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Path to the Draft: Justin Fields

Which teams are the most interested and what the draft experts are saying about the Buckeye quarterback

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CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

NFL Draft season is always an exciting time for Ohio State. More often than not, a Buckeye will hear their name called on day one. Hell, we usually hear a Buckeye’s name called in the first ten minutes (taking commercials into consideration). In 2016, we saw Joey Bosa get picked No. 3 overall, followed by Ezekiel Elliott at No. 4. In 2017, Marshon Lattimore went eleventh overall and then Denzel Ward was picked No. 4 overall the following year. In 2019, Nick Bosa was the second overall pick, and in 2020, Chase Young kept the No. 2 trend going followed by Jeff Okudah at No. 3. Ohio State is called an “NFL Pipeline” for a reason, and this year’s draft class will be no exception.

It’s hard to keep up with all of the draft mocks, rumors and predictions surrounding the Buckeyes’ draftees (because, again, there’s a lot of them), so in our new series Path to the Draft, we’ll tell you where each player is projected to land, what the experts, scouts and teams are saying, how they’ll fit into certain schemes and everything else worth knowing about his, well, path to the draft.

First up: Justin Fields

Currently, Pro Football Focus has Justin Fields graded as the third-highest quarterback and third-best player in this year’s draft class behind Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence and BYU QB Zach Wilson. In 19 games against Power Five teams, Fields had a 92.7 Pro Football Focus grade—the exact same as Lawrence. In his last (shortened) season as a Buckeye, Fields completed 158 of his 226 passes for 2,098 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. In 2019, the 6-foot-3 quarterback completed 238 of his 356 attempts for 3,272 yards, 41 touchdowns and three interceptions.

There’s absolutely zero question about it. Justin Fields is an NFL caliber quarterback with third-overall-pick potential, and the amount of teams interested in him is proof of that. However, teams are also beginning to show more and more concern as the draft grows near. Here’s what Pro Football Network’s NFL Chief Draft Analyst Tony Pauline had to say about Fields and his draft stock:

“The main concern is that Justin Fields stares down the primary target. He doesn’t look away from the primary target. He doesn’t process things as quickly as they want him to. During the Senior Bowl, I mentioned how there was one team who has broken down all of Justin Fields’ passes in 2020. They said that just seven times, he looked off the primary target. The other 200+ passes he threw to his primary target.”

“There are some people out there that are telling me Justin Fields has fallen down their boards, because while they think he is a great physical specimen and he’s got tremendous arm strength and is a great arm talent, they think that there is a concern there about staring down a primary target and not being able to process things that quickly. I don’t know that I completely agree with that, but that is the word from some teams out there.”

Luckily, Fields will have one more shot to prove his worth (insert eye roll here) in Ohio State’s pro day on March 30.

Until then, below is a list of the teams where Fields is most likely to end up and what some of the teams’ reporters and experts are saying about him fitting in on their respective offenses.

San Francisco 49ers

In his latest mock draft, ESPN draft expert and consistent advocate for Justin Fields, Mel Kiper expects the 49ers to trade with the Detroit Lions to select Fields at No. 7. In doing so, Kiper said it would “raise the 49ers’ ceiling” and wrote “I’d love to see Fields play for Shanahan, who could get the best out of him.”

“If this deal happens, San Francisco could designate (Jimmy) Garoppolo as a post-June 1 release and save $25 million on its cap this year. That would help offset the lost draft picks in the trade because the team would have some money to spend in free agency — and bring back left tackle Trent Williams. The 49ers were really hurt by injuries last season, but they should be back in the NFC West race in 2021.”

“The overall skillset of Justin Fields surpasses Jimmy Garoppolo. So if you want to get better than Jimmy G, Justin Fields, in time, with more experience, transitioning to the NFL, with his speed, his mobility, his arm strength, put it all together and you get what you want in a quarterback, once he settles into a pro offense.”

Philadelphia Eagles

A somewhat more recent team to join the conversation due to their Carson Wentz trade, Fields could potentially find himself in Philadelphia sitting behind? in front of? replacing? Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, who more or less took Wentz’ job toward the end of last season. The Eagles are a mess right now with cap space issues, coaching turnovers, lack of depth at wide receiver and, while it still needs to be addressed, the quarterback position seems to be the least of their problems. But again, Fields is just too good to pass up, and if he drops into the Eagles’ laps at No. 6 overall, Benjamin Solak of Bleeding Green Nation believes “they won’t hesitate to make him the next franchise quarterback.” Here’s what he had to say about Fields’ strengths:

“It may sound foolish to say in this caliber of a strong quarterback class, but the ball goes where Justin Fields wants it to go, every single time. He has success hitting closing windows in the shallow and intermediate areas of the field, lacing the ball with touch in between levels of the defense, and hitting streaking receivers downfield from a variety of launch points. He is a sharpshooter with every throw in his quiver.”

“The only wrokable comparison for Fields’ dual-threat ability is 90% of Cam Newton. For a player of his density and height to be as explosive and physical of a runner, while also representing a threat to launch a 60-yard bomb at any time, is ludicrous. It is also extremely stressful on a defense.”

And his weaknesses:

“The biggest thing separating Fields from the top tier of quarterback in this class (i.e. Lawrence, Trevor) is his pocket management. Fields is such a big and strong player that he likes to plant his feet in the pocket and ignore the bodies flying around him. Certain he can make free rushers miss or survive glancing blows from rushing linemen, Fields — like Wentz — would rather hold onto the ball and let his downfield routes develop for another second than check it down.”

“Fields has a slow release and likes to keep his feet tethered to the ground in the pocket, so he often looks like he’s playing a slower game than other quarterbacks, like Zach Wilson or Trevor Lawrence, who are constantly re-setting their feet and throw with a more aggressive, whiplike release.”

Although he adds that this usually doesn’t cause any problems because Fields is “too accurate, has too strong of an arm” and his “first read is almost universally the right read.”

As far as scheme fit, Solak believes that first-year Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni’s offense may need to adjust to Fields, as Sirianni’s quarterbacks “typically get rid of the ball quickly, distribute to underneath patterns, and let their receivers do the work for them in generating explosive, chunk gains.” He says that Fields’ slower throwing process could make that harder to execute. However, he adds that “Sirianni does a great job at scheming up deep patterns off of run-action looks...that will allow Fields to rollout, read safeties, and take some deep launches.”

“And if he is the pick, he would beat out Jalen Hurts for the starting job and play as a rookie. He may not be immediately dominant, in the way that last year’s sixth overall pick, QB Justin Herbert was — the Eagles’ WR room is bad and their offensive line is aging — but Fields projects as a high-quality pro with a Deshaun Watson/prime Cam Newton ceiling. This would be a home run selection.”

New York Jets

With the No. 2 overall pick, the Jets have every single draftee not named Trevor Lawrence for their choosing, and Wilson and Fields have been at the top of their list for months now.

There are rumors circulating that the Jets have received offers to trade quarterback Sam Darnold for at least a second-round draft pick. Thus, the Jets will be in dire need of a quarterback. So, unless general manager Joe Douglas trades down, as I’m sure he’s received hundreds of offers for that highly coveted No. 2 spot, Fields has a very real shot at becoming a New York Jet.

While Wilson has been the quarterback most often connected to the Jets, Fields “would fit like a glove in new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s system,” according to Fansided’s Justin Fried.

Here’s what CBS Sports analyst Tom Fornelli had to say about the Jets choosing Fields at No. 2 overall in his latest mock draft:

“I don’t know where Sam Darnold goes from here, but the Jets can’t pass up on the chance to draft Fields. He’s been the second-best QB on my board for over a year, and that’s not changing. His accuracy and touch on balls gives him a better chance to succeed than any other QB in this class not named Trevor Lawrence.”

Atlanta Falcons

Another team highly associated with Fields, many mock drafts have the quarterback headed back home to Georgia. The Athletic’s latest mock has Fields going No. 4 overall to the Falcons, eventually taking over for Matt Ryan.

Here is what The Athletic’s Tori McElhaney had to say:

“Drafting Fields would mark a new era in Atlanta. Mired in a bad salary-cap situation, the Falcons do not have the means to part with Matt Ryan just yet. But Fields would allow Atlanta to build a bridge to a post-Ryan future. The problem is that Fields would likely sit a year which is not something you want to do with a someone picked fourth overall. Perhaps playing behind Ryan for a season would give Fields time to grow into his successor.”

Additionally, Anthony Treash of Pro Football Focus believes Atlanta will trade with Miami for the No. 3 overall pick to lock Fields down even earlier.

“Atlanta should be thinking seriously about entering the quarterback market now that Matt Ryan is inching toward the end of his career, and securing Fields would drastically lessen the odds of the Falcons entering quarterback purgatory. In his two years starting for the Buckeyes, Fields earned PFF grades of 91.5 and 93.5, both of which ranked in the top five in the entire FBS.

Fields is extremely accurate, takes great care of the football and has unparalleled wheels for the position. He may not come in right away and light up the league as a rookie if Atlanta were to have a change of heart and decide to trade Matt Ryan, but the talent is there for him to be a franchise quarterback.”

Pittsburgh Steelers

A little less likely than the teams previously listed, there have been some mock drafts that have Fields going to the Steelers, one of which is former NFL general manager and current NFL Network analyst Charlie Casserly’s.

Casserly has the Steelers selecting Fields as the fourth quarterback off the board with the 24th (!!) overall pick.

“Even though the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger are planning to continue their partnership, I don’t see the veteran playing much longer. In a stunning turn of events, Fields slides all the way to No. 24 (obviously, it won’t be a surprise if he goes much earlier than this) and Pittsburgh pounces at the chance to land a talented successor for Big Ben. Sitting behind a future Hall of Famer for a year is a prime spot for the Ohio State prospect.”

If Fields slides to No. 24 overall, I will quit my job. You heard it here first.