2021 NFL Draft: The rare talent and questionable habits of Justin Fields

2021 NFL Draft prospect quarterback Justin Fields #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images)
2021 NFL Draft prospect quarterback Justin Fields #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images) /

The 2021 NFL Draft has become famous for having one of the most intriguing quarterback classes since 2012 when Andrew Luck, one of the best quarterback prospects of all time, entered the league. Virtually everyone who covers the draft has Trevor Lawrence as their QB1, but there is one quarterback who has become one of the most polarizing prospects of the 2021 NFL Draft. That prospect is Justin Fields of the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Justin Fields just completed a wonderful collegiate career in which he completed 68.4% of his passes and threw for 5,701 yards, 67 touchdowns and just 9 interceptions through three seasons. He actually started his career at Georgia but ended up transferring to Ohio State after his freshman season due to a lack of playing time. He wasn’t given the opportunity to show off his talents at Georgia, but this was not the case at Ohio State.

His tenure at Ohio State was absolutely incredible and during his two seasons as a Buckeye, he was a 2019 Heisman finalist and led his team to the college football playoffs twice. After losing to Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers in the semi-finals of the playoffs last year, Fields came back this season and led the Buckeyes to a 49-28 victory over the Tigers in the semi-finals to secure a spot in the 2021 National Championship vs. Alabama.

Unfortunately, Ohio State wasn’t able to come away with a victory in the national championship, but Fields’ six touchdowns vs. Clemson in the semi-final just about guaranteed that he will be drafted within the first ten picks of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Like Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance, Justin Fields is a dual-threat quarterback with above-average physical tools. His arm strength is really good, but what’s most impressive about his athletic profile is his speed.

He ran a 4.51 forty-yard dash in high school, but according to buckeyeswire.com,  he ran a 4.42 in 2019. If he actually ran a 4.42 forty-yard dash a little over a year ago, it’s likely that he is the fastest quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft. North Dakota State’s Trey Lance would be able to put up a fight, but that level of athleticism is unreal for a quarterback.

Justin Fields is one of the most precise passers in the 2021 NFL Draft

Fields’ two biggest strengths as a passer are his accuracy and arm strength. Although he doesn’t drive the ball down the field with breathtaking velocity like Trevor Lawrence and Trey Lance do, he still has enough juice to make every single throw at all three levels of the field. This, along with his ability to impact the game as a rusher, gives him a pretty high floor because he can fit into a lot of different schemes and will always be a threat with the ball in his hands.

Out of the top four quarterbacks in the 2021 NFL Draft, Fields is probably the most accurate passer. He consistently throws the ball in the perfect spot and always places the ball in a way that allows his receivers to pick up yards after the catch.

His accuracy was on full display during the first three weeks of the 2020 college football season. During this three-week span, he averaged 302.7 passing yards, 3.7 passing touchdowns, and 0 interceptions per game while completing 87.8% of his passes. This includes his performance against Nebraska in which he completed 95% of his passes. 

Completion percentage does not equate to accuracy because it can easily be manipulated by a team’s offensive scheme, but in this case, Fields’ completion percentage is a product of his impressive accuracy and ball placement.

In week two against Penn State, Justin Fields showed off his accuracy as well as his ability to extend plays and make throws outside of the pocket. On 2nd and 3 with around 8:50 left in the first quarter, Ohio State lined up in shotgun with just one receiver on both sides of the field. Since they were so close to the first down marker, Penn State expected them to run the ball so they put eight men in the box and had their corners play man coverage.

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However, they played right into the hands of Ohio State who decided to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups by throwing the ball. Justin Fields doesn’t have to make an advanced read on this play, but since there is a safety in the middle of the field, he has to throw the ball to the outside along the boundary. Also, since the cornerback is playing tight coverage on his receiver, he has to place that ball high and outside so only his receiver can catch it. That’s exactly what he does and his perfect throw puts six points on the board.

Later in the game, he made a throw that showed he is capable of making high-level throws from outside the pocket without getting his feet set. On 2nd and 6 with 6:26 left in the second quarter, Ohio State lined up in pistol with three receivers on the wide side of the field.

It looked as if they had called a designed quarterback run, but Fields looked down the field and made an incredible throw on the run with a defender in his face. Throws like this are what make him a very good prospect.

Although Justin Fields is immensely talented, he has a few glaring weaknesses

For anyone who’s seen his film, it’s clear to see that Fields is a talented quarterback and there’s a lot to like about his game. Nevertheless, he has some blatant issues that will concern NFL teams when they dive deep into his film. His two biggest weaknesses are his processing speed and decision making and these two problems were on full display against Indiana.

On 2nd and 21 with 8:39 left in the first quarter, Ohio State lined up in shotgun with two receivers and a tight end on one side of the field and one receiver on the other. Indiana countered Ohio State’s passing attack with a nickel 4-2-5 cover 3 defense that put them in a better position to defend a passing play.

Not only did they put an extra defensive back on the field, but they also blitzed their strong safety and two linebackers. This would force Justin Fields to get the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible.

What happened next was strange. Indiana’s blitz didn’t get home as quickly as they hoped and Justin Fields had his tight end wide open in the flat. He didn’t throw the ball and ended up getting sacked.

Since Indiana was running Cover 3 and blitzing all their linebackers, Fields should’ve been able to recognize that his only option was his tight end in the flat. Since the Buckeyes were 21 yards away from the sticks, he was probably looking to gain a big chunk of yards, but he has to see the field better and make quicker decisions when the pocket isn’t clean.

Another issue that plagues Fields’ game is his refusal to throw the ball away and let plays die. On 3rd and 9 with 9:54 left in the third quarter against Indiana, Ohio State ran an Ohio concept to counter Indiana’s cover 3. The in route gets wide open and Fields has more than enough time to throw the ball, but he doesn’t. Instead, he chooses to run the ball and ends up getting hit before getting back to the line of scrimmage.

At this point, he should take the sack and allow his special teams unit to try and give Indiana an unfavorable field position. However, he decides to try and make the play work and ends up throwing an interception. This is honestly one of the worst interceptions I’ve ever seen from a top prospect. He cannot make reckless decisions like this if he wants to succeed in the NFL.

It may seem odd that there’s anyone, outside of Trevor Lawrence, of course, who could come close to Fields as a prospect since he just completed a historic collegiate career and has been the consensus QB2 for a few years now. However, there is a legitimate case to be made that he is the third-best quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Overall, Fields is a very good prospect who will likely be a quality starter in the NFL. He is a very talented passer who is extraordinarily accurate and has the arm strength to attack all three levels of the football field.

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However, his poor field vision and questionable habits as a decision-maker could limit his ceiling long-term. He may very well become a top ten quarterback in the NFL, but don’t be surprised if his limitations as a processor keep him from reaching his full potential and becoming one of the best quarterbacks from the 2021 NFL Draft.