There has been a very confusing trend over the past several weeks regarding Ohio State star quarterback Justin Fields’ draft stock. While he spent most of the past two years being considered the de-facto #2 quarterback in the country behind Trevor Lawrence, he has found himself dropping down most expert’s mock draft boards.
Lawrence is a lock at number one to go to Jacksonville. The Jets seem set on BYU’s Zach Wilson at two. Rumors are flying out of the woodwork putting Alabama’s Mac Jones as the third pick to San Francisco. Justin Fields now finds himself in a battle with Trey Lance (and arguably Kyle Trask and Kellen Mond, who are both gaining traction) for the right to be the fourth quarterback drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Why The Change?
Fields had an exceptional Pro-Day that, if anything, should have only helped his draft stock. Yes, he was thoroughly outplayed in the College Football Championship game by Mac Jones. Jones led Alabama to a resounding 52 to 24 blowout with a near-perfect performance. But if we are going to let one game sway our perspective, shouldn’t we place Fields ahead of Lawrence after he outdueled Clemson’s star earlier in the year with a 49 to 28 blowout of his own?
Is there is a bias against Ohio State quarterbacks, as outside of Joe Burrow, regardless of team success Ohio State star quarterbacks rarely translate to the NFL? Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, and most recently Dwayne Haskins all come to mind.
Regardless, Justin Fields actually tops his quarterback class in several key attributes. In fact, I would argue that Fields is set to have the most successful NFL career of this quarterback class.
Let me explain:
Justin Fields is arguably the most accurate passer out of this year’s prospects. Fields have a career throwing accuracy in college football at 68.4% and finished an abbreviated 2020 season at over 70%. Out of the other top QB prospects, only Mac Jones has a better total throwing accuracy numbers. However, this is out of very limited sample size, his amazing 2020 season, his only season as a starter.
Where Fields surpasses even Mac Jones’ accuracy is when we dig deeper. According to Pro Football Focus’s ball-placement charting, Fields tops this year’s rookie class on all passes thrown five-plus yards down the field. Fields narrowly topped Jones in this charting, but both were considerably more accurate than any other quarterback in their class, including Trevor Lawrence. None of the other QB’s were even within five percentage points.
While Fields does not have quite the explosive arm strength of Jones or Trey Lance, he still has the exceptional arm talent and has proven time and time again that he can make any key throw, and even mix in a mind-blowing circus bomb along the way. See him make a-56 yard bomb look easy against Clemson to junior wide receiver Chris Olave for evidence. He also received rave reviews for the accurate missiles he launched at his Pro Day.
By the way, Fields has the second-highest recorded QBR in college football in the history of that statistic. Only Tua Tagovailoa had a higher career QBR.
Fields is the best athlete in this year’s class. His 4.43 forty-yard dash is by far the best of the bunch. In fact, the only first-round quarterback selections ever to clock faster forty times are Mike Vick and Robert Griffin III. Mac Jones, his only competition in terms of accuracy, is the least athletic player of this year’s QB class.
Trey Lance is projected to be in the mid to high 4.5 range for forty time. None of the other top prospects have broken a 4.7. Fields rushed for 484 yards and 10 touchdowns during his sophomore year and 383 yards in just eight games in 2020.
This elite speed and mobility gives him the outstanding improvisational ability and allows him to evade pressure at a high level. This skillset is not unlike current elite NFL quarterbacks like Russel Wilson, Kyler Murray, and Josh Allen. His athleticism has allowed him to overcome a subpar offensive line at Ohio State and still dominate the competition on his way to a College Football Championship berth.
This speed, athleticism, and evasiveness will serve Fields extremely well as he moves to the next level, where defenses are bigger, stronger, faster, and more complex. While the Sam Darnold’s of the world enter the league and are quickly beaten down behind rebuilding offensive lines on bad teams, Fields is built to succeed even in such adverse conditions.
Contrary to Dan Orlovsky’s recent take on Fields’ rumored lack of dedication to the game, there is a mountain of evidence supporting Justin Fields’ leadership, motivation, and passion for football.
Justin Fields was the vocal leader of a movement to push for a Big Ten fall football schedule during the pandemic. Fields wanted to play ball. Fields wanted to show NFL Scouts what he could do, and how he had improved. He wanted to lead his team to the championship game. He accomplished all of these goals, leading the movement to reinstate play during a global catastrophe hardly seems like the actions of a player who lacks any level of motivation.
For another example of Fields’ toughness and motivation, let’s bring up his performance against Clemson one more time. In arguably the most anticipated college football game of the year. Fields outdueled Trevor Lawrence to a tune of 22 of 28 for 385 yards passing with six touchdowns through the air and an astounding 17.5 yards per completion. His Ohio State squad blew out Clemson and the presumptive top pick in the draft by a score of 49 to 28, as Fields made his own pitch for the best quarterback in the class.
All of the above evidence and accomplishments have occurred within a 1.5-year window of starting at a collegiate level. The only consistent critiques of his game have been his lack of pocket presence and his limited ability to read a defense and recognize a blitz.
However, even one of his few critics, Orlovski, during an ESPN segment recently noted his improvement and his strength at “seeing the way a defense will disperse itself and deliver the ball with a touch.”
Richard Sherman believes that Fields is a top prospect even if you just look at his pocket passing, disregarding his athleticism. So are these criticisms accurate, or purely subjective?
Regardless, the level of skill that Fields has displayed in his 1.5 years of starting at Ohio State shows that the sky is truly the limit for him as a player.
Where He Goes
While slipping slightly in his overall draft status may be viewed as a negative, it could be a major benefit for Fields in the long run. He will avoid going to Jacksonville, a franchise still trying to climb out of the post-Tom Coughlin turmoil who hasn’t had an above-average quarterback since Mark Brunell. He is avoiding the Urban Meyer circus that got off to a very rocky start with his quick hiring, and firing of a disgraced strength and conditioning coach.
Fields will avoid going to the Jets, where promising young quarterback careers go to die. Sam Darnold has become the latest young player to be used, abused, and abandoned by a franchisee whose best quarterback of the past half-century was Vinny Testaverde.
The 49ers, Falcons, Panthers, or Broncos all are better suited for Fields’ immediate success than either of these teams. All of those teams may be in the market for a quarterback and have a stronger infrastructure in place to build around young talent like Fields.
The only risk is that the lowly Lions could take him if he is available at 7, but it seems most likely they build around Jarred Goff for the immediate future. And though they were never able to get over the hump, they did, at the very least, provide Matt Stafford with job security for the past decade.
Regardless, as he projected to be between the third to fifth quarterback taken in the draft, Fields will avoid going to one of the top two dumpster fires in the league and should wind up on a team with some talent and ability to protect their new young star.
Justin Fields has the ideal skill set to succeed in today’s NFL. He has an extremely rare combination of elite accuracy and elite athleticism that no one else in this year’s quarterback class has.
Fields has shown that he has outstanding leadership abilities, toughness, and isn’t afraid to be the voice of a locker room.
Fields should fall to a team with a solid foundation set for him to succeed. The 49ers have an elite defense, a brilliant young coach, and are a quarterback away from contending again. The Panthers have one of the brightest young coaching staff in the league with Matt Rhule and Joe Brady. Best of all, none of his prospective landing spots are the Jets or the Jaguars (sorry Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence. Best of luck, guys).
Based on these factors, I predict that when all is said and done, Justin Fields is poised to have the most successful career of this year’s quarterback draft class.
Let’s reassess in 2031.