2022 REWIND: Justin Fields’ 2021 Season
So far, this 2022 summer, I’ve rewatched/studied 2021 rookie QBs Zach Wilson and Davis Mills in-depth…and within that I got to watch games where Wilson and/or Mills faced Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, and/or Trey Lance – so I watched those particular games/matchups in depth to study both rookie QBs involved in the game. I’ve seen a lot of 2021 rookie QB tape this summer. But the one I haven’t seen much at all, along the way, is Justin Fields.
I didn’t have Fields as a high priority rewatch/rewind study for this summer, but I figured I might as well close the loop and study him …to finish off all the 2021 rookie QB tape around the same time frame, to compare and contrast. So, here we are.
I went back and watched every start…from his Week 3 disaster vs. Cleveland (Sacked 9 times) all the way through to his Week 15 final start (due to mild injury and put on ice the rest of the way). 10 total ‘starts’ Fields made in the 2021 season…a season where he threw for just 7 TDs with 10 INTs and a 58.9% Comp. Pct. – not good.
Was Fields’ 2021 issues due to his bad surrounding team/O-Line/head coach? Or is this a Fields’ talent issue? That’s what I tried to find out in this 2021 rewind study.
I can start out saying this – the mainstream likes/loves Fields, and always have, and many think/thought he was the best QB prospect going into the 2021 NFL Draft. They see a big 2022 jump coming for Fields with a new staff…’they’ always see an excuse/cause for a ‘leap forward’ on a coaching change with the guys ‘they’ like.
I’ll give my conclusion first, on Fields, and then work my way backwards into why I believe my conclusion…
Justin Fields isn’t a very good NFL QB, especially as a passer. He’s a good runner…but not as good as you think, but good. He’s a ‘C’ or ‘D’ grade passer – and I don’t think he’ll ever get that much better (but the book is not closed). He’ll be OK as defenders over-respect his scramble ability and thus he has more time in the pocket to work…but he’s going to be a below average NFL starter in the NFL…probably bottom 5-10.
That doesn’t mean Fields can’t be decent for Fantasy purposes. He is a pretty good runner/scrambler…but not in the class of Lamar-Hurts-Lance. I’d say he’s clearly the worst passer of that runner-passer group as well.
How Fields was/is miss-scouted by the mainstream is easy…and it’s a mainstream error that occurs all the time. Simply put, there are four plays that tend to happen with Fields…
1) He sits in the pocket, with plenty of time/protection, and sees the field pretty well and can fire passes to open receivers…even on second reads.
2) He scrambles out of trouble and runs the ball for a positive play.
3) He predetermines where he is throwing the ball, pre-snap, and he gets the snap and turns and fires quickly to the play call/route whether it’s there or not. *Good/great passer QBs do not do this often/at all anymore.
4) He tries to hang in the pocket, it gets muddy, he panics easily and if he tries to throw to anything he kinda sees and the ball is thrown way off/into coverage, etc., or he waits too long and then starts to scramble into a sack/hit or frantic escape.
Four likely outcomes on each snap, two of them are good…two bad. Unfortunately, in the NFL, the two bad outcomes (#3-4) are the most likely things to happen, in general for Fields. And thus…Fields starts 10 games with only 7 TD passes, but 9 picks (one other pick happened with him coming in relief) and 11 fumbles/5 fumbles lost. 7 TDs…14 turnovers…low Comp. Pct. All telltale signs of an issue, or more so signs of ‘a reality’.
What I saw on the 2021 tape was off-putting to say the least. I didn’t think he was a great QB prospect coming out of Ohio State, but he had a build, a good arm, and could run…there was/is raw clay to work with – but I just do not see the ‘it’ ability of Fields as a passer. Never any real flashes of a great QB. Flashes of a great athlete playing NFL QB…yes. But a franchise QB who is going to breathe life into the Bears and take them to the next level, on his back? I’d bet (heavily), ‘no way’.
Fields is the perfect guy for the media to love because they will focus on the positives…they will focus on seeing play outcomes #1-2 (above) and think/hope/believe that they are his reality…and that #3-4 play outcomes (above) just ‘need to be cleaned up’…and these same people put a ton of faith in NFL coaching to help get them there, and believe ‘time’ is also an elixir. Time can be an elixir, but it usually is not. The great QBs are pretty good/great right away anymore.
What’s worse, for lazy/mainstream scouts or analysts – they see more play outcomes like #1-2 (above) in college and that really gets their juices flowing. Their head says, “What if every play Fields could look like THAT (outcomes #1-2)!” It’s not real. Shorts and t-shirt, 7-on-7 throwing is not real…not even close. Playing at a dominant school with a dominant O-Line and all-star weapons is not ‘real’ in the NFL. The NFL is more play outcomes #3-4 (above). Ohio State (and Alabama, etc.) lends itself to more play outcomes #1-2 (above) and it looks delightful. #3-4 play outcomes are the NFL reality – and Fields does not handle them well. Justin Herbert does. Davis Mills does. Current era rookies walk in and handle the NFL just fine all the time now. They don’t lock in on one-read and fire blindly. When current era young QBs flop right away in a transition to the next level, like Fields (or Zach Wilson or Trevor Lawrence, etc.)…it is room for pause/concern.
Watching all Fields’s starts in 2021 season…I could see he got slightly more comfortable as his time went on but still, he seemed like roughly the same guy every start, for the most part – inaccurate throws, every other throw (bailed out by Allen Robinson time and again making superior catches on misfired passes). Trouble finding options the more downfield they got/the more the field was condensed. Fields has all the telltale signs of an athlete playing QB who isn’t gifted as that passer part of the job…and likely never really will be.
Can Fields get better…can he be coached or transformed into stardom a la Josh Allen? I can’t totally rule that out because Fields has nice tools…but Trey Lance looks way more like the Josh Allen hope than Fields.
I would use this comparison – Fields shows me less passer savvy than Lamar Jackson or Jalen Hurts. And Fields is nowhere near the running threat of Lamar-Hurts either. Whatever a lesser Lamar-Hurts is for you, then that’s your upside for Fields. Fields is not as bad as Sam Darnold/Daniel Jones…but he’s closer to that group than he is to the top 10 NFL QB group. Fields can run – it’s his saving grace to have more time in pockets to hang OK in the NFL for a stretch.
If the coaches can keep it simple for Fields and if he has great protection, he can lead a team to wins. He can hang as an NFL QB in a perfect environment. But more likely he will be a Jekyll and Hyde QB who will turn from all the ‘honeymoon phase’ love right now…to fan frustration, which leads to organizational frustration in another season or two.
Fields is a QB3 in the NFL…a QB2 for Fantasy, for the next 1-2 years before the football world starts to turn on him for not being a QB1 in any event. We’ll see if he makes some big step in 2022 to alter this opinion.
Additional notes from this study…
1) Allen Robinson was making lemonade out of a lot of Fields’s lemon throws. ARob has worked with Bortles-Trubisky-Fields and other riffraff QBs. What might Allen Robinson become when he finally hooks up with a legit offense/QB in L.A. in 2022?
The Rams 1-2 punch at WR is elite/awesome…and that could carry Matt Stafford to a top 2-3 FF QB finish in 2022.
2) Darnell Mooney is DEFINITELY Fields’s favorite throw, but Mooney did not look nearly as good as ARob last year, working with Fields…in that Robinson was making circus catches on basic throws, as Mooney made plays that he should but dropped much more mistargeted throws/tough catch plays than Robinson did.
Mooney is going to kill it in targets and likely catches/stats in 2022, but he is nowhere near as talented as Allen Robinson was – the loss of ARob really hurts Fields. BUT, hey…he’s got Byron Pringle now.
3) I saw plenty of Kalil Herbert dump off passes in Fields' starts, and my two cents…it didn’t look as good as I remembered. Herbert looked much more ‘average’/common/OK not anything special. Side FYI
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