At his best, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields had some wondering if he could steal the 2021 NFL Draft QB1 mantle from Trevor Lawrence. At his worst, he had some wondering if Zach Wilson and Trey Lance could overtake him. Where does Justin Fields fall on the draft board after his 2020 season? Under the guise of continuous change, did his projection stay the same?
Justin Fields NFL Draft Profile
Weight: 228 pounds
School: Ohio State
Current Year: Junior
Justin Fields didn’t have to wait to become a giant on the college football stage. Hailing from Kennesaw, Georgia, Fields was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2018 recruiting class. Fielding offers from dozens of teams, Fields signed with the Georgia Bulldogs, and immediately sparked a quarterback controversy with incumbent starter Jake Fromm.
Fromm had been the starter in the previous season, leading the Bulldogs to the national championship game as a true freshman. However, many felt that Fields offered more upside than Fromm and possessed the capacity to elevate a Georgia offense that looked stagnant at times under Fromm.
Entering the transfer portal
Despite the excitement surrounding Fields, head coach Kirby Smart chose to stick with Fromm in 2018. Fields was relegated to the backup role. Battling high expectations, Fromm and the Bulldogs would go on to lose the Sugar Bowl, prompting more calls for Fields to start in 2019. But Fields would ultimately transfer to Ohio State, making that discussion moot.
The Buckeyes were a good fit for Fields. Ohio State needed a new quarterback, as Dwayne Haskins opted to enter the draft as a redshirt sophomore, and Joe Burrow, another past signee, transferred to LSU in 2018. Fields immediately filled a massive void for the Buckeyes, and Ryan Day’s offense enabled Fields to catch fire.
Justin Fields’ career as the latest Ohio State quarterback
In a normal year, Justin Fields might have won the 2019 Heisman Trophy. Fields was electric in his first year at Ohio State. In 14 games, the sophomore completed 238 of 354 attempts for 3,273 yards, 41 touchdowns, and just three interceptions. He also added 484 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground for good measure.
Fields’ efforts helped the Buckeyes win the Big Ten Championship, which granted them a spot in the College Football Playoffs. Fields would lose against Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers, but his breakout season would not go unnoticed. He won Big Ten Player of the Year, and also finished third in Heisman voting, behind Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts.
Fields’ 2020 season a tale of two halves
Fields came into the 2020 season with sky-high expectations, and at first, he surpassed even those. In his first three games, Fields completed 72 of 83 attempts (86.7%) for 908 yards, 11 touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Fields seemed completely unflappable, and his early efficiency set him apart as a quarterback prospect.
As the year went on, however, Fields faced tougher competition, and his imperfections began to show. In the final three games of the regular season, Fields completed just 47 of 81 attempts (58%) for 613 yards, four touchdowns, and five interceptions. Ohio State managed to survive the late-season stretch without a loss, but Fields’ inconsistency hurt them at times.
In spite of his late struggles, Fields was again named Big Ten Player of the Year. The Buckeyes edged out Northwestern in the Big Ten title game. And thus, the Ohio State quarterback will have a chance to exact revenge on Trevor Lawrence in a CFB Playoff Semifinal rematch.
Fields ends his Ohio State career on a high note
Even though the Buckeyes didn’t leave with a National Championship, Justin Fields alleviated some growing concerns with his performance in the CFB Playoffs.
In the Semifinal matchup against Clemson, Fields rekindled some of his early-season magic. He threw for 22 completions on 28 attempts, amassing 385 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception. He also ran the ball for 42 yards on eight attempts. The game was almost perfect for Fields, who proved he could take over against top-tier defenses. But in the process, Fields suffered a hip pointer, which clouded his outlook for the championship game.
Justin Fields’ showing against the Alabama Crimson Tide
Fields decided to push through the pain and play in the National Championship against Alabama. Although he clearly wasn’t one-hundred percent, Fields still competed to the end. He completed 17 of 33 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for 67 yards on six carries.
The Ohio State quarterback displayed tremendous toughness and leadership ability battling through his injury, and he also had moments of impressive execution. On one long pass to Jeremy Ruckert, Fields used his eyes to freeze the safety, then delivered a fast-paced strike to the middle of the deep range. On various other occasions, Fields went through his progressions, and used his arm talent to fit the ball into tight windows and buckets, mixing pace and touch with ease.
Fields completed his eight-game junior campaign with 158 completions on 225 attempts, 2,100 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, and six interceptions. There’s still some obscurity over where Justin Fields will rank among his NFL Draft counterparts. However, he adequately rebounded from a lull down the stretch, and he clearly has the talent to go high in the first round.
Full body of work key in pinpointing Justin Fields’ 2021 NFL Draft projection
There are a lot of snippets of anecdotal evidence that could reflect poorly on Fields when used in isolation. His struggles late have been concerning. There are times where Ohio State’s offense enables him to survive without making full reads. And many have made note of the uninspiring track record of Buckeyes quarterbacks in the NFL.
However, as is always the case, scouting the helmet only gets you so far. It’s true that Ohio State has a long line of disappointing NFL prospects, dating back to players like Dwayne Haskins, Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, and Terrelle Pryor, among others. But looking at his traits, Justin Fields is easily a better draft prospect than all of them.
Where players like Haskins and Jones lacked athleticism, Fields has it in spades. And where players like Miller and Pryor lacked passing skill sets, Fields has that, too. Fields is a stellar physical talent; he’s densely built at 6-foot-3, 228, and yet, he’s an explosive runner, as evidenced by his 4.51 40-yard dash time in high school. Fields can gear up and evade with impressive ease. He’s also much better than Trey Lance when it comes to preserving himself as a runner.
Fields has talent as a passer but can improve in key areas
As a passer, Fields is almost just as talented. His throwing motion could be more compact, but he can generate great amounts of velocity, and he can also push balls into specific windows to throw open his wide receivers. On some occasions, he can leave room for better trajectory, but in the early goings of the 2020 season, he showed tangible improvements using touch to drop the ball in deep pockets.
Fields is a capable passer and playmaker. The biggest issue in his draft profile lies in his decision making under pressure.
As many noted during his performance against Northwestern, Fields’ internal clock in the pocket can be unreliable. While he has the skills to evade and extend plays, there are times where he can work himself into a box by waiting too long to manipulate the pocket or roll out. Whether this is due to processing speed, indecisiveness, or a desire to wait for the big plays to open up, it’s something Fields needs to work on in the NFL because that volatility might be compounded against NFL defenses.
With that being said, Fields has shown the ability to make full reads in certain games, and his athleticism allows him to actively reset plays by evading pressure and manipulating throwing angles. He has the foundation you want for a young quarterback against adversity, and as he continues to strengthen his comfort level, he should see growth in areas of concern.
Justin Fields’ best fits in the 2021 NFL Draft
Justin Fields has long been regarded as the No. 2 overall pick behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. Had he remained on his early-season pace, he might have locked himself into that slot. But Fields’ recent dip in play quality has fractured the consensus opinion. Some argue that Zach Wilson, while moderately inferior to Fields from a traits perspective, has better innate feel, processing against pressure, and off-script ability, and they might not be wrong.
Yet, unless Fields absolutely tanks the playoffs and the offseason process, he shouldn’t fall outside the top 10. Fields’ natural talent is still in the upper echelon, and like other quarterbacks, he’s a highly-regarded team leader who should bring the right mindset to the NFL stage.
Fields’ fit will depend on future offseason decisions
As for who the best fit is for Fields, that’s a difficult question to answer. The Jacksonville Jaguars were a solid fit for him, but after the New York Jets beat the Rams, the Jaguars gained the inside track on the No. 1 overall pick. By extension, they also gained the inside track on Trevor Lawrence.
The best fit for Fields depends heavily on who ends up being his coach. The Jets are next in line to take Fields after moving down the order, but their coaching staff is in philosophical limbo. The Carolina Panthers need more dynamic ability at quarterback. Still, Fields must learn to mitigate the volatility in his game and embrace Joe Brady’s scheme.