There is always that one player — the guy who stands out from the rest, who rises to the occasion, blossoms in the moment and lives in memories for years to come.
That player is never a Chicago Bears quarterback.
With 11 games remaining and the timeline unclear for Justin Fields to return from a dislocated right thumb, it’s becoming likely the Bears will be in the market for a quarterback again in the 2024 NFL draft.
Even if Fields were healthy, his chances of sticking have faded as losses and poor performances — excepting recent games against the Denver Broncos and Washington Commanders — pile up.
General manager Ryan Poles said after last season he would have to be “blown away” to select a quarterback with the No. 1 pick that he subsequently traded to the Carolina Panthers. It stands to reason the same criteria would apply to Fields: Poles would have to be blown away to keep the quarterback he inherited for a fourth season.
Fields’ career numbers — a 6-25 record as the starter, a 60.1% completion rate, 35 touchdown passes, 27 interceptions and a 13.3% sack percentage (second-highest among quarterbacks with at least 20 starts since the sack became an official statistic in 1982) — don’t make a compelling case to move forward with him when considering financial implications and the fifth-year option in his contract.
If the draft order were based on the current standings, the Bears (1-5) would own the top two picks, the first coming via the Panthers (0-6). That puts Poles in position to consider USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye in what is developing into a touted quarterback draft class.
“All the struggles they’ve gone through, all the hard times they’re in the middle of — if they get the No. 1 pick, there’s a payoff waiting,” an NFC general manager said.
The Tribune traveled to Chapel Hill, N.C., to see Maye and to South Bend, Ind., to see Williams, also speaking with 11 talent evaluators, ranging from national scouts to GMs, as well as others about the two quarterbacks’ prospects and the Bears’ options. The way the Bears are structured, multiple layers of the front office and scouting staff likely will be tracking quarterbacks through the remainder of the college season.
At long last, there may be a potential solution.
Caleb Williams scouting report
Superlatives for USC’s Caleb Williams are through the roof. He has been called the kind of prospect that comes around once a decade. Some have said he’s the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck in 2012. Others have dared to go all the way back to John Elway in 1983.
That made Saturday’s first half at Notre Dame Stadium as jarring as an uppercut to the jaw. Notre Dame turned three Williams interceptions into touchdowns while romping to a 48-20 victory and handing the Trojans (6-1) their first loss.
So what does Williams’ clunker in South Bend mean in the big picture for a quarterback who’s consistently compared to Patrick Mahomes? Was this a potential red flag?
“I hope that game turns 31 other teams off,” one national scout mused.
“Didn’t change anything,” an AFC assistant GM said. “Caleb is the No. 1 pick.” Read more here.
Drake Maye scouting report
Drake Maye has led No. 10 North Carolina to a 6-0 record this season — the Tar Heels’ best start since 1997 — with an average margin of 16.3 points. One evaluator said that’s key when considering a quarterback who doesn’t come from a blue-blood program: Does he raise the team to a level it hasn’t reached in a long time?
Maye checks that box, certainly more than former Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky did at North Carolina.
“Mechanically sound, accurate, very good ball placement, good anticipation, just enough athletic ability to be a run threat,” said one national scout who has been to Chapel Hill this fall. “And he’s not surrounded by a lot. Makes a lot with a little. If he was at Alabama (where Maye originally committed), they would be in the national championship hunt.”
Former Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings GM Rick Spielman, who was the Bears director of pro personnel from 1997-99, called Maye “a poor man’s Trevor Lawrence.” Others have compared him to Justin Herbert and Carson Palmer. Read more here.
Bears have drafted 32 QBs in the Super Bowl era — and only 1 has made 100 regular-season starts
The Bears have drafted 32 quarterbacks during the Super Bowl era, beginning with the 1966 season, and only one has gone on to make 100 regular-season starts in the NFL.
That was Jim Harbaugh, selected in the first round with the 26th pick in 1987.
The Bears have used a first-round pick on the position six times in that span, choosing Justin Fields, Mitch Trubisky, Rex Grossman, Cade McNown, Harbaugh and Jim McMahon. Grossman and McMahon are the only two to make a Super Bowl appearance, with the latter winning. Read more here.