2021 NFL Draft QB Rankings: #2 Justin Fields

For most of the past two years, Justin Fields has been the consensus #2 quarterback behind Trevor Lawrence. After he absolutely shredded Clemson in the semifinal game a few months back, it seemed like Fields was solidly locked-in as the #2 pick in the draft. In that game, his talent was on full display. He was launching absolute hydrogen bombs out there. He flashed his running ability. And he gritted out a nasty rib injury he sustained early in the game. Nobody could speak highly enough of Justin Fields after the Sugar Bowl.

But over the past couple of months, it feels like everyone has fallen out of love with him.

Perhaps it’s because Ohio State got wrecked by Alabama in the National Championship game a couple of weeks after the Clemson game. But to me, that’s unfair to Fields: Ohio State got out-coached and completely overwhelmed in every facet of the game by Alabama. Plus, they were dealing with a litany of injuries and COVID cases among key players. And on top of that, Justin Fields was playing hurt the whole game; he pretty clearly sustained some broken ribs during the Clemson game. He was definitely not fully healthy for the National Championship game.

He didn’t even have a bad game against Bama. He was 17/33 for 194 yards with 1 TD and 0 INT. Not great numbers, but he had zero turnovers. It’s not like he cost his team that game. Not by a long shot. His team was just over-matched. There’s no way you can hold that game against him.

Yet still people are fading Fields in the run up to the draft.

I’ve watched almost every game of Fields’ over the past two years. I watch a lot of Ohio State games in general. I have never seen an Ohio State quarterback do the things I watched Justin Fields do. I haven’t seen many college quarterbacks in general do the things he can do, honestly.

There’s one throw of his from 2019 that still sticks with me to this day, and it’s one of the most impressive throws I’ve ever seen a college quarterback make. It’s at the 2:12 mark of this video:

I watch that throw over and over again all the time. It’s just incredible. The pocket collapses so he has to roll out to his left, then he turns all the way around so he can make the throw (since he’s a righty), he fires off balance from about the Michigan 32 with defenders collapsing on him, and hits his receiver with pinpoint accuracy in the back corner of the endzone, over two defenders. It was one of the most big-time throws I’ve ever seen. And it was after he took a hard hit and had to leave the game temporarily. He just came right back on to the field and did that. Right there, for me, it was confirmed: Justin Fields is a very special football talent.

People are raving over Zach Wilson’s pro day pass below (you probably know which one I’m talking about), but Justin Fields did that in a game.

A big knock on Fields is that he tends to lock in on his first read (meaning the guy he is supposed to throw to according to the original play design) for too long, and when his first read is unavailable, he has a habit of holding on to the ball too long waiting for his guy to get open. In those situations, you’re supposed to progress to your second and third and even fourth reads until you find somebody open, but apparently scouts say Fields hasn’t shown a great ability to do that consistently. But as evidenced by that incredible throw against Michigan, he absolutely has the ability to improvise and go through his reads when the play falls apart. So I really don’t know how much I buy that narrative.

If there is a concern about him being a “one-read guy,” I would assume a lot of that is scheme, i.e. he’s simply executing the plays his coaches are calling. His coach tells him, “look for his first read, and if he’s not open, then tuck it and run,” etc. I don’t think these college quarterbacks have as much leeway and freedom to make decisions as we assume they do. A lot of the time they’re just out there doing exactly what their coach is telling them to do. It’s just hard to believe a QB gets as far as Fields has gotten without being able to progress past his first read. Dan Orlovsky says it’s B.S. that Fields doesn’t know how to read a defense (however, he says the reason people are fading Fields is due to work ethic concerns).

However, I have seen Fields make some bad decisions, too. There was one play in the Clemson game early in the second half where he threw a very questionable interception down in the red zone. He just tried to force the issue when he shouldn’t have. That’s a play that stuck out to me. You do not want to see your quarterback making bone-headed decisions that lead to turnovers. But then again, he did have 6 TD passes in that game, too. So I think the good decisions outweigh the bad with Fields, but decision-making is definitely a concern here. Then again, all QBs make bad decisions from time to time, and I’ve definitely watched Fields the most, so maybe I’m just nitpicking here.

So he’s not a perfect prospect; there are some real concerns.

But Fields has a lot of qualities that you want in a franchise QB.

And in my opinion, the pros with him far outweigh the cons.

This is what Trent Dilfer had to say about him:

“He’s a tough guy,” Dilfer said. “I’ve read through all of the evaluations of these players. And everybody has a lot of good stuff to say. The one biggest thing missing in their evaluations is their toughness. This is a position where you have to be a tough guy, physically and mentally. Both Trevor and Justin are tough guys. Justin is a tough man’s tough guy. People will point to the playoff and say we saw him play injured. It’s more than that. It’s the mental and emotional resolve that he’s showed in his high school and college years, what happened to him at Georgia, the transfer to Ohio State, the negative talk around him. All of the different things that happened in his life, he’s developed grit and resolve and toughness that I will stamp it right now. He’ll be a wild success in the NFL because of that.”

I think Dilfer summed that up perfectly. The Clemson game really showcased his toughness. Beyond that, it’s the mental toughness that is truly key to succeeding in the NFL. You’ve got to be your team’s rock, and emotionally stable at all times. Fields is mentally tough.

But for as physically tough as he is, and willing as he is to take hits and pick up tough yards on the ground, or stand in the pocket and deliver even when he’s going to get crushed, he’s got to learn to save his body. Those hits are a lot harder in the NFL. You are not going to be able to stay on the field in the NFL if you take shots like he did in college.

Ultimately though, Fields is a leader. He was instrumental in getting the Big Ten to reverse its decision to cancel the 2020 season. He’s an elite athlete–he just ran a 4.44 at his pro day, and he has promised that he will eventually get into the 4.3s one of these days. He’s got a cannon of an arm and throws a beautiful deep ball. He’s big and strong–listed at 6′ 3″, 228lbs–and clearly ready for the NFL.

I think Fields’ dipping draft stock is a product of over-exposure. Because he played at Ohio State and was so visible for the past two years, people saw all the good he’s done, but also all the bad. We’re more cognizant of his flaws because we’ve seen so many of his games. So he’s losing ground to guys like Zach Wilson and Trey Lance, where most sports fans really only see their best highlights.

I waited until Fields’ pro day to write this post, and I’m glad I did, because he showed out big-time today. He made an incredible backpedaling-bomb-with-perfect-accuracy throw, just like Zach Wilson did at his pro day:

But for whatever reason, Zach Wilson just gets way more hype over everything he does. Maybe it’s because he wears a headband.

In all seriousness though, I really do feel like the main reason Zach Wilson has seemingly passed up Fields on most media analysts’ draft boards is because he’s not a known quantity like Fields is. It’s like people have already gotten bored of him or something. We’ve been up close and personal with Fields for two years now. He’s not “new” to us anymore, whereas Zach Wilson is. Everything he does is a surprise to us.

Zach Wilson is the shiny new object, while Fields is old news. It’s like Fields is Derek Zoolander and Zach Wilson is Hansel.

People are even kind of bored with Trevor Lawrence, too. It’s like, “Yeah, he’s great, he’s the best QB prospect since Andrew Luck, he’s definitely going #1 overall. But let’s talk about Zach Wilson!”

Zach Wilson is new and relatively unknown–the possibilities could be endless with him! Very few people have actually seen his games, so we know him through his highlights, whereas with Fields we’ve seen all the ups and the downs. We’ve seen him at his best and we’ve seen him at his worst. So of course he’s going to be diminished in our minds when we’re comparing the full picture of Fields to the highlight reel of Wilson.

I don’t think this should be held against Fields. There’s a lot of time to fill between the end of the college football season and the NFL Draft–almost 4 months. A lot of times, the sports media overthinks these prospects in an attempt to keep the discussion going and avoid beating a dead horse. There’s only so much you can say about a draft prospect after he plays his last college football game. So the sports media starts entertaining these new topics and viewpoints: “Hey, what if the guy we all say the #3 QB is actually better than the #2 guy?” Viewers are more intrigued by new ideas, as well as the idea of unpredictability.

I really do think the media, in an effort to come up with new storylines and avoid saying the same stale things for 4 months straight, erroneously nudged Zach Wilson ahead of Justin Fields. That, along with the fact that Zach Wilson is largely an unknown quantity while Fields is a thoroughly-known quantity.

I’m not saying Zach Wilson is bad or anything. I’m just saying the media has jumped the gun in elevating him over Justin Fields.

One final thing I wanted to bring up about Fields:

This is a sign of how “collegey” a guy’s offense was. Or, rather how gimmicky. Fields was asked to push the ball down the field and make NFL-type throws more than any other QB in the draft this year.

However, don’t read too much into this, because these days a lot of “collegey” or “gimmicky” concepts like RPOs and screens are finding their way into NFL playbooks. The college offense and the NFL offense are starting to get more and more similar.

Still, though, it does reflect positively on Fields that he was asked to be more of a “pro-style” (in the traditional sense of the word) QB than the other guys. If you want to know why he “holds on to the ball too long,” this might be part of the reason why. Ryan Day loves the deep ball, and naturally deep routes take more time to develop.

Let’s not get cute here. Ever since Lawrence and Fields were in high school, they were always considered the #1 and #2 quarterback prospects in the nation. Let’s not overthink this.

We’ve always known that Justin Fields was the second-best QB prospect in the class of 2021. We’ve known this for years. He’s still solidly #2 in this class behind Trevor Lawrence.

I’ve got Fields as my #2 QB. I’ve had him as my #2 QB since 2019, and the media’s sudden obsession with Zach Wilson is not going to sway me.

Obviously, like with just about any QB prospect, it really matters where he ends up. Even the best prospects can and will struggle in a terrible organization. I don’t think you can expect Justin Fields to compensate for all the deficiencies a team has. If he’s got a bad O-Line, no weapons, a bad coach and a bad defense, I think he’s going to struggle. But I believe the same thing about even Trevor Lawrence, too.

I think it’s actually good for Fields if he falls a bit in the draft and ends up on a team like Atlanta, where they have a smart, offensive-minded head coach, a good owner, and plenty of offensive weapons. I’d also love to see Fields on San Francisco with Kyle Shanahan, but it seems like San Fran likes Mac Jones more.

Fields is going to dodge a bullet big time if the Jets choose Wilson over him. There’s not a single QB prospect in this draft that can overcome the Jets’ lack of talent and dysfunction.

Fields is my #2 QB prospect in this draft, but the way things look now, he should be available at 3, or more likely even 4.

Octavian

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