing everything they can and figuring out what it takes to play in the NFL.
Both Keenum and Trubisky are somewhat unknowns. Keenum is headed into his seventh season in the NFL — and his fourth team — and he’s only had one good year. It’s not guaranteed he’ll ever be able to match his season with the Vikings.
But if anyone watched Keenum on the Rams’ “better than Ambien season” of Hard Knocks — or their equally snoozy season of All or Nothing — it’s clear that Keenum wasn’t a backup quarterback content on earning his weekly paycheck riding the bench while someone else took all the hits. He wanted to be on the field. He was always trying to learn.
Keenum probably doesn’t get enough credit from NFL fans for what he did with the Vikings last year, either. (It’s worth noting that his fellow NFL players do, though: Keenum came in at No. 51 on the NFL’s top 100 players list, which the players themselves vote on.) He came in as a third-stringer and when they needed him, he was more than ready. He went 12-4 as a starter, including the playoffs, and blew away all his other previous career highs. A couple of his stats — specifically his 67.6 completion percentage and 98.3 QB rating — weren’t just personal best, but put him near the top of the entire league. He avoided mistakes and rarely put his team in a bad spot.
Of course, the Vikings had the top-ranked defense in the NFL. That certainly helps when you’re not constantly trying to dig your offense out of a hole. But the Bears had a surprisingly great defense that ranked in the top 10 in almost every major category, too. With Trubisky at quarterback (and a little bit of Mike Glennon, before he went back to not existing again), the offense was dead last in the league in passing and first downs.
This offseason, Keenum joined another team with a ferocious defense. And for the first time in his career, he’s THE guy.
“There’s some comfortableness to that. I think that that puts different things at ease and lets you go out there and play. It lets you cut it loose. It’s nice,” Keenum said during the Broncos’ OTAs.
That type of confidence doesn’t just rest with Keenum, either. It spreads to his teammates, who quickly see that their new quarterback is up to the challenge and are ready to follow his lead.
Again, we’re not talking about which quarterback you’d want for the next 10 years. We’re just talking about the next couple of years. Neither is a sure thing. But when it comes to tangibles and intangibles — experience, leadership, confidence, determination, GRIT, decision-making, and ability — I’d trust Keenum more. — Sarah Hardy
The case for: Mitchell Trubisky’s potential
The Bears handled Trubisky with kid gloves in 2017, bringing him along slowly and leaving him on the bench until it became painfully obvious $45-million man Mike Glennon was just a cornfield scarecrow someone had managed to throw a jersey on. Even as a starter, Trubisky wasn’t asked to do much downfield — which is good, because Chicago wasn’t exactly bursting with receiving help to ease his transition from UNC to the NFL. The team’s top wide receivers were Kendall Wright and Josh Bellamy.
Trubisky’s average pass last fall traveled 8.3 yards through the air, a mark that landed between Jacoby Brissett and Jay Cutler among NFL passers. That wasn’t especially daring, but it was significantly more explosive than Glennon’s league-low 6.6-yard number in his four starts before getting yanked from the starting lineup. Taking the governor off allowed the rookie to put together a handful of performances that showcased his potential, even if he averaged just 27.5 passes per game (Tom Brady, in comparison, threw 36.3 passes each week).
It was an up-and-down trail from there, but you could see Trubisky’s potential shine through against weaker secondaries: 297 yards and a touchdown against the Packers; 271 and a TD against the Bengals; 193 and 8.4 yards per pass vs. the Browns. Sure, there were also stinkers like a three-interception game against the Lions and a 14-of-32 showing against the Saints, but those fit into the reasonable exception of “growing pains” for a 23-year-old rookie playing on a bad team.
Trubisky’s got a lot of questions left to answer, but his premiere season was pretty much on par with other first-year QBs who grew significantly to become solid franchise building blocks. With a reloaded receiving corps and a dynamite backfield whose strength will force defenders close to the line of scrimmage, Trubisky is primed for a Goff-style leap in year two. He might not get there, but I’d bet on his inexpensive potential over Keenum’s lone year of proficiency at this point, regardless of how good the former Viking was in 2017.
- Christian D’Andrea
So who would you pick?
Would you rather stake your offense on Case Keenum or Mitchell Trubisky right now?
This poll is closed
2017 top 10 passer Case Keenum
2017 No. 2 overall pick Mitchell Trubisky