If we go back and look over the career of Mitch Trubisky thus far, many will say it’s been a disappointment, and rightfully so, considering his lofty draft status as the #2 overall pick in 2017. However, if we dig a little deeper, it shows that despite some of his own flaws, it wasn’t entirely his fault. One of the key elements of some of the success he’d had has to do with having a sufficient tight end threatening the middle of the field.
In Trubisky’s first three seasons(he didn’t start his full rookie year), the Bears had a tight end produce 40+ yards or more only eight times, and in those eight games, he’s thrown for 17 touchdowns against just four interceptions, while completing 66% of his passes, which is elite production. That production correlated over a 17-game season equates to 36 touchdowns and only nine interceptions, which would be tremendous numbers for him.
The Bears second-round pick in 2017, tight end Adam Shaheen turned out to be a major bust, so the team went the free agent route. Tight end Trey Burton, formerly of the Eagles, who’s known for the famous “Philly Special” trick-play in which he threw a TD pass to QB Nick Foles in Super Bowl LII, was a big signing for the Bears in the 2018 offseason, as the front office looked to give Trubisky another weapon and what they thought was that true dynamic, seam-stretcher at the position. Burton only spent two seasons, his second one injury-marred, in Chicago, so the sample size was small.
But that initial season, he went over the aforementioned 40-yard barrier four times, and came close several others, but his standout performance was against the Patriots in week six, when he grabbed nine passes for 126 yards and a TD. Trubisky also had a standout game, despite the loss, throwing for 333 yards and two scores but also showing off his wheels, running for 81 more yards and another score. This game, possibly more so than many others in his career, shows how vital the tight end position is to Trubisky’s success.
Pittsburgh has two solid TE’s at their disposal, including blocking-specialist Zach Gentry, and last year’s second-round pick Pat Freiermuth, who wears the nickname “Baby Gronk” and who was a fond target of Ben Roethlisberger last season, compiling 60 grabs for 497 yards and seven touchdowns.
Upon checking into his stats deeper, Freiermuth had five games of 40+ yards, including many more where his “sweet spot” seemed to be in the mid 30’s. Seemingly utilized as more of a safety valve for a waning Roethlisberger at that stage in his career, Freiermuth did provide to be an excellent red zone target, and he would’ve had one more TD to his name if Vikings Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith didn’t knock the game-winner out of his hands in a Thursday night loss back in December. Entering his sophomore season, Freiermuth looks to build on a successful rookie campaign, and show off some of his seam-stretching ability as opposed to last year, where many of his passes were short, quick strikes within five yards or so of the line of scrimmage.
Much has been made of the comparisons between Trubisky and his more successful draft classmates Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. But for an instance, take a look at the tight end Mahomes has to throw to. Travis Kelce is arguably the best tight end in the game, and this season, barring injury, will go over the 10,000-yard plateau this season, becoming only the fifth tight end in history to do so. Trubisky has had nothing that remotely compares to that thus far.
We all know the talent level Freiermuth possesses, as he was arguably the better “overall” tight end in last year’s class, over the Falcons’ Kyle Pitts, his first-round counterpart who’s basically a jumbo wide receiver. If Freiermuth can open up the middle of the field with his talents, and that coupled with the other offensive skill position talents the team has, he’ll, in short order, become the best tight end Trubisky has ever gotten to work with. Perhaps that alone will give us a glimpse at his true potential.