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Buckeyes in the NFL: 2023 Fantasy Football Preview — Justin Fields

Fields broke out as a fantasy star last season, but has yet to approach his ceiling. Now that the former Buckeye finally has some help in Chicago, expect a big step forward.

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Tell me if any of this sounds familiar: The quarterback has no help. He can’t throw it to himself. He has no weapons... The Bears are going to get him killed!

These phrases or statements should sound awfully familiar to the people of Chicago, as the Bears have consistently stunk for a decade and flat-out failed or refused to build around their quarterback(s). For two seasons, all of these so-called ‘excuses’ applied to Justin Fields and could have derailed his NFL career before he ever got a chance to prove himself.

The team around him was awful, especially on offense. His linemen doubled as turnstiles, and his ‘arsenal’ (skill players) basically consisted of a slingshot and a dull butter knife. But it wasn’t even like the former Buckeye was bringing said knife to a gunfight. No, he was Jon Snow facing the army of the dead.

But now... Well, Fields’ situation is only slightly better. Chicago’s offensive line is still an abomination. The organization let productive running back David Montgomery walk despite having excess offseason money to burn. Chase Claypool is expected to see meaningful snaps, which is never a good thing. And the Bears only selected two skill position players in the 2023 NFL Draft, both in the fourth round.

To Chicago’s credit, however, they did swing a blockbuster trade for stud wide receiver D.J. Moore. Moore’s arrival in the Windy City means that Fields is still not flanked by the crew from The Greatest Show on Turf, but he (Fields) at least has a proven and productive No. 1 option. While the price to acquire Moore was extremely high, the return on investment could turn out to be even higher.

Despite odds being stacked against Fields during a crucial stage of NFL development, he has still shown glimpses of being a franchise QB. His deep ball stats are among the best in the league (when the team allows him to throw it), and he doubled his QBR from Year 1 to Year 2. The Bulldog turned Buckeye turned Bear also increased his completion percentage from Year 1 to Year 2, although not by much as you’d like (barely 60%).

Fields does have all the necessary franchise QB traits and characteristics though, including leadership and toughness.

Is Fields perfect? No, not even close. He throws some of the worst/most confusing interceptions in the NFL, takes far too many sacks, and clearly trusts his legs more than his arm. But can you blame him? He went from a sophisticated pro style offense in Columbus to a shitshow with XFL talent in Chicago. Regardless, it is painfully obvious at times that Fields is doing or trying too much as he attempts to make up for the Bears’ dearth of talent. And on occasion, it bites him in the ass.

But what I personally find frustrating is not Fields’ errors or mistakes, but rather the times when he is lumped in with other (past) Buckeyes and/or referred to as a potential victim of the ‘Ohio State QB curse’. That noise has gotten much quieter since the midway point of last season, but Fields should never be lumped in with a Troy Smith or Terrelle Pryor (no offense!).

We’re talking about a guy in Fields who threw for more than 4,300 yards and 63 touchdowns in just 22 games as a Buckeye. He did so while only being picked off nine times and playing in a legitimate pro style offense. So Fields, in my opinion, was not a product of his football environment (like a few of the other OSU QBs, unfortunately). Nor was he a system QB.

He was arguably the top high school QB in a generational recruiting class, who then checked every box while in college and never really experienced a bump in the road as a football player... until he reached Chicago. I have little reason to believe that he will not continue to develop and get even better as a professional.

By now you are probably wondering if I am ever going to bring up fantasy football. And the answer is yes. This was just my way of building up a player that I root for, in both real life and fantasy... uh, football.

Fields has work to do as a ‘real’ QB, but he is already a star in fantasy circles. The various pieces of information above indicate that his arrow is clearly pointing up when it comes to both (real life and fantasy). But let’s just close by focusing on the latter. After all, this piece does have ‘fantasy football’ in the title.

While Chicago’s offensive line appears to be in much better shape heading into the 2023 season, it is still one of the worst in the NFL. And that greatly benefits Fields in fantasy. Last season he was forced to run for his life most of the time, and it resulted in over 1,100 yards on the ground — good for second all-time among QBs (single season). However, with bigger and better weapons around him and an ever-improving feel for the game, I except Fields to run less in ‘23 and beyond.

But his legs will likely never become obsolete. He will run when necessary, especially in the red zone. Imagine Jalen Hurts-esque usage when the Bears need a TD. The Philadelphia Eagles’ MVP candidate found paydirt 13 times last season, on almost the exact same number of attempts as Fields. The latter only scored 8 rushing TDs, but smoked Hurts in yards per carry (7.1 to 4.6), showing off his explosiveness. Should Fields find a happy medium, 800 yards and 10 TD (rushing) is not out of the question. Those numbers alone will keep him in the top tier of fantasy QBs.

Now, let’s assume bigger and better passing numbers for Fields, which should be a given as long as Moore remains on the field. Fields passed for just over 2,200 yards and 17 TD last season, throwing to the likes of Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, Tyroil Smoochie-Wallace, and Saggitariutt Jefferspin... Alright, the last two names are from Key & Peele’s ‘East/West College Bowl’ but I guarantee that a few people were none the wiser until reading this sentence.

Point is, Chicago’s skill group was the worst in the NFL last season. And I don’t even think it’s debatable. Mooney was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2021, but other than that... Yeesh. Thankfully the Bears added Moore, a certified stud and a player who has three 1,000-yard seasons under his belt, despite previously catching passes from the ghost of Cam Newton, Kyle Allen, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Darnold, and Baker Mayfield, among others. Given what both guys have dealt with in the past, I would not be surprised if Fields and Moore shared tears of joy when they learned of the trade.

Even if Fields increases his passing totals to 3,000 yards and 25 TD – average by modern NFL standards – he is going to be in the running for fantasy QB1. Again using Hurts as a comp, Philly’s quarter-billion dollar QB put up 3,701 and 22 last season, to go along with his 13 rushing TD. Those stats were good for a third-place fantasy finish among QB. And I absolutely believe that Fields can put up similar numbers, if not better ones.

Because the former Buckeye is a superior passer. Anyone who says otherwise is not accounting for the different environment(s) in which these two QBs exist. No offense whatsoever to Hurts, but he plays behind arguably the best offensive lines in football and throws to one of the best WR duos in the league, not to mention a top-5ish tight end. Fields, on the other hand, has been surrounded by the actual Bad News Bears. It is also worth noting that Hurts basically was Fields as a second-year player, before ascending in Year 3 (61% completion percentage, 16 passing TD, 784 yards and 10 TD on the ground).

I am all-in on Fields moving forward, in both real-life and fantasy. Sticking to the latter, he finished as QB6 last season, and that should be his absolute floor in 2023. His current ADP is typically in the 40-50 range, but I am targeting him 10-15 picks earlier, depending on league rules and where my roster stands after the first 2-3 rounds. Especially with so few elite RBs available.

Grabbing a QB who can rush for 800+ yards and 10 TD is like taking advantage of a buy one, get one or 2-for-1 sale, and I am definitely a bargain shopper when it comes to fantasy football. Don’t be afraid to join me in prioritizing Fields. Doing so could be a league-winning decision.