Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The quarterback has no help. He can’t throw it to himself. He has no weapons!
All of these “excuses” can also be legitimate obstacles in the way of any QB’s success. For Justin Fields, these are all phrases he likely hears in his nightmares. Because they are unequivocally true for the former Buckeye, in reference to his current situation with the Chicago Bears. The team’s front office has been a borderline dumpster fire, and Fields is taking the brunt of the punishment. However, I believe he can break the organization’s QB curse, making him worth a flier in fantasy football drafts.
In 22 games at Ohio State, Fields threw for more than 4,300 yards and 63 touchdowns. He did so while only being picked off nine times, and adding 800+ yards and 15 TD on the ground. That is serious production! Now, the same could be said about Troy Smith, Terrelle Pryor, J.T. Barrett, Dwayne Haskins... you get it. Those guys never excelled in the NFL, so there could be something to the “OSU QB curse”. But only Haskins played in a Ryan Day offense, and then the NFL. It unfortunately never came together for the late QB, but he represents a recent sample size of just one.
Fields, in my opinion, was not a product of his football environment. Nor was he a system QB. He was arguably the top QB in his recruiting class, perceived as a potentially generational talent, and never really experienced a bump in the road as a football player... until he reached Chicago. Sure, he had a rough game here or there as a Buckeye, but Fields was consistently dominant. Not to mention: Ohio State ran/currently runs a fairly sophisticated, NFL-type offense. We are not talking about Mike Leach’s Air Raid, artificially boosting stats.
Now, I have to be fair. I am not a total homer, so I should acknowledge areas in which Fields needs to improve. He has always had a habit of holding onto the ball for too long. And as an NFL rookie, he occasionally struggled to identify blitzes and/or throw receivers open. How many rookies have similar issues? Fields did not do himself a ton of favors, but I think it is unfair to place too much blame on the shoulders of a guy who was constantly running for his life.
Fields’ stats were also very similar to those of Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson — QB’s who each had the benefit of a better supporting cast. Lawrence completed 59.6% of his passes, with 12 TD and 7 INT (17 games played, 33.5 QBR). Wilson’s line was 55.6/9/11 in 13 games, with a 28.2 QBR. And the former Buckeye finished with a line of 58.9/7/10 in 10 starts, with a 26.4 QBR.
Lawrence was throwing to DJ Chark (for a minute), Marvin Jones, Laviska Shenault Jr., and others. Wilson played in an offense with Jamison Crowder, Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, etc. As for Fields? His best receivers were Darnell Mooney – who we will get to shortly – and the ghost of Allen Robinson. The 2021 Bears offense was the antithesis of The Greatest Show on Turf, and that is probably being generous. They stunk! So much so, that their offensive guru of a head coach gave up playcalling duties for good.
So why am I making all the excuses? Why am I defending Fields’ play, and telling you he might have value in fantasy football? Because I think he is too talented and too mentally tough to fail as a real football player. He might not finish as a top-10 QB, but I believe that is his eventual ceiling. And I would be surprised if his floor is not top-20 (AKA QB2/streaming option). There is also a sample size near the end of his rookie season that should have you intrigued by the possibility that Fields was turning a corner in his development.
Over his last four starts – excluding a Baltimore game in which he was injured – Fields completed 62.5 percent of his passes, with 5 TD and 4 INT. He also added 257 yards rushing and one additional TD during that time. Elite? Not by a long shot. Promising? Definitely... Especially considering Robinson was on autopilot or not playing at all, and the rest of his receivers were the Land Grant Holy Land staff (no offense). After not passing for more than 209 yards through his first six starts, Fields’ finished the 2021 season with games of 291-224-285. Again, these stats are not elite, but consider what he was working with — and up against.
Mooney will be back in 2022, and he is a legitimate talent at wide receiver. The soon-to-be third-year pro topped 1,000 yards last year and possesses elite speed. He is not Robinson (now with the Rams) in his prime, but he is clearly Fields’ go-to guy. The two should connect on plenty of deep balls; throws on which the QB was sneaky accurate as a rookie. The Bears also added Byron Pringle, Velus Jones Jr., and N’Keal Harry, marginally upgrading the receiver position. Their offensive line might be one of the worst in the league on paper, so if Fields is going to make a fantasy jump, it will be due to his burgeoning chemistry with Mooney, as well as his running ability.
IT'S HERE: The 2021-22 Deep Ball Project is finally out. See how accurate your quarterback was throwing the ball downfield! https://t.co/N8pEINPcww pic.twitter.com/dqUqLysPJ4— Johnny Kinsley (2021-22 Deep Ball Project Out Now) (@Brickwallblitz) March 4, 2022
Fields rushed for 420 yards and 2 TD in 2021, despite barely starting 50 percent of his team’s games. I could see him getting to 600 or 700 this upcoming season, with a major uptick in TD. For comparison purposes, let’s take a look at Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. He carried the ball 139 times last year, racking up 784 yards and 10 TD. His TD number might seem high, or turn out to be a true outlier, but the Eagles designed runs for him. Sometimes it is just that simple with an athletic QB.
The Bears could do the same for Fields, and watch him get into the endzone 6-10 times. At the very least, Fields’ low(ish) TD total was “fluky”. 12 QB rushed for three or more TD in 201, including Jimmy Garoppolo, Sam Darnold, and Cam Newton. Fields is infinitely more dangerous on the ground, unless we’re talking old school Newton.
Being a threat as a runner – and to score as a runner – boosts Fields’ fantasy ceiling quite a bit. Going back to Hurts for a minute: he is not a great passer. Seriously, watch him throw the ball to a cheerleader or member of the chain gang sometime. But he’s productive as hell from a fantasy standpoint. Despite barely cracking 3,000 passing yards, and throwing just 16 TD, he finished 2021 ninth in fantasy QB scoring.
If Fields can come close to replicating Hurts’ rushing stats, he could absolutely end up as a top-10 fantasy QB. Because he is a much better passer than the Alabama product, and I expect him to reach at least 20 TD through the air. Maybe I am being too optimistic, given the roster, but I will continue to beat the drum regarding Fields’ talent. 3,825 yards passing (225 YPG), to go with 600 on the ground and 28 combined TD is a realistic ceiling for the former Heisman finalist from OSU.
Buckeye fans and fantasy players alike should ideally sit on him as a backup, but then keep Fields on the roster if at all possible. QB’s in general do not provide the best value when it comes to fantasy football, but don’t you sort of want an Ohio State legend sitting atop your lineup? I know I do.