I am firmly on record — both in articles and in podcasts — as stating that Justin Fields is the best quarterback in Ohio State history. Perhaps he doesn’t have the all of the stats, achievements, or accolades that you would normally associate with crowning someone the G.O.A.T. at a football factory like Ohio State, but for someone who played the equivalent of a season and a half of college football as a starting QB, for me, there’s no one who has ever done it better in OSU’s illustrious annuls.
However, as impressive as Fields’ two-season tenure at Ohio State was, now that he has entered the pre-Draft process, the inevitable is coming to pass; evaluators both from inside the NFL and from the esteemed sports media are finding ways to deconstruct his abilities to determine if they will translate to the professional level.
Don’t get me wrong; this is normal, this is what the process should be for all players — especially high-profile, early-round ones — as teams are deciding whether to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in them. However, there is an insidious refrain that nearly always rears its ugly head when it comes to the conversation certain quarterbacks.
It usually starts with an unnamed source inside an undisclosed NFL front office who states definitively (yet with little to no facts to support their thesis) that a specific college quarterback is unable to process defenses well enough to make the proper reads; i.e. they aren’t smart enough to play quarterback in the NFL.
Now let’s not beat around the bush here; this doesn’t only happen with Black quarterbacks, but it sure as hell happens with Black quarterbacks who don’t deserve this type of criticism far more often than it does with white quarterbacks who do. The people who say these things try to couch it in some pseudo-intellectual Xs and Os bullshit, but all that they are really doing is telling on themselves.
And to be completely clear about what these people are actually doing is that when they say that a certain Black QB locks onto his first target, or is incapable of reading a defense, they are simply attempting to hide behind some nebulous, nearly impossible to verify football principle to provide themselves enough cover to spout out one of the sports most time-honored pieces of horse manure in the sporting world; that Black people aren’t smart enough to do the ever so complicated and arduous job of playing quarterback at the NFL level. Forget the fact that nine times out of 10 these players in question were far more than capable of doing the job at the college level — which, in my opinion, is usually the best predictor of success at the next level.
But, because of generationally ingrained racial biases, it is difficult for certain folks to see the strengths that can make Black college quarterbacks successful at the next level, and instead they focus on (and in many cases manufacture) flaws that are then embellished, rammed down peoples’ throats, and beaten into a bloody pulp by Draft Day. Whether it is done consciously or not, this is a decades old practice designed simply to push these Black players further down the draft board than their talents, abilities, and resumes would otherwise allow.
“Black QB X can’t read defenses” is one of the (if not the) biggest dog whistles in all of sports. And if you are going to trot out that tired old racist cliche, you better have ample evidence to back up your point. But, unsurprisingly, these folks nearly never do.
USA Today’s Steven Ruiz, one of the most intelligent football writers in America imo, took this burgeoning storyline around Fields’ inability to read the field to task in an article published on Monday, complete with videographic examples to disprove the entire premise.
Let's talk about Justin Fields and the useless pre-draft discourse about progressions and first reads -- which only seems to come up when we talk about certain quarterbacks. https://t.co/LS7sZhNyVh— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) February 22, 2021
Ruiz accurately discusses what is and isn’t part of the Ohio State offense, and what Fields was actively asked to do as a Buckeye vs. what anonymous “talent-evaluators” think that he should be doing within an offense that they have no fundamental grasp or understanding of.
Now, as I’ve said openly and freely many times in both LGHL print and airwaves before, I’m a certifiable moron, and am mentally incapable of breaking down football film, but what I do know is that Justin Fields threw 63 touchdowns in just 22 games as Ohio State’s starter, and during that same amount of time, he threw only nine interceptions. Even my football-feeble mind understands that this is good.
You know who is also good? Trevor Lawrence. And while I have absolutely zero love lost for all things Clemson, I think that even the most ardent of Buckeye supporters are adult enough to admit that the Tigers’ golden-haired signal-caller is the best QB in this year’s draft class.
But here’s the thing, some of those same knocks that Fields is hearing have been said about Lawrence as well. NBCSports.com’ Glynn Morgan said of Lawrence, “Like most young quarterbacks, he has a tendency to lock onto his primary target anticipating a bigger play result.” Also of the projected No. 1 pick, WalterFootball.com wrote “Can lock onto his primary read.”
Now, there are just as many evaluators who think that the Clemson QB’s ability to read defenses is a strength rather than a weakness — much like Ruiz argues about Fields — but the thing is, these negatives don’t seem to stick to Lawrence like they do to the Buckeye QB. Makes you wonder why.
Why were players like Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton and so, so many more Black QBs devalued and labeled as not being smart enough to play the position in the pros, only to have that eventually proven to be laughably false?
Sure, lots of players have their negatives focused on before they are drafted, but it is rarely as noticeable as when “unnamed sources” question the mental acuity of a Black quarterback. This is a related issue to the over-reliance on the outdated — and frankly ridiculous — Wonderlic test and the phenomenon of team executives ambushing mostly Black players with offensively personal — and some times straight up racist — questions.
This is a league that is nearly 70% players of color, yet only 9% of head coaches and GMs are POC. When you see obviously talented Black quarterbacks continually undermined in the pre-draft process it is concerning, especially when certain white players get semi-bizarre blind support by the NFL power structures that their collegiate careers don’t seem to warrant.
I don’t want to bag on either BYU’s Zach Wilson or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance (who is also Black), because they are both apparently super talented guys, but depending on the draft board, a lot of analysts have one or both of them slotted in higher than Fields. Which, to this idiot blogger, seems incomprehensible.
Now, I understand that the talent around the Ohio State quarterback is going to help cover up a lot of deficiencies that might be present, so looking deep at a player’s actual tape is obviously important, but the same can be said about Clemson; and, on the FCS level, some would argue that the talent discrepancy is even larger in the Bison’s favor against their opponents.
So, when you look at these numbers and see that Fields has just as good of — and often better — numbers than the other three top-projected QBs, you have to put some perspective onto the narrative that is developing that undermines Fields.
Basic Quarterback Comparison
So here’s the thing, I can’t say that Justin Fields is going to be an elite NFL quarterback, just like I can’t say if Trevor Lawrence will be either. There are just too many variables to guarantee anything in pro football. However, one thing that I do know for sure is that Fields is generationally talented, he has a reputation of being a serious and studious worker both on the field and in the film room, and that he has every skill that any NFL franchise would want in a rookie QB.
Is he a perfect, finished product as a quarterback? Far from it. Is racism the only reason that people are questioning is ability to make the jump to the league? Of course not. But not only have I seen nothing from him as a Buckeye that would indicate to me that he is incapable of being an All-Pro in the NFL, but I’ve also seen plenty of proof that he is exceedingly likely to continue to work to become the best QB that he possibly can. And anybody flapping their gums to tell you that he doesn’t have the intelligence, vision, “It” factor, or whatever other garbage that they want to spew in order to make it as a pro is straight up telling you everything that you ever need to know about them.