Justin Fields has endured media narratives and racial stereotypes throughout the 2021 NFL Draft process. We dispel each one.
The 2021 NFL Draft marks the last chance for most teams to better their roster before preparing for the season. Adding an impactful rookie can change a franchise for years to come. The journey to the draft can be exhausting, but everything that happens after the draft is more important than before it.
Some rookies face a tougher road to the draft than others, though. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields has heard almost everything throughout this process, from comparisons to recent Buckeyes bust Dwayne Haskins, questions about his ability to read defenses, and even remarks about his work ethic.
There have been ugly narratives built through certain media members that fall back onto racial stereotypes.
Fields has some concerning tendencies and areas to work on, but has been a robust talent since his prep school days. The former second-overall recruit to only Trevor Lawrence, Fields was the consensus No. 2 pick for many until a COVID-shortened 2020 season. It’s considered a lock the New York Jets will take one-year-wonder Zach Wilson ahead of him and few seem to be questioning their decision.
The Jets are free to evaluate and project however they may and their choice may be right in the end. But some of the weaknesses we’ve seen come about this off-season aren’t characteristic of Fields’ game. We’re going to break it all down.
He’s coming from a vastly different offense than Haskins despite sharing the same helmet and head coach. One reason Ryan Day has become a top name for NFL teams to ask about for a head coaching gig is his ability to build an offense around the available talent. Fields was immediately trusted with NFL-style advanced reads and more difficult throws than Haskins ever was.
Haskins had a premier pass-blocking offensive line and was reliant on a short-throwing offense. He struggled to create outside of the scheme and his deeper throwing was troublesome. His lack of polish reading defenses pre-snap ultimately hindered his ability to win as a pocket passer.
Fields, a mobile and dynamic playmaker, was 16 percent more accurate out of the pocket and slightly more accurate in the pocket than Haskins. Over the course of his career, he’s been at least statistically as accurate as Haskins in every facet. The difference is Fields looks more of the part because he’s more precise with his ball placement overthrowing anything that’s more loosely defined as catchable.
After throwing for 5,701 yards, 67 touchdowns on a 68.4 percent completion rate to just nine interceptions in two years as a starter, Fields continually showed growth and a diverse skill set few in the league can match. His upside is insane and is already better mentally than the average top quarterback in any given class.
The disturbing part of the narrative Fields never looked beyond his first read, as reported as a concern by Pro Football Network’s Tony Pauline, is the ease at which this can be dispelled. Most collegiate quarterbacks don’t look beyond their first read because there’s no need to but it’s not indicative they can’t.
Also, the Buckeyes run a system heavily reliant on their first two reads, future first-round receivers, winning their option routes. These receiver-dependent routes are similar to what the Patriots ran all of the time with Tom Brady. Ohio State put a lot on Fields’ shoulders and outside of a few throws against an elite Northwestern and Indiana defense, he starred.
That includes multiple performances against Clemson and top-defensive units and coaches like what Alabama, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin boast. He’s shown up at almost every turn and even his worst games were far from devastating as far as projecting him forward. It’s not a bad thing for a prospect to face adversity and have the chance to self-study for improvement.
Another troubling narrative was Dan Orlovsky of ESPN questioning Fields’ toughness. Orlovsky claimed those weren’t his opinions but rather taken from scouts. He later issued an apology after he was called out for sharing the opinion.
Fields led the charge in the Big Ten’s fight to play football among Covid concerns and then answered the call when he needed pain-killing injections against Clemson. And in 2019, he famously suffered a knee injury against Michigan and came right back out to fire a 30-yard touchdown on the move.
On top of this, Fields has been a standout student throughout academia. He was offered scholarships to Harvard, Yale and Vanderbilt. He’s also known to have a photographic memory. Any notion he’s not doing well in interviews is extremely unlikely to be true.
He has the flashbulb moments as well as the career consistency. I charted every throw of his career and compared to 88 other prospects, Fields ranked fifth in accuracy on throws 0-10 yards, third in 11-19 yards, second over 20 yards and first in total throws beyond 10 yards. He’s an ace under pressure, ranking third and was 14th on conversion downs.
The narratives around Fields should feature these numbers, not contrived statements that fill air time. There are legitimate concerns as to whether he’ll hold the ball too long even when receivers are open, or if he’ll play hero ball too much. It’s an issue though when we have a black quarterback facing the all-too-familiar questions that creep in from bias.
Fields surely has a big chip on his shoulder entering the draft to dispel the narratives in addition to outplaying any passer taken ahead of him.