Ranking the NFL's Most Likely Teams to Land Justin Fields After 2nd Pro Day

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistApril 15, 2021

Ranking the NFL's Most Likely Teams to Land Justin Fields After 2nd Pro Day

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields may represent a pivot point in the 2021 NFL draft. Most expect Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and BYU's Zach Wilson to be the first two players off the board on April 29 in Cleveland, with another quarterback being drafted at No. 3.

    Could that quarterback be Fields? It's possible. However, Alabama's Mac Jones and North Dakota State's Trey Lance also have to be considered in the mix. And if the San Francisco 49ers don't select Fields with the third selection, the 2019 Heisman Trophy finalist could become a target for teams looking to move up for a quarterback.

    Fields had his second pro day Wednesday. After he impressed with a 4.44-second 40-yard-dash at his first pro day, his second pro day was more akin to a private throwing session for those in attendance.

    "NFL teams wanted some throws and some things that they wanted to see. ... Less of a scripted pro day and more of 'here's what the teams want to see that we can show them to answer some questions,'" NFL Networks Mike Garafolo said (via Andrew Mason of DNVR Sports and Mile High Sports).

    So which teams are the most likely to come out of the 2021 draft with Fields? Using factors like draft position, team needs and any relevant buzz, we'll rank the top options here.       

9. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Steelers GM Kevin Colbert
    Steelers GM Kevin ColbertCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The Pittsburgh Steelers have a future Hall of Famer in Ben Roethlisberger but possibly only for one more campaign. The 39-year-old quarterback restructured his contract this offseason and remains under contract through 2021.

    Adding Big Ben's successor in this draft would make a lot of sense, and Pittsburgh did send head coach Mike Tomlin to Fields' first pro day.

    However, the Steelers rank last on this list because they own the 24th pick. General manager Kevin Colbert has been aggressive in the past, trading up from No. 20 to No. 10 to nab linebacker Devin Bush in 2019, but getting into the range for Fields' feels unlikely.

    First, the Steelers would have to hope that he doesn't go within the first three selections. Then, they may have to move all the way up from to fourth overall. The Atlanta Falcons are open to trading that pick, according to Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated, and multiple teams could be scrambling for the selection if Fields is still on the board.

    Should Fields fall on draft night, though, the Steelers cannot be ruled out.       

8. Chicago Bears

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    Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace
    Matt Nagy and Ryan PaceNam Huh/Associated Press

    The Chicago Bears are in a position similar to that of Pittsburgh. They need a long-term answer at quarterback but only have veteran Andy Dalton under contract for one year.

    Head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace have also made no secret of the fact that they are evaluating this draft class.

    "Ryan and I are super excited about going through that evaluation process together and how we do it," Nagy told reporters. "It's a challenge, but we look forward to it. There's a lot of good quarterbacks in this draft class."

    As is the case with Pittsburgh, though, the Bears aren't in a prime position to land Fields. They own the 20th pick in Round 1 and would likely have to make a massive jump to land the Ohio State product.

    Pace has been an aggressive trader in the past. He dealt for Khalil Mack and pursued Russell Wilson this offseason. But a team like Atlanta may not be willing to move all the way down to No. 20. It feels more likely that Chicago will examine its options at the bottom of Round 1 and on Day 2.  

7. New York Jets

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    Jets GM Joe Douglas
    Jets GM Joe DouglasMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Jacksonville Jaguars have seemed likely to take Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with the No. 1 pick since "earning" the selection, and new head coach Urban Meyer has done little to suggest otherwise.

    "I'll leave that up to the owner when we make that decision official," Meyer said, per NBC Sports' Peter King. "But I'm certainly not stepping out of line that that's certainly the direction we're headed."

    Things are a little less clear for the New York Jets, who hold the No. 2 pick and need a quarterback. And the consensus seems to be that they are going to take BYU's Zach Wilson.

    "Nothing to see here. Move along. The NFL draft really starts with the San Francisco 49ers at No. 3," SNY's Ralph Vacchiano wrote. 

    The Jets were at Fields' second pro day, however, so until the draft card is actually turned in for Wilson, they remain in play for Fields.          

6. Atlanta Falcons

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    Falcons QB Matt Ryan
    Falcons QB Matt RyanAssociated Press

    The Atlanta Falcons are near the middle of this list for two reasons. One, as previously mentioned, they are open to trading out of the No. 4 spot. This suggests that they aren't overly concerned with landing a signal-caller this year.

    Secondly, the Falcons have a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback in Matt Ryan. They also have Ryan under contract through 2023. Ryan will still have $40.5 million in guaranteed money after this season, so financially, it wouldn't make sense to move on for at least two more years.

    Still, depending on what happens with the first three selections, Atlanta could be in the driver's seat to land Fields, and it isn't ruling out taking a quarterback at some point in the draft.

    "That's a position that regardless of where you are at your starter—we're so excited about Matt Ryan—but we have to evaluate every one of these quarterbacks," new general manager Terry Fontenot said in an interview released by the organization.

    The Falcons were present at Fields' second pro day, so it's not out of the question they'll fall in love with him as a prospect and take him fourth overall.

5. Detroit Lions

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    New Lions QB Jared Goff
    New Lions QB Jared GoffScott Eklund/Associated Press

    According to Breer, the Detroit Lions are open to trading down in the draft. However, Detroit was among the teams in attendance for Fields' second pro day. The Lions hold the No. 7 selection and could be within the range of landing Fields, either with their own selection or by trading up.

    The Lions rank this low because they traded quarterback Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff this offseason. Goff is only 26 years old, and it would make sense for Detroit to give the Super Bowl LIII participant time to prove whether he can be a long-term answer under center.

    Still, it would be unwise to dismiss Detroit as a possible landing spot. General manager Brad Holmes has admitted that the Lions aren't out of the mix for a signal-caller at seventh overall.

    "No, absolutely not," Holmes said on the Hustle and Flow podcast (via Cameron DaSilva of Lions Wire). "I don't think when you're picking this high that you can be out on any position. But obviously quarterback is such an important position. And I just think it's good drafting business always to be very, very thorough on that quarterback class—regardless of what your situation is."

    If the Lions come to believe that Fields has far superior upside to Goff, he could be the pick.

4. Carolina Panthers

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    New Panthers QB Sam Darnold
    New Panthers QB Sam DarnoldCharles Krupa/Associated Press

    The Carolina Panthers could be in the mix for Fields. They don't rank higher on this list because they just completed a trade to acquire 2018 third overall pick Sam Darnold from the Jets. They also still have Teddy Bridgewater on the roster.

    However, there's no guarantee that they won't bring in even more competition via the draft.

    "There are several around the league who believe the Panthers are ready to throw multiple darts at the quarterback position," The Athletic's Dane Brugler recently wrote.

    Carolina has certainly done its homework on Fields. According to Breer, head coach Matt Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer attended Fields' first pro day, while offensive coordinator Joe Brady and quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan attended his second.

    If the Panthers hadn't traded for Darnold, they would be even higher on this list. They did, though, so Carolina may be willing to trade out of the No. 8 spot if Fields falls that far.    

3. Denver Broncos

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    Broncos president John Elway
    Broncos president John ElwayMichael Conroy/Associated Press

    The Denver Broncos are scheduled to select one pick after Carolina and could be in the market for a quarterback. They do have Drew Lock, but the 2019 second-rounder has done little to establish himself as a long-term answer.

    In 13 starts last season, he threw for 2,933 yards with 16 touchdowns to 15 interceptions, recording a passer rating of 75.4.

    The Broncos sent representatives to Fields' second pro day, and the former Buckeye could be the pick if he falls to No. 9—or if the Broncos are willing to move up. However, it's possible the Broncos will want to give Lock more time to prove himself. 

    "Denver at nine is interesting," ESPN's Todd McShay told reporters. "I don't know that they've given up on Drew Lock. I think if they continue to put people around him and support him better, he can have a really successful career."

     

2. New England Patriots

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    Patriots coach Bill Belichick
    Patriots coach Bill BelichickStew Milne/Associated Press

    If a team is going to trade up to secure Fields, it could be the New England Patriots. While they did re-sign Cam Newton this offseason, they also made it clear that they weren't ruling out other options.

    "Patriots are bringing back Cam Newton, but it doesn't preclude them from making another QB move in the weeks to come, per league sources," ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted March 12. "This move locks in a QB heading into free agency."

    According to Breer, New England sent representatives to both of Fields' pro days, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was among those in attendance for the second.

    While the Patriots would likely have to make a significant jump to land Fields, they have a better chance of moving into the top 10 than teams like Chicago and Pittsburgh. New England owns the 15th overall pick, a spot at which a trade partner could still land an elite prospect.

    Would the Patriots move all the way from No. 15 to No. 4? That seems like a difficult one to pull off, but plenty of analysts, including NFL Network's Peter Schrager, believe such a move is possible.

    "This would be a trade that rocks the NFL, but I don't think it's too crazy," Schrager wrote. "The Patriots don't envision having a pick as high as they currently do (15th) anytime soon, and this is their year to make a big move if they're ever going to get their blue-chip QB to develop."

    There's one team, though, that could prevent the Patriots from trading up to land Fields.   

1. San Francisco 49ers

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    49ers GM John Lynch
    49ers GM John LynchCharlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    The 49ers are virtually guaranteed to take a quarterback after trading up for the third overall pick. Some, like ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., believe that Alabama's Mac Jones will be the selection. Others are more skeptical that San Francisco would jump nine spots to take Jones over Fields.

    "I am continuing to find myself among those skeptics," CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora wrote. "Skeptics who have evaluated this quarterback class and who find themselves shaking their heads at all of the Fields slander popping up all over the place. Skeptics who just aren't buying that Jones, for as well he played this season at Alabama, is a superior prospect worthy of being the third overall selection."

    The 49ers are definitely interested in Fields. They sent general manager John Lynch, head coach Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello to watch him throw at his second pro day, according to Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area.

    According to NFL Network's Tom Pelisseero, Fields incorporated drills used by the 49ers into his workout Wednesday (Trey Lance is expected to do so next Monday).

    The idea of San Francisco targeting Jones cannot be ignored, but taking rumors at face value during the predraft process can be foolish. Lance could be in the mix as well, but like Jones, he has only one year of starting experience. Fields has a fantastic combination of physical upside and experience, as well as a skill set that would work great with Kyle Shanahan's offense.

    "[Fields'] best fit is an intermediate based pass game that attacks the middle of the field and utilizes his movement ability off play action and quarterback designed runs with schemed vertical throws," ESPN's Matt Bowen said, per Rick Wagoner of ESPN.com. "Now, who does that sound like?"

    If Lawrence and Wilson are indeed the first two players off the board, San Francisco will get the first crack at drafting Fields. My guess is that the 49ers will pull the trigger and take him.

                                   

    *Contract information via Spotrac.