By Brentley Weissman
Big Ten football fans rejoice. After initially deciding to cancel their 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Big Ten conference made the decision to return to play late in September, and we officially have the conference back in the fold. Traditionally, the Big Ten produces the second-most NFL players per conference, second to only the SEC, and 2021 appears to be more of the same.
In what is expected to be one of the most talented and talked about quarterback classes in recent history, one of the best passers in all of college football returned to play today as quarterback Justin Fields led his Buckeyes to a 52-17 win over Nebraska.
Fields had a season for the ages in 2019, leading the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff and finishing third for the Heisman Trophy. Fields lit up the stat sheet, completing 238-of-354 passes (67.2%) with 3,273 yards and 41 touchdowns to just three interceptions in 14 games. He also added 484 yards on the ground, with 10 touchdowns.
When we talk about the NFL draft and the potential of this quarterback class, we must start our conversation with Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who in my estimation may be the best prospect coming out since Andrew Luck. Lawrence is a near lock to be selected No. 1 overall in April, but I’m here to tell you that if your team misses out on Lawrence, don’t fret, Fields isn’t a mere consolation prize.
Fields has all the physical tools you could ever want in a quarterback prospect. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds, Fields is a thickly built player who can take, but also deliver punishment. An easy thrower of the football, who offers a big arm to hit on the deep ball and drive the ball into ridiculously tight windows, Fields also has the accuracy and touch you want for the short and intermediate areas of the field. For a young quarterback, Fields is exceptionally poised in the pocket, with an outstanding ability to move and evade defenders while keeping his eyes down the field to make a play.
A true playmaker in every sense of the word. Fields is a very good athlete and can use his legs to extend plays when things breakdown in the pocket but can also be a threat on designed quarterback runs. With his combination of size and speed, Fields puts stress on opposing defenders as a runner as he can both outrun you, but also run through you.
Fields put his dynamic skill set on full display against Nebraska as he was nearly flawless in his season debut. Fields finished the game completing 20-of-21 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns. Fields also gained 54 more yards and another touchdown on the ground. Fields was truly sensational today and showcased his big arm on multiple occasions. He looked even more in command of Ohio State’s offense which is to be expected as he enters his second season in this system. There were a couple of occasions where you’d like to see Fields throw the ball away rather than look to make a play as he took some negative plays by doing so. All in all, if Fields continues to play at this level, he will yet again be a finalist for the Heisman trophy and surefire top five selection.
In today’s NFL, where rookie quarterbacks are having more success than ever, players like Fields who can win both in and out of structure have never been in more demand. Fields’ skill set translates greatly to the league where offensive coordinators have been adding more and more spread concepts from the college game. Quarterback-needy teams would be wise to target Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft, as he has the talent and upside to be a difference maker at the quarterback position in year one. I wanted to spend a little bit of time evaluating potential landing spots for Fields as the top of the draft order gets a little bit clearer.
Potential Landing Spots
Washington Football Team (Projected No. 2 Overall)
This is probably the most likely scenario as it currently stands. The Football Team all but guaranteed that they will be selecting a quarterback high in the 2021 NFL Draft after the team benched 2019 first-round pick quarterback Dwayne Haskins prior to Week 5. If the Football Team selects Fields that would make two straight Buckeyes as first-round quarterback selections, but Washington fans shouldn’t worry as Fields is a much, much better prospect than Haskins coming out. Where Haskins was more of a pocket passer with a limited ability to use his legs, Fields is a dynamic dual-threat playmaker who can beat you with his arm and use his legs to extend plays or gain yards as a runner. With Fields at the helm, the Football Team will have their core pillars on both sides of the football with fellow Buckeye Chase Young leading the charge on defense. Another side note I’ll add is offensive coordinator Scott Turner coached and had success with Cam Newton in the past, and some in the football world have compared Fields’ game to Newton’s.
Atlanta Falcons (Projected No. 4 Overall)
The Atlanta Falcons have been one of the biggest disappointments in the entire NFL this season. The Falcons are currently 1-5 and have already cleaned house, firing both head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Quarterback is definitely not at the top of the Falcons’ needs, and Matt Ryan still has three years left on his five-year $150 million extension he signed in 2018, but if the Falcons are picking this high in the draft, they would be wise to consider adding a young talented passer like Fields. Fields would be able to sit and learn behind a veteran quarterback if the Falcons draft him but still keep Ryan on the roster. If the team decides to trade Ryan, which will be difficult given his contract situation, then whoever is the new head coach will then be able to craft and build their offensive system around Fields’ talents. Personally, I’d love to see a Falcons offense coached by Eric Bieniemy, with Fields being able to spread the ball around to playmakers like Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley. Fields is also from the state of Georgia, so that's an added bonus.
Jacksonville Jaguars (Projected No. 5 Overall)
This is an interesting one for me. Coming into the season, many thought the Jaguars were embracing the #TankforTrevor strategy as they traded many of their young talented players specifically on defense ahead of the season. The Jaguars then went on to upset the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1, with quarterback Gardner Minshew playing really good football. Since then, things have begun to unravel in Duval, as the team has lost five straight games. Minshew, in my opinion, isn’t the team’s biggest issue. Does he make mistakes that you wished he didn’t? Yes. But Minshew has above-average accuracy, instincts and his creativity in the pocket is special. Selecting Fields for the Jaguars is less about Minshew, and more about Fields. Fields has the type of talent to transcend bad football teams and carry them to victory. His upside and potential are far superior to Minshew and as my colleague Kyle Crabbs always says, “Never pass a great player because you have a good player.” If Fields is on the board at the Jaguars pick, they must take him. Inserting Fields into an offense that actually has some good playmakers in running back James Robinson and talented receivers like D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault, should give Jags fans reason for excitement.