EL PASO, Texas -- The stage was set for North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky to continue his meteoric rise with a spectacular performance against Stanford in the Sun Bowl on Friday, but the junior's disappointing showing in the 25-23 loss will leave evaluators with more questions than answers when assessing the talented dual-threat playmaker.
Now, there is plenty to like about Tribusky, who has yet to announce his intentions for the 2017 NFL Draft, as a passer and playmaker. Measuring 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, he looks the part of a potential franchise quarterback. More importantly, he displays the raw physical tools and athleticism that scouts covet in signal-callers.
From his exceptional arm strength to his vast array of throws with different speeds and trajectories, Tribusky makes every throw in the book from anywhere on the field. Whether it's a rope-like throw to the boundary on a deep comeback or a feathery touch pass on a seam route, Tribusky routinely delivers the ball within the strike zone to his intended target.
While watching the Sun Bowl from the sideline, I was impressed with Trubisky's ability to connect with his receivers on out-breaking routes, particularly to Austin Proehl on deep comebacks along the boundary. Trubisky delivers the ball on time and on target before the receiver comes out of his break, which is what will be expected of him at the next level. He also displays nice anticipation and timing on seam routes and in-break cuts (digs) between the hashes. Although he wasn't on top of his game, Trubisky certainly flashes enough talent to tease quarterback-starved teams desperate for a QB1.
Trubisky also showcased his underutilized talents as a running threat on the perimeter throughout the game. Despite finishing the game with just 38 rushing yards on 16 carries, Trubisky showed scouts that he is capable of executing zone-read concepts and designated quarterback runs. He also flashed some escapability and elusiveness while avoiding free rushers in the pocket. Most importantly, Trubisky made a handful of spectacular throws on the move, including his two-yard touchdown to Bug Howard that gave the Tar Heels a chance to tie the game with a successful two-point conversion in the fourth quarter (they were stopped on the two-point try).
I walked away disappointed with Trubisky's turnover woes against the Cardinal. He turned the ball over three times (two interceptions and one fumble) and didn't consistently exhibit the kind of judgment that you would expect from a guy with low-turnover numbers heading into the game. Looking back at Trubisky's interceptions, I noticed that he was fooled on each play. On the first interception in the second quarter, he didn't see the backside safety while staring down his intended target. He needs to do a better job of reading the coverage while fielding the snap and anticipate where defenders could show up in passing lanes.
On Trubisky's second interception, he misread the coverage and tossed the ball directly to a Cardinal defender awaiting the receiver in the flat. Granted, most NFL quarterbacks are routinely fooled by late-moving coverage, but Trubisky's miscues will lead to concerns about his readiness for the pro game due to his low number of reps. As a one-year starter with only 13 career starts under his belt, he hasn't played enough to decipher pre-snap disguises immediately and that inexperience could prevent him from making an immediate contribution as a rookie starter.
In the end, Trubisky remains an intriguing quarterback prospect with tremendous upside, but scouts will walk away from the Sun Bowl knowing that he is far from a polished product at this stage of his development.
Here are a few other prospects that caught my eye during the Sun Bowl:
» Stanford DE Solomon Thomas is as good as advertised as a disruptive playmaker along the line. Measuring 6-foot-3, 273-pounds, he flashed an outstanding combination of first-step quickness, agility and power attacking off the edges. Thomas' athleticism, in particular, stood out as he routinely doled out licks on Trubisky on an assortment of pass rushes off the edge and up the middle on stunts. Most impressively, he revved up the pressure in critical moments to keep the Tar Heel QB from settling into a rhythm in the pocket. As the Sun Bowl MVP with seven tackles, one sack and a number of hurries, Thomas made a strong case to scouts intrigued by his potential at the next level.
» Cardinal fans should be excited for the Bryce Love era if his Sun Bowl performance is any indication of what the future holds for the offense after Christian McCaffrey's departure. The 5-foot-10, 181-pound runner is an electric jitterbug with the ball in his hands. Love accounted for 164 total yards from scrimmage and a score as the team's RB1. Despite his slender stature, Love ran with surprising force on inside runs while exhibiting speed and start-stop quickness on perimeter runs. In addition, Love showed soft hands and natural receiving skills snagging an over-the-shoulder pass that resulted in a 49-yard touchdown. While I'm not ready to proclaim him the next best thing as McCaffrey's replacement, the speedy sophomore certainly announced his arrival with a big-time performance in the Sun Bowl.
» North Carolina DE Nazair Jones has already declared for the 2017 draft, and he is certainly intriguing as a height-weight-speed prospect for teams looking for a developmental player. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound junior possesses the massive frame and length to be an effective five-technique at the next level. Jones flashes just enough strength and power to captivate defensive coaches looking for a space eater at the point of attack. Although he needs some work as a pass rusher, Jones' athleticism and movement skills could make him a serviceable defender on passing downs.