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You’re Nuts: Which NFL Buckeye will have the best rookie season in 2021?

Your (almost) daily dose of good-natured, Ohio State banter.

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Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

Today’s Question: Which NFL Buckeye will have the best rookie season in 2021?


Jami’s Take: Justin Fields (Chicago Bears)

While Fields might be the obvious choice here, that’s because his stats and potential make the case for him.

When the Chicago Bears drafted Fields with the No. 11 overall pick, Bears fans felt something they hadn’t in a long time — hope. Chicago has long been searching for an elite quarterback, and there’s no question Fields has the athleticism to rise to the challenge.

In two seasons at Ohio State, Fields had a pass completion rate of 68.4 percent, throwing for 5,373 yards with 63 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. As he continues to develop in the pros, he stands a chance to be the first quarterback with 4,000 passing yards in Bears franchise history. He could also theoretically set a franchise record for passing TDs in a season (the current record is held by Erik Kramer, at just 29) and for pass completion percentage in a single season (currently held by Mitchell Trubisky at 67%).

The Bears have plenty of offensive weapons for Fields to work with, including David Montgomery and Allen Robinson, plus the promising Cole Kmet at tight end. And Fields has the speed and mobility to do some damage on the ground as well. In his two years at OSU, he rushed for 867 yards, with an additional 15 rushing TDs. While there’s not always a correlation between college stats and performance in the pros, we know Fields has rushing potential and isn’t afraid to take off running.

Vegas likes his odds too. According to BetOnline.ag and BetMGM, he has the second best odds, behind only Trevor Lawrence, to be named the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year.

There are some unknowns here. As a Bears fan myself, I am all too familiar with their ability to disappoint. They have a miserable track record where their quarterbacks are concerned. Their oft-mediocre offensive line doesn’t do much to set their QBs up for success. And it remains to be seen how much playing time Fields will even get this season, with Bears head coach Matt Nagy claiming he is committed to starting veteran quarterback Andy Dalton. Nagy has vocally expressed his confidence in Dalton’s ability to get the job done and his desire to give Fields time to adjust to the offense.

But don’t be surprised if the Bears start Fields sooner than they’re letting on. Dalton is 6-16 in games he has started in the past two seasons, and he has historically underperformed even when surrounded by the likes of Amari Cooper or former Buckeye Ezekiel Elliott. Nagy wants me to believe he’ll leave Fields on the bench if Dalton isn’t producing, especially when Nagy himself needs some wins for long-term job security? Yeah right.

Fields has the opportunity to shine at camp, and it’s hard to imagine Dalton keeping the starting spot once Fields is allowed to go off. If the Bears want to win games, they’re going to need a dynamic guy like Fields to lead the team. They have the defense in place, but they need some offensive support this season, and I don’t think any Bears fan really believes Dalton is going to be the guy to bring that.

I think Nagy means it when he says he wants to ease Fields in, and Dalton really might start the first game. But mark my words – Fields will get that starting job faster than we think, he’ll have a stellar rookie season, and if he tops it off with the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least.


Matt’s Take: Trey Sermon

Now I understand, Jami, that you made your pick of Justin Fields as much because of your Bears fandom as your Ohio State alumni status, and I can respect that. I mean, it is — as you say — the most obvious (i.e. safest) pick that you could have made, but I understand that in your very first contribution to LGHL, you wanted to take the safe route, and not climb out onto any potentially unsturdy branches.

So, I will give you the first-round quarterback prediction and move 77 selections back into the third round for my choice, the San Francisco 49ers’ Trey Sermon. I had waffled between going with Sermon, Pete Werner with the Saints, and new Green Bay Packer Josh Myers, but I went with the running back because he’s the only one that comes with what amounts to a rookie guarantee.

While I imagine that Werner has a really good shot at starting alongside All-Pro Demario Davis (and four other Buckeyes currently on the New Orleans’ roster), how things are going to shake out for the team at quarterback concerns me. Though he’s on the other side of the ball, I don’t feel super great about the prospects of Taysom Hill of Jameis Winston effectively leading the Saints’ offense. So therefore, I’m a little concerned about how being on the field an inordinate amount of time could impacts Werner’s ability to shine down.

Then there’s Myers, who — again — very well might end up starting as a rookie. However, if the Pack does end up having a second-consecutive Buckeye rookie start at center, we don’t exactly know who Myers will be snapping to. I would feel much more confident with him having a great first season if it is Aaron Rodgers’ hands nestled up under his butt than if they were Jordan Love’s.

So the uncertainly surrounding Werner and Myers brings me back to Sermon. While he might not become the Niners’ starter this season, in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, that doesn’t really matter when it comes to running backs. In 2020, San Fran had three backs who had more than 80 rushing attempts and four who had multiple touchdowns (wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk had a pair as well). That being typed, the Niners only ranked 14th in rushing attempts and 15th in rushing yards last season.

So why am I so confident in Sermon’s ability to have an impactful year? For two reasons, firstly, two of the 49ers backfield staples from last season — Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon — departed via free agency, opening up opportunities for a tough and explosive back like Sermon.

Secondly, I’m confident that Trey can have an immediate impact because Shanahan (like his father before him), seamlessly incorporates his RBs into his passing game. Last season, Shanahan’s stable of backs accounted for a quarter of all passing targets and receptions, and SF’s backs accounted for 36% of the team’s TD receptions on the year.

So, even if Sermon doesn’t end up being RB1 for the 49ers and ends up being behind Jeffrey Wilson, Raheem Mostert, and/or Wayne Gallman, there will be opportunities for him to contribute early and often.

We saw how dynamic Sermon can be when healthy as he dominated in the second half against Michigan State and then in OSU’s postseason games against Northwestern and Clemson. In those two-and-a-half games, there was nothing that Sermon couldn’t do. He ran with power, he was elusive at the second level, he caught passes out of the backfield, and he blocked well in pass protection.

Shanahan’s offensive scheme thrives on guys who can do it all, and even though Sermon’s time as a Buckeye was brief, he proved that he has all the skills to be a well-rounded back at the next level.


Poll

Who has the right answer to today’s question:

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Jami: Justin Fields
    (18 votes)
  • 40%
    Matt: Trey Sermon
    (12 votes)
30 votes total Vote Now