In news that surprised no one, Mitch Trubisky announced Monday that he would declare for the 2017 NFL draft. Trubisky holds a unique place in fans’ minds, as few Carolina football players have ever had Tar Heel fans move from open disgust to adoration over only three seasons in Chapel Hill. Everyone’s introduction to Trubisky was the fateful 2014 season where he made a regular appearance every third series. Fans practically tore their hair out over this practice, as it appeared to throw off the offense and potentially cost the team winnable games (It should also be the first thing any larger program looking to hire Coach Fedora looks at—because yes he ran a QB platoon when one of the players was clearly better for almost an entire season).
Trubisky’s second season in Chapel Hill was very different, Coach Fedora completely abandoned the quarterback platoon from a year ago, and the Heels rode a dominant offense to the school’s best record since 1997. Trubisky’s participation was limited exclusively to garbage time and snaps where Marquise Williams lost his helmet on the play before. However, when the offense sputtered in the ACC title game and bowl game against Baylor, many fans tore their hair out in the opposite direction, demanding for Trubisky to come in and save the day.
Then came this past year when Trubisky led the Heels to a slightly disappointing 8-5 season. In many ways, he was the quarterback that fans had hoped for, he went through his reads and progressions, moved around in the pocket well, and avoided giving the ball to the other team. These skills are going to make him a starting NFL quarterback next year.
However, for the Heels, something seemed to be missing from the offense for most of the season. The team struggled to push the ball down the field and lacked a lot of the explosion that they had displayed a year ago. Some of this was the fact that Mack Hollins got hurt in the Miami game, but a lot of people expected Trubisky to be able to overcome this by being a better passer than Williams had been the season before. This turned out not to be the case, and as a result, Carolina was a good team this year, not a great one.
Ultimately, Trubisky stands to potentially have a lasting impact on Carolina football. As a projected first round pick, Trubisky could be a huge boon to recruitment at Carolina, especially if he goes ahead of Clemson QB Deshaun Watson. Clemson is Carolina’s main rival for recruits within North Carolina and regionally, and if Trubisky beats out Watson in the draft, then it only helps the Heels going forward. Success as a top pick would also help elevate Carolina to the national stage in recruiting. If the Heels can cultivate a reputation as a place for top quarterbacks, the team’s prognosis going forward can only improve.
In the immediate future, none of those dividends will be seen. The Heels now have to replace essentially every notable player on the offense for next season and that will begin with the quarterback position. Common conjecture seems to be that there are three potential Trubisky replacements on the roster after Caleb Henderson transferred over the summer: Nathan Elliott, Chazz Surratt, and Logan Byrd.
Redshirt freshman Elliott served as the backup for the Heels this past season, but most believe this was to groom the two true freshmen behind him on the depth chart in Surratt and Byrd. None of these three have had anything like the reps Trubisky had in relief of Williams two seasons ago, so they are all essentially blank slates going into spring practice. Surratt was the highest rated player in the Heels’ 2016 recruiting class, a top ten dual threat QB coming out of high school. Surratt is the probable favorite to land the starting job but he should face a tough challenge from Byrd, who was a highly ranked pro-style quarterback coming out of high school. Byrd is much more in the mold of a Trubisky replacement as a 6-3 230 pound pocket passer with good arm strength since Trubisky is 6-3 220 pounds according to the official roster. Surratt would be more in the mold of Marquise Williams, although he is slighter than Williams (and Trubisky) at 205 pounds.
The program right now has a lot of upside but also a lot of uncertainty. The Heels will face an uphill battle in 2017 as they attempt to continue what has been the best run of quarterback play in Chapel Hill for some time. The team will have to break in an almost entirely new offense next season and getting to bowl eligibility could be a real struggle. On the other hand, the offense could come together and utilize a strong defense in Coach Chizik’s third year as the coordinator and the Heels could contend in the Coastal Division once more.
Either way the next season in Chapel Hill works out, best of luck to Mitch Trubisky in the NFL next year and beyond.