North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky dropped back and had all day to throw.
It was 1st-and-10 on the North Carolina 18-yard line. The clock was dwindling down, approaching one minute remaining in the game.
Duke was up 28-27, but I wasn’t worried. North Carolina had Trubisky in command, and he’d been in worse situations before.
Against Virginia in 2014 as a first-year, Trubisky popped off the bench and threw a touchdown pass to T.J. Thorpe to help UNC beat the Cavaliers, 28-27. Then, as a redshirt junior starter in 2016, he captured that same magic again — twice. Against Pittsburgh and Florida State in back-to-back weeks, Trubisky engineered game-winning drives against near-impossible odds.
I remember telling myself that night in Durham, as Trubisky’s latest last-second drive began, “This will be the last tape the NFL scouts can point to as to why this guy’s a big-time talent.”
I was certain I was about to witness another late game-winning drive. And then, the game was over. Trubisky had all day in the pocket and forced a throw off his back foot. The ball sailed and landed 15 yards away from any player in Carolina blue, right into the arms of a waiting Duke defender.
It was a horrible pass. Also, it was an oddly un-Trubisky-like play given his knack for late-game heroics.
It’s also not a throw you will see playing on Trubisky’s highlight tapes as he walks up to shake the commissioner’s hand Thursday night at the NFL Draft in Philadelphia. Trubisky is certain to be a first-round pick tonight, if not the first overall pick by the Cleveland Browns.
But if I was running an NFL team, I wouldn’t draft Trubisky with the first pick — or even a first-round pick.
Trubisky’s sample size as a starter is already small. He left college after just one season as the full-time guy at UNC. His counting stats — 3,748 yards, a 68 percent completion percentage, 30 touchdowns to just six interceptions and an efficiency rating of 157.9 — look great. So do his physical traits, like his rocket arm and intangibles as a leader or “football guy.”
But there is such a thin margin of error when drafting a quarterback in the NFL, especially with a high pick. There will be pressure for Trubisky to play right away — or even to be a savior for a struggling franchise, if he’s drafted in the wrong spot. And I’m not sure he’s ready to handle that pressure.
To invest that much draft capital — a high first-round pick — in any quarterback, he’s got to be a no-doubter. And for me, there are too many doubts about Trubisky’s inexperience and late-game inconsistency.
He could still end up being a great NFL quarterback. I hope he does, for his and North Carolina’s sake. But I wouldn’t draft him. I don’t want to be disappointed by Trubisky again — this time for a misused first-round pick instead of an unsatisfying end to a rivalry game.