Sports

The puzzling fall of Justin Fields

On the morning of Jan. 2, it seemed like a certainty that Justin Fields would be the second quarterback taken in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Ohio State quarterback had put on a show the night before in the College Football Playoff semifinal game against Clemson. He completed 22-of-28 passing for 385 yards, six touchdowns with one interception. He also ran for 42 yards and fought through a hip injury after a nasty hit. 

The performance seemed to answer every question that had been raised about Fields.

Seemed.

Now, three months later, Fields has been picked apart by the NFL Draft machine. He is no longer a lock to be the No. 2 quarterback taken … or the No. 3 … or the No. 4. Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Mac Wilson have passed him by in some people’s eyes. It is a perplexing part of the NFL Draft that a player’s stock can fall when games are not being played, but that is what has happened to Fields.

There are questions about his ability to read a defense, work through progressions and in one high-profile moment his work ethic, when ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said some teams question his desire to be great. All of this will lead to some NFL team getting a motivated Fields. 

Justin Fields at Ohio State's first pro day on March 30, 2021
Justin Fields at Ohio State’s first pro day on March 30, 2021
AP

“Of course there’s always going to be a chip on my shoulder, but I think my drive, my wanting to be great, my willingness to be great just comes from inside,” Fields said. “To be honest, if everyone on the outside was telling me how great I was and I haven’t reached the level of potential I think I can reach, that drive and that willingness is coming from inside of me.

“I try to not pay too much to the outside voices because at the end of the day they have their opinions, but they don’t really know what’s going on inside of the building or inside of a certain offense. My dedication and my passion to be great just comes from within.”

It is impossible to argue with Fields’ production. In two years at Ohio State, he led the Buckeyes to a 20-2 record. He threw 67 touchdowns to just nine interceptions and ran for another 19 touchdowns. It was the way everyone expected Fields’ career to go out of high school. He was the No. 2 recruit in the country and the state, trailing Trevor Lawrence. Fields initially went to Georgia but transferred to Ohio State after one year.

Some criticism of Fields came late last season when he struggled against Indiana and Northwestern. In those two games, he threw two touchdowns and five interceptions. His completion percentage against Northwester in the Big Ten title game was a career-low 44 percent. He rebounded, though, with the great game against Clemson and then did not look healthy in the championship game against Alabama. 

The questions recently have been about his ability to process and work his way off his first read. Matt Bowen, a former NFL safety and current ESPN analyst, said the criticism is not accurate.

“I have seen people say that he does not process with enough speed. I’m not sure that I necessarily agree with that,” Bowen said. “You have to look at the pass game structure in the Ohio State offense. Vertical-based concepts – with conversions built into the route tree. In some instances, that forces Fields to wait for his primary read to show on the tape due to longer developing routes.”

Fields held a second Pro Day on Wednesday in Columbus and teams picking high like the Jets, 49ers and Falcons were all there. Teams like the Patriots, picking 15th, were also there perhaps hoping Fields falls to them. 

In a few years, Fields could make a lot of draft analysts look foolish. 


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