NFL QB Coach Loves Justin Fields, but 'Scary' If QB Has to Play in Rookie Year

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2021

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields throws a pass against Indiana during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State beat Indiana 42-35. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

An anonymous NFL quarterbacks coach is excited about the upside of Justin Fields, one of the top prospects in the 2021 NFL draft, but is hopeful the Ohio State signal-caller isn't forced into action as a rookie.

The assistant broke down their view of Fields' draft stock with Bruce Feldman of The Athletic on Wednesday:

"He's the one guy that for whatever reason people are taking shots at, whether they're trying to get him pushed down the board, or who knows why; he's the one that everyone wants to bully up on now. He didn't play good against Northwestern; he played great against Clemson, and look at his '19 season, he was phenomenal. He is a first-round talent. He is way more polished than [Trey] Lance.

"When you hear people talking about how well he processes, you don't see read progressions, where it's bang-bang-bang. He's also playing on a different level. You don't know how much of that they've taught him. You think, give me a year with this guy and it'll all come together because of his natural athleticism and ability. I love the guy, but if he has to play this year, that's scary."

Fields' landing spot in the draft has become uncertain, which would have been hard to believe in early January when he threw six touchdowns in a playoff win over Trevor Lawrence and Clemson, which sparked conversations about whether he could challenge for the No. 1 overall spot.

His momentum was halted when the Buckeyes got blown out by Mac Jones and Alabama in the national championship game, and he's since been the focus of questions about his NFL readiness.

Most notably, ESPN's Dan Orlovsky appeared on The Pat McAfee Show (h/t Joe Rivera of Sporting News) and provided some concerning things he'd heard about the Ohio State standout:

"One, I have heard that he is a last-guy-in, first-guy-out type of quarterback. Like, not the maniacal work ethic. I've even heard it compared to Justin Herbert, where it was like, dude, when Justin Herbert showed up, he was like a psychopath when it came to working and get ready for the draft. Or even at school, like, 'Give me more, I want to work nonstop.' And I've heard that there are issues with Justin Fields' work ethic.

"The second thing is ... Where is his desire to go be a great quarterback? I think that there's a desire to be a big-time athlete, from what is expressed to me, but where is his desire to be a great quarterback? And to be great, you gotta be willing to find the things that you are not good at and just freaking grind on them."

OSU head coach Ryan Day quickly came to Fields' defense in an interview with NBC Sports' Peter King:

"The whole idea that he doesn't have a very good work ethic? I mean, to me, that's crazy. He got done with the Clemson game [the loss in the college football playoffs in the 2019 season] and he came back and all he did was work to get back to that game. And when those other guys are opting out, what's he do? He petitions to have a season. He put together this petition that the Big Ten athletes all signed saying that they want to play, but they want to play safely and that they don't accept canceling the season. It was all led by Justin Fields. Where was everybody else? Where were the guys who were opting out then? You know, you don't love the game if you're doing something like that. This kid loves the game."

Anonymous critiques aside, Fields' collegiate numbers were tremendous. He completed 68.4 percent of his throws for 5,701 yards with 67 touchdowns and nine interceptions across 34 appearances in three seasons (two at Ohio State and one at Georgia). He added 1,133 rushing yards and 19 scores on the ground.

The 22-year-old Georgia native did struggle at times when forced to go deep in his read progressions, which showed up when facing an elite Alabama defense in the title game, but that's common for even high-end college quarterbacks.

It gives him a pre-draft feel similar to the Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen, the No. 7 pick in the 2018 draft. Someone with all the physical gifts who may struggle initially while working through the difficulties of an NFL learning curve. That said, the raw tools are there for him to eventually become a star.

Perhaps a full year watching from the sideline and being coached on progressions would help, but Allen showed it's possible to grow while starting as long as the franchise is patient enough to accept some head-scratching mistakes along the way.

Fields could be a steal if he slides outside the top 10 when the draft kicks off April 29.