The most polarizing quarterback prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft class appears to be Justin Fields. The Ohio State standout has been a hot topic throughout the pre-draft process, but it feels like he’s really been put through the ringer in recent weeks. And frankly, I find the growing skepticism completely baffling.
Yes, I have Trevor Lawrence as the top quarterback in this draft class, like just about everyone else under the sun. But Fields is my No. 2 prospect at the position, and I feel strongly about that. It’s OK if others disagree — that’s the nature of draft analysis — but I just can’t for the life of me understand this emerging narrative that Fields could slide down the board and be the fourth or even fifth signal-caller selected, behind the likes of Zach Wilson, Trey Lance and Mac Jones. The nitpicking of Fields has reached nonsensical levels, and I just don’t get it. Especially considering how closely he’s aligned with everyone’s top dog, Lawrence, going back to their high school days.
In fact, Fields was listed as the top overall recruit in the Class of 2018 by ESPN, while occupying the No. 2 spot behind Lawrence on 247 Sports and Rivals. As an Elite 11: The Opening counselor, I can vouch for Fields’ five-star status after watching him win MVP honors at the event with a series of dazzling 7-on-7 performances that showcased his ability to diagnose coverages and make reads within a system that featured advanced NFL concepts. Moreover, I had a chance to see him excel under the direction of current NFL offensive assistant Jerrod Johnson (offensive quality control coach for the Indianapolis Colts), with Fields executing a scheme littered with pure progression reads and triangle concepts. The five-day performance left a positive impression on me as I took mental notes on most of the 2017 Elite 11 class based on their talent, potential and possible road to the NFL.
Fields began his college career at Georgia, backing up Jake Fromm as a freshman, but then transferred to Ohio State and immediately made his presence felt in Columbus. In his first year as the Buckeyes’ starter, he passed for 3,273 yards with 41 touchdowns and just three interceptions, leading OSU to a 13-1 record. That impressive season culminated in a spectacular quarterback duel between Fields and Lawrence in the College Football Playoff semifinal. While Lawrence got the win, Fields matched him blow for blow from an individual standpoint.
This past season, which was abbreviated to eight games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fields passed for 2,100 yards and 22 touchdowns (against six interceptions). While he did have a couple rough outings in high-profile games (SEE: a top-10 showdown vs. Indiana and the Big Ten title game against Northwestern), he still led the Buckeyes to a 7-1 record and shined during the College Football Playoff. In the semifinal, Fields avenged his loss to Lawrence with one of the most impressive individual performances of the season. Despite taking a crushing blow midway through the second quarter against Clemson, Fields guided the Buckeyes to a 49-28 blowout win, completing 22 of 28 passes for 385 yards and six touchdowns. Oh, and he piled up 42 rushing yards, for good measure. While the Buckeyes lost in the ensuing national title game to a loaded Alabama team, Fields definitely held his own with another inspired effort.
Those two semifinal showdowns against Lawrence not only showcased Fields’ immense talent and potential, but they provided evaluators with the rare opportunity to see a pair of generational talents battle between the lines. I know the phrase “generational talent” is tossed around loosely these days, but I believe Lawrence isn’t the only quarterback in this class who deserves such hype. And that’s why I just can’t comprehend all of these overcooked critiques coming Fields’ way of late.