Justin Fields Can Save Chicago Bears From QB HellApril 30, 2021
The Chicago Bears entered the first round of the 2021 NFL draft in a rough spot. The team had a massive hole at the game's most important position, a hole the Bears tried (and failed) to fill with an impact player earlier in the offseason. But thanks in part to backing into the playoffs at 8-8 in 2020, the Bears held the 20th overall pick in Round 1, which was perceived by just about everyone as too late to get one of the top five quarterbacks in the class.
By the time 10 picks had come off the board, just two of those quarterbacks were left. The Bears saw an opportunity to get a franchise quarterback and took it, sending a package that included the team's first-rounders in 2021 and 2022 to the New York Giants.
At No. 11 overall, the Bears selected Ohio State's Justin Fields. It was a bold move, and an expensive one—more costly than the move up to select Mitchell Trubisky in 2017.
But in taking that leap, Chicago general manager Ryan Pace made the wisest move of Round 1. The Bears now have an athletic, mobile, accomplished passer who could finally be the signal-caller who leads them out of their quarterback wasteland.
In fact. Pace pulled off the first round's biggest coup with a pick that could swing the balance of power in the NFC North in relatively short order.
It wasn't that long ago (just a few hours) that it appeared the Bears were prepared to enter the 2021 season with veteran Andy Dalton as the starter under center after whiffing on a purported trade for Russell Wilson.
As recently as earlier this month, Pace told reporters (via Jordan Mendoza of USA Today) that the team was confident in the 33-year-old.
"[Dalton's] a nine-year starter," Pace said. "He's been to three Pro Bowls. He's one of the more complete quarterbacks that we evaluated this year in free agency, and we're excited to have him ... We feel like we've gotten better with Andy."
That lasted right up until Fields fell outside the top 10.
It's not entirely surprising that Fields dropped behind BYU's Zach Wilson and North Dakota State's Trey Lance once the draft began. After spending most of the 2020 college football season as QB2 on most big boards, Fields' stock had dipped for some of late. There were reports of questions about his toughness and work ethic. It was also revealed that he has epilepsy, although the condition is being treated successfully with medication and hasn't affected his play.
As Dave Biddle wrote for 247Sports, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day admitted he found some of the criticisms of his former quarterback frustrating. But he also said that he expects Fields to handle it the same way he did in Columbus.
"You look at some of the more successful quarterbacks in the NFL, they’ve been through adversity and this is just kind of one more level of adversity that he’s had to go through just because of people taking shots at things that I think are his strengths," Day said.
When it comes to Fields' performance on the field, it gets quite a bit more difficult to pick apart his game. Over 22 games as the quarterback for the Buckeyes, he completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 5,373 yards with 63 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. He averaged 9.3 yards per attempt and almost 11 air yards per attempt.
Oh, and Fields ran for 867 yards and 15 more scores on the ground while losing all of two games—both in the College Football Playoff.
As Kyle Crabbs wrote in his scouting profile for Fields at The Draft Network, the young signal-caller has plus talent in all facets of the game, whether it's throwing with accuracy on the move or fitting balls into tight windows.
"Fields' ability as a passer is top shelf when accounting for his natural delivery and how easily he's proven to be able to throw around defenders or work himself into generating velocity and accuracy when on the move; the Buckeyes embraced rolling pocket with Fields at quarterback to take advantage of his arm strength and the subsequent access he'll get to all areas of the field as a passer."
This is a young quarterback who took one of the more brutal shots to the ribs we've seen a player endure on a big stage in recent memory, then miss just a single play—and follow that up by roasting the Clemson Tigers for 385 yards and six touchdowns.
Is that good? It sounds good.
This isn't to say that Fields is flawless. He has something of an elongated throwing motion. He sometimes tried too hard to keep plays alive in Columbus rather than just throwing the ball away, especially in 2020. And it can be argued he needs work on his progressions and protection calls.
But many of those "flaws" are common among young signal-callers. All are fixable with some development and coaching. And as Eric Edholm wrote at Yahoo Sports, if put in the right scheme and given some time to develop, Fields has the potential to be downright frightening.
"We envision him thriving in a newfangled NFL system that highlights RPOs, zone reads, play-action, moving pockets and half-field reads, attacking the intermediate and deep parts of the field. That’s where he thrives. Fields is a pocket passer who just happens to have great athletic traits to make plays on the move. He’s a Pro Bowl-caliber talent all day long who might need a little seasoning and incubation before he’s ready to break out."
Fields is more experienced than Trubisky was coming out of college. And more accurate. And has a better arm. And is exponentially more athletic.
He's also apparently ready to get to work in his new home.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson probably fainted when this pick was announced. As bad as the QB situation has been in Chicago, that poor guy has been stuck with a who's who of "who?" dating back to his time in Jacksonville.
This isn't to say that Fields will start in the season opener, although given how Dalton looked in Dallas last year, I don't know how many game reps head coach Matt Nagy will want to waste on him displaying his mediocrity. Nor is it to say that Fields will be the best quarterback in the NFC North in 2021.
But Fields offers Chicago the most upside the franchise has had under center in a very long time. He's a big step up from Dalton and Nick Foles from the moment he steps on the practice field. And if he's any kind of quick study, then with Aaron Rodgers' future in Green Bay suddenly uncertain, it may not be long before he is the best at his position in the division.