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Navigating Bear Markets: Chicago’s First-Round QBs From Luckman to Fields

A rundown of all first-round quarterbacks drafted by the Bears and how long they played for Chicago and in the NFL.

Chicago Bears Quarterbacks
Photo: ClutchPoints
  • Sid Luckman
  • Frankie Albert
  • Johnny Lujack
  • Bobby Layne
  • Bob Williams
  • Jim McMahon
  • Jim Harbaugh
  • Cade McNown
  • Rex Grossman
  • Mitchell Trubisky
  • Justin Fields

These are the illustrious names of quarterbacks to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft by your charter franchise Chicago Bears. I can’t help but wonder, do they have anything in common? Besides being first-round selections of the Bears and playing the quarterback position, what ties this group together?

Where to Start?

Every QB drafted by the Bears in the 1st round, when they made their first start, and who against.

Not a single QB drafted by the Bears in the first round has started Week 1 of their rookie year.

  • Two of the Bears’ last six first-round QB selections sat out their entire rookie seasons.
  • Four of the Bears’ last five first-round QB selections got their first start of their career against a top-six defense in the NFL. It must make for a nice “Welcome to the NFL” type of tradition.
  • Out of draft picks in any round, only one Bears QB has ever started week one of his rookie year. That QB is Kyle Orton, who was a fourth-round selection in 2005. Orton was forced into action when presumed starter Rex Grossman suffered an injury during preseason action.

NFL: Not For Long

How long each Bears selection lasted on the Bears roster

No QB drafted by the Bears in the first round of the NFL Draft has ever started more than 65 games for the Bears.

  • A first-round QB drafted by the Bears has never started over 65 games with the team. That record belongs to Jim McMahon, who averaged 8.7 starts per season over his storied seven-year Bears career.
  • Only three first-round pick QBs since Sid Luckman (retired 1950) have reached a fifth year on the Bears roster: Rex Grossman, who played in eight games in his first three seasons, Jim Harbaugh, who played in seven games in his first three seasons, and the aforementioned Jim McMahon.
  • Picked #10 overall in 1942, Frankie Albert never actually played a single game for the Bears. The Bears drafted Albert while he was serving in the Navy during WWII. Upon returning home in 1945, he became the AFL 49ers first-ever quarterback.
  • Hall of Fame QB Bobby Layne only made one career start for the Bears in his one season rostered. After Halas’ promises of a rise to fame, Layne served as the third-string QB behind Luckman and Lujack. He refused to return for the following season, trying to create a trade to the Green Bay Packers. Instead, Halas traded him to the New York Bulldogs, where Layne would play for one season, going 1-11. The Bulldogs would then trade Layne to the Detroit Lions, where he would embark on his Hall of Fame career. The real curse of Bobby Layne (Layne would curse the Lions to the point of not winning for 50 years after trading him).
  • 173 QBs have been selected in the first round of the NFL Draft. They have averaged 89 games played with 71 games started in their careers. The Bears QB selections have averaged 89 games and 66 games started in their careers and only 48 games played and 32 games started with the Bears. Bears first-round QBs have averaged 4.6 years on the team’s roster.

Let’s Make a QB Deal

How the Bears acquired the ability to select each QB

The Bears have only used their own draft pick to select a QB four times. The other seven QBs were acquired through a trade for draft pick(s):

  • 1939: Bears trade Ed Manske to the Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers) for #2 overall pick Sid Luckman
  • 1948: The Steelers selected Layne third overall. Layne did not want to play for Pittsburgh because of their scheme (single-wing). Chicago quickly traded for his rights, despite still rostering Sid Luckman and Johnny Lujack. The AFL’s Baltimore Colts also drafted Layne and offered him a $77,000 contract. Halas sweet-talked Layne into signing with the Bears instead. Halas was all about having a stable of QBs, apparently.
  • 1951: Bears trade Jim Spavital to the Baltimore Colts for the #2 overall pick, Bob Williams. The next player off the board was Y.A. Tittle.
  • 1999: Bears move down in the draft, trading #7 overall to the Washington Football team for #12, #71, #106, #143, and a third-round selection in 2000. Washington would select Champ Bailey with the #7 pick, and the Bears would net back Cade McNown, D’Wayne Bates, Warrick Holdman, Jerry Wisne, and Dustin Lyman. In addition to Champ Bailey, the Bears forwent the opportunity to draft David Boston, Chris Claiborne, Chris McAlister, and Daunte Culpepper. After the McNown selection, the next players off the board were John Tait, Booger McFarland, and Jevon Kearse.
  • 2003: Bears move down in the draft, trading #4 overall to the Jets for #13, #22, and #116. The Jets would select Dewayne Roberston at #4 overall, and the Bears would net back Michael Haynes, Rex Grossman, and Ian Scott. The Bears forwent the opportunity to draft Byron Leftwich, Kevin Williams, Terrell Suggs, Marcus Trufant, Ty Warren, and Troy Polamalu at #13. They forwent the opportunity to draft Willis McGahee, Dallas Clark, and Nnamdi Asomugha at #22.
  • 2017: Bears move up in the draft, trading #3, #67, #111, and a third-round pick in 2018 for #2 overall to select Mitchell Trubisky.
  • 2021: Bears move up to #11, trading #20, a 2022 first-round pick, and a 2022 fourth-round pick to the Giants for Justin Fields. Despite being ranked the #2 QB in a strong QB class throughout the majority of the past two seasons and an excellent scouting profile, Fields inexplicably fell out of the top ten and into the Bears lap.

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I like spreadsheets and football. I aim to take an analytical approach to my football research while also realizing the physical nature of football and how that impacts the numbers. While my main focus is Chicago Bears, I also write about the NFL as a whole.

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