It’s gotten to the point where Fields may be the fifth QB selected in the first round. That may be a blessing in disguise, but some of the criticisms about Fields are just plain lazy, and flat-out wrong.
But a recent test the Buckeyes field general took suggests that reported criticisms of a lackluster work ethic and an apparent inability to move off his first read are just not accurate.
Justin Fields’ recall suggests he’ll be a quick NFL study
In an interview on The Pat McAfee Show former New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez provided some fascinating insight into a memory-based test Fields recently excelled on:
While top prospects of recent years and legitimate NFL superstars in Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen scored high, Fields blew them both away and scored the highest in the test’s history among more than 6,500 pro athletes.
Because of Fields’ borderline photographic memory, there’s reason to believe he’ll have little trouble picking up an NFL playbook.
Did you get that, Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers? Maybe drafting Mac Jones isn’t the way to go.
Although critics will continue to harp on the fact that recent Ohio State quarterbacks don’t work in the pros and that the gimmicky offense doesn’t prepare players well for the NFL, Fields has demonstrated he can execute pro-style concepts.
Justin Fields’ on-field processing is underrated
Back to the notion that Fields can’t see the field, process the play as it unfolds, and can’t get off his first read.
The mental aptitude Fields showed on this test suggests that’s not the case, and so do several raw numbers from Fields’ 2020 season.
As The Draft Network’s Benjamin Solak referenced in a recent article, Fields had a higher number of pass attempts beyond his first read (19.69%) than any of the other top QB prospects. What’s more, Fields’ 69% completion rate on such attempts was way better than Lawrence’s 43.4%.
More data to back up Fields’ ability to move through progressions and make quality plays from Pro Football Focus:
Hard to argue with the data at this point. Pair that with Fields’ obviously bright mind, and it sounds like you’ve got a pretty killer combo in a QB.
But wait, there’s more: Fields is a dynamic runner who ran in the 4.4’s in his 40-yard dash. He also showed amazing toughness after getting rocked in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Clemson. He came back in to outduel Lawrence and threw six touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 49-28 victory.
Ohio State’s offense featured heavy use of option routes, which meant Fields held the ball longer as those plays developed. That’s part of why he’s rightly viewed as a “see-it” thrower, yet some of that is based on what the Buckeyes asked him to do.
Finally, Fields’ supreme athleticism allows him to buy time with his legs. That won’t always work in the NFL, yet his mobility can help Fields make plays outside of structure. Some of that unique skill set accounts for Fields’ ability to make plays beyond his first read.
But to say Fields flat-out doesn’t have the skill set or fast-enough processing to ultimately succeed as a pocket passer seems dubious at best, and a dated generalization at worst.
Justin Fields is out to disprove misguided stereotypes
NFL Network’s Bucky Brooks recently underscored the problematic implication that Fields isn’t a student of the game:
As the perception of what a quarterback should be has changed in recent years, the tired stereotypes about black men persist in the evaluation process. That’s not a hot take or some SJW-contrived fantasy. It’s just pointing out the obvious.
Now, some will point to Johnny Manziel’s party boy antics, or Baker Mayfield‘s infamous police video at Oklahoma as examples of non-black QBs who had their perceived issues called into question.
That’s missing the larger point, though. Neither of them really had their work ethic doubted, and Mayfield was the first overall pick anyway. Mayfield admitted publicly to not working as hard as he should’ve amid a sophomore slump in 2019. A Hall of Fame evaluator labeled Manziel smart and “a very quick learner.” We all know how Johnny Football ended up.
If Fields can go past his primary read more often, and more accurately, than his peers, has seemingly genius-level recall and is arguably the most dynamic dual-threat playmaker at the position, how is it that he’s widely projected to be the fifth QB drafted?
Evaluating Justin Fields’ 2021 NFL Draft stock
There’s no need to dwell on the racial element to Fields’ draft outlook, but it’d feel disingenuous not to mention it. Now that it’s been addressed, let’s look at Fields from yet another angle.
Fields’ situation feels very similar to what happened with Oregon’s Justin Herbert last year.
Herbert was a long-term starter for the Ducks who was a three-time academic All-American. Due to the way Oregon’s offense was constructed, Herbert didn’t get to show off all that he could do. There was this notion that he wasn’t capable of going from the Ducks’ system to an NFL offense quickly.
We all know how that turned out. The Los Angeles Chargers couldn’t be more thrilled with having Herbert as their QB of the future.
Falling in the draft isn’t always the worst thing. Aaron Rodgers had no business sliding to the Green Bay Packers, and the same was true for Baltimore Ravens MVP Lamar Jackson, who was the last pick of the first round in 2018.
Fields isn’t likely to fall out of the top 10, but he should be more prominently featured in the conversation for the No. 2 overall pick alongside Zach Wilson. The New York Jets seem set on Wilson, who looks to have a bright future in his own right. That said, Fields was the QB2 for a long time for good reason.
At the very least, it should be Wilson QB2a and Fields QB2b. If the latter falls to a more stable franchise with a roster readier to win now, or if a more prominent contender trades up for him, don’t be surprised to see Fields make like Herbert and have the best rookie season of any quarterback entering the 2021 NFL Draft.