When you look at the 2021 NFL Draft, there are a lot of players who were selected that instantly made their respective teams better; but the player-team combo that takes the cake is quarterback Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears, who selected fields 11th overall.
If you ask me, this was the best pick of the entire draft. In fact, I would even say that even if Fields fails in Chicago this would still be the best pick in the draft.
Let me explain; first, with the selection of Fields, himself.
For as much as Fields wasn’t talked about as the potential No. 3 pick, when gathered via a consensus board from draft analysts across the industry, orchestrated by Arif Hasan of The Athletic, Fields was QB2 in this class. The NFL Network’s Charlie Casserley also asked around the NFL for their anonymous quarterback rankings and Fields came out as QB3. While we had not heard the hype for Fields at No. 3, league personnel seemingly liked Fields as a prospect. This—along with him just plain being really good on tape—justified a possible top selection.
Now, let’s look at things from Chicago’s side.
Despite not going under .500 in any of the last three seasons and making the playoff in 2020, this is a make-or-break year for general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy. While I don’t want to say making the playoffs is easy, the Bears had a lucky streak at the beginning of the 2020 season that allowed them to truly limp into the postseason as not much of a threat. Within the context of the Bears’ success, the arrow has been trending down. Their once elite defense has taken a step back; their offensive line has been terrible; the offensive game plan and play-calling have been in question; and, worst of all, their second-overall pick in 2017, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, never improved. But what was Chicago supposed to do? The Bears didn’t have a lot of salary-cap space to make big splashes in free agency, and they had the 20th-overall pick in the first round with quarterback being their biggest area of need. How in the world were they going to improve their team enough to make a difference in a crucial upcoming season?
It felt like there was one reality where the Bears could correctly come away with a franchise quarterback they could undoubtedly believe in, and that reality hit. Knowing the general manager and head coach could be on their way out if their arrow wasn’t pointing up this season, the Bears could have been extremely desperate and given the Atlanta Falcons whatever they wanted to get up to No. 4 for a quarterback, or given into the demands of teams lower in the top 10 like the Detroit Lions or the Carolina Panthers. But that would have likely set Chicago back for years, even with a quarterback it believed in. Instead, Pace was patient and waited for a potential Fields drop; once he got past the Denver Broncos at No. 9, the Bears had their sights set on a new passer. Patience was one key to this puzzle, but so was who they chose to do business with.
Chicago traded up with the New York Giants at No. 11 and was able to move up nine spots for a quarterback at a price that was much lower than it should have been. Giants general manager Dave Gettleman had never traded back in the first round before, so he did not have a lot of experience when it came to the value of a deal. In choosing No. 11 as their target spot to trade up, the Bears only had to give up a first-round pick next year and two Day 3 picks, one this year and one next. In a move for a quarterback, that’s an absolute bargain.
There is a chance this pick does not go according to plan, such is the case with any budding prospect bracing themselves for the next level. There is a chance Fields doesn't pan out to be the quarterback many of us believe he has the talent to achieve. There is a chance the organization fails to build the right team around him—looking at you, New York Jets—but even with those factors in play, this continues to be the best pick of the draft for how bleak Chicago’s situation was pre-draft, how the Bears navigated it, and how they at least gave themselves a fighting chance to be better this season and beyond.