The Bears think quarterback Tyson Bagent is special.
To do well, he’ll have to be.
Bagent will become just the 64th undrafted rookie quarterback to start a game since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger when he takes the field against the Raiders on Sunday.
He’s in his age-23 season. Only three undrafted rookies have ever started at a younger age, and they each started one game each. The Bears likely need Bagent to start longer than a week with Justin Fields out with a dislocated thumb.
Bagent merely starting a game is unprecedented in Bears history. Two other quarterbacks since the merger made a start as undrafted free agents, but they both come with asterisks: Mike Hohensee was a replacement player during the 1987 strike and Henry Burris was a 27-year-old who’d thrown for more than 4,000 yards in the Canadian Football League.
Monday, coach Matt Eberflus left no doubt that he’d start Bagent over veteran third-stringer Nathan Peterman, saying he earned the opportunity.
“Just what he showed during training camp,” Eberflus said. “What he has shown to this point. His work habits, his functional intelligence on the football field, his acumen in the classroom being able to operate is very high. He’s able to chunk a bunch of information together and simplify in his mind to understand concepts. I think his release is really quick. I like that. I like how he sees the field. He’s very patient, very poised in there.
“It’s a good opportunity for Tyson.”
That’s a statement in itself, given that, a year ago this week, he was preparing to lead Div. II Shepherd University into a game against West Chester in front of 2,123 fans.
“I’m obviously very confident in myself,” Bagent said. “Nothing changes for me. Since Day 1 I was preparing as if I was going to play the whole game. That’s kind of how I approach the game. I like to know what’s going on at all times. Nothing is really going to change for this week.”
It would be a tough ask for Bagent to carry the Bears for weeks — or, if Fields ultimately needs surgery, months. Only 10 undrafted quarterbacks have thrown at least 200 NFL passes in their rookie season since the merger. Three were at least 29 and coming off CFL careers, and a fourth, the Cowboys’ Chad Hutchinson, was 25 and changing jobs after pitching for the Cardinals.
The other six — Giants’ Joe Pisarcik, the Seahawks’ Jim Zorn, the Rams’ Austin Davis, the Texas Case Keenum, the 49ers’ Nick Mullens and the Raiders’ Matt McGloin — combined to go 13-42 and have a passer rating of 69.1 as rookies.
Set your expectations accordingly.
The Bears, though, have been impressed by Bagent’s confidence since they scouted him during his record-breaking college run — no Div. II passer has ever thrown for more than his 17,034 yards — and got to know him at the Senior Bowl. Playing for Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy’s American team in February, he went 17-for-22 for 138 yards and one interception.
“Very confident, passionate,” said running back D’Onta Foreman, who teamed with him on the practice squad the first five weeks of the season. “Just somebody who expects to go out there and play well. I think I get that sense from him.
“Ultimately you gotta go do it, though.”
His chance came Sunday, when he went 10-for-14 for 83 yards, one interception, one strip-sack fumble and a rushing touchdown.
His historic first start comes Sunday.
“I think it’s in him at this point,” cornerback Jaylon Johnson said. “Going out there, being confident. Being himself. He showed that, going out there. He showed that in the preseason.”