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Could Justin Fields be QB1 in the 2021 NFL Draft?

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The pending 2020 season will be a battle between Fields and Trevor Lawrence

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Big Ten Football Championship - Ohio State v Wisconsin Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Maintaining some positive thinking and assuming that college football is played in 2020, both Ohio State and Clemson will head into the season with aspirations of a national title. While the two powerhouse programs will likely begin the campaign as the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country, potentially setting up a highly anticipated rematch in the playoffs, it isn’t just the schools themselves that are competing this year — it’s their quarterbacks.

This battle between Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence is nothing new for the two QBs, as they have been pit against each other since their high school days. It isn’t even the first time the two have competed for a No. 1 spot.

Both playing their high school ball in Georgia. Their schools were a mere half hour drive from one another. While Lawrence was a star right from the get-go, Fields was more of a late bloomer that took the recruiting world by storm. At The Opening Finals in Oregon, Fields put together what is to this day the best performance ever by a QB at the event, and it led some recruiting sites to jump him over Lawrence for the No. 1 ranked recruit in the nation.

With the world ready for a senior season battle that would potentially solve the ranking debate, Fields hit a roadblock. In the seventh game of the year, Fields would suffer a season-ending finger injury that cut his final year short, leaving only the ability for scouts to project what may have been. In the end, it was Lawrence who earned the No. 1 spot in the class of 2018 rankings (No. 1 pro-style), with Fields coming in at No. 2 (No. 1 dual-threat).

From there, their paths diverged. Lawrence landed at Clemson, where he burst onto the scene immediately as a true freshman. After taking on the starting job in week five, he led the Tigers to a National Championship, putting together an incredible season wherein he threw for almost 3,300 yards with 31 total touchdowns and four interceptions. On the contrary, Fields sat at Georgia behind Jake Fromm — but we’ll get to that in a bit.

To start year two, Lawrence took a bit of a step back. Through the team’s first three games in 2019, the sophomore threw for just five total touchdowns with five picks, already surpassing his interception total from the year prior. At the midway point of the season, which included a close call against a lowly UNC squad, Lawrence began to return to form, now having 14 TD passes with eight picks through seven games.

In the meantime, Fields had wound up in Columbus, replacing the NFL-bound Dwayne Haskins in an offense at Ohio State that was better suited for his abilities. Right out of the gate, the Buckeyes knew they had their guy. In the team’s first five games of the year, Fields played nearly mistake-free football, amounting to 24 total touchdowns with zero picks. While Lawrence had been the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft since he first stepped onto the field at Clemson, he now had a familiar challenger.

Lawrence would get it together quickly, and would wind up going the rest of the season without throwing a single interception. He finished the year with over 3,600 yards passing to go along with 36 TDs and eight INTs, with another 560 yards rushing and nine TDs on the ground. Fields, however, put up equally impressive numbers, finishing with over 3,200 yards passing with 41 TDs and three INTs (only one of which coming in the regular season), and added nearly 500 yards rushing with 10 TDs on the ground.

As fate would have it, Lawrence and Fields would meet in the first round of the 2019 College Football Playoff. It was a classic game between two of the nation’s top programs. Despite a lack of mobility as a result of a knee injury suffered earlier in the year, Fields completed 65 percent of his passes for 320 yards with a TD and two INTs — one of which we’ll get to in a moment. Lawrence played a cleaner game, finishing with 259 passing yards and two TDs while out-rushing the hobbled Fields 107-13.

The game featured many unfortunate breaks for the guys in Scarlet, which I won’t delve into here, but Ohio State still had a chance to win the game with little time remaining. Running the same play that resulted in a 23-yard TD earlier in the contest, Chris Olave was supposed to run a post route into the end zone, a play that if ran correctly at worst would've resulted in an incompletion. Instead, Olave broke off the route just as Fields released the ball, resulting in a game-ending INT and a win for Clemson.

The Tigers came away victorious in the first collegiate matchup between Fields and Lawrence, but the Buckeyes, and especially Fields, are hungry for a rematch. The two QBs seem to be on a crash course for one another in 2020, and the result of their final seasons at the FBS level will play a huge role not only in their team’s success, but in their spot in the upcoming draft.

Lawrence has long been pegged as the top QB in his draft class, and has had the added bonus of two full seasons at Clemson. Fields has had only the one full year as a starter at Ohio State, but even still there are some analysts that are not so sure Lawrence is set in stone at No. 1. According to PFF, their college-to-pro projections actually favor Fields as the better NFL prospect at this stage in the game.

“It was one of those things where he gave a lot of fundamental reasons why Fields is better and then defaulted to Lawrence,” PFF said. “I still like Fields independent of the analysis we’ve seen. He sold me on Fields inadvertently. He said I watch Fields and I look back and I go man, he just didn’t make any mistakes. That’s what I want. That guy still has big play potential but he doesn’t make mistakes. So, I’m still on Fields right now but that could change.”

The two are obviously both great NFL prospects. They have great size, with Lawrence of the larger stature at 6-foot-6 and Fields the more mobile of the two at 6-foot-3. They both are playing football at the highest level, making it a bit easier to see how they fare against the upper echelon of talent. There seems to be very little that separate the two in terms of their NFL Draft stock, and as a result we will see their 2020 campaigns put under the microscope.

Each QB will have some great opportunities in the (hopefully) upcoming 2020 season to impress scouts. Fields and the Buckeyes have a pair of incredibly tough road games at Oregon and Penn State, with the always interesting matchup against Michigan at the end of the regular season. While the ACC is a much weaker conference, Clemson does have a road contest against Notre Dame midseason, and both Lawrence and Fields will have a chance to pad the stats against the many inferior opponents on their schedules.

If everything goes as expected, the college football gods will gift us with one last head-to-head battle between Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence — hopefully one that is for a National Championship. If Fields puts together another dominant season at Ohio State and knocks off the Tigers at the end of the year, there seems to be no reason why he can’t jump Lawrence as the top QB prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft.