2021 NFL Draft: Pro Day questions for top five quarterbacks

2021 NFL Draft prospect Trevor Lawrence fires a pass in front of Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer (Photo by David Platt/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports)
2021 NFL Draft prospect Trevor Lawrence fires a pass in front of Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer (Photo by David Platt/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports) /
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Justin Fields, 2021 NFL Draft
2021 NFL Draft prospect Justin Fields #1 of the Ohio State Buckeyes (Photo by Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports) /

Quarterback. Pick Analysis. Ohio State. Justin Fields. 2. player. 812. Scouting Report

Top question: Can Fields increase his speed outside the pocket?

Pro Day: March 30, 2021

Coming out of high school Fields was one of the most sought-after quarterback recruits in the country: a five-star prospect, he ranked first-overall in dual-threat quarterbacks in the 2018 class, according to 247 Sports. He got offers from some of the biggest football programs in the country and was able to play in 2018 as a true freshman with the Georiga Bulldogs.

The reason for his transfer to Ohio State is inconsequential when evaluating Fields for the 2021 NFL Draft. He was unlikely to be the starter in 2019 after Jake Fromm led the Bulldogs to a National Title game the season before. With his chances of being a multi-year starter in college starting to slip away, he transferred to a school he could start for in 2019. Any conversation about him “not wanting to compete for the starting-job” in Georgia has no bearing on his abilities as a player.

Related Story. The rare talent and questionable habits of Justin Fields. light

Fields had one of the most impressive and record-breaking sophomore seasons in 2019, cementing himself as a top quarterback prospect in this year’s draft class. He accounted for 41 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns while ranking first overall in the Big 10 for passing yards, according to Sports Reference. While the 2020 season was abridged to just eight games due to COVID-19, Fields still finished the season with a completion rate of 70.2 percent, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt (best in the Big 10). In two seasons, Fields threw 63 touchdowns to just nine interceptions, one of the best rations in the country.

For the past two years, Fields has looked like the consensus pick for second-best quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft. He led Ohio State to the National Championship game this past season and helped the team get two back-to-back College National Playoff berths. But just as Lawrence will have minor technical issues to work through once in the NFL, Fields will as well.

For starters, Fields has produced a ton of offense with his feet in college, gaining a total of 1,133 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns in three seasons. At 6-foot-3, 228-pounds, Fields can be a mauler past the line of scrimmage, outmaneuvering middle field defenders. But when Fields is forced to throw from outside the pocket and on the move, he looks slow and takes longer to get rid of the ball.

When throwing from the pocket, Fields is everything a general manager wants in a vertical-passing quarterback. He’s got amazing accuracy and looks most comfortable when passing 10 plus yards down the field. But on plays where he is forced to run, his decision-making, his accuracy, every facet of his game seems to slow down.

If an NFL team wants Fields to be a purely pocket-passing quarterback, he shouldn’t have a hard time adjusting to the pros. But in a league where the most dynamic offenses are making plays outside the pocket on off-platform throws, Fields risks falling behind his peers if he can only succeed passing inside the pocket.

The Buckeyes offense didn’t require him to check-down or make screen passes often either. So it’s reasonable to wonder how adept he’ll be with such concepts once in the league as well. Fields might be deadly accurate passing from the pocket. But a one or two-dimensional quarterback can be neutralized by most defenses in the NFL.

The good news: Fields is one of the most talented passers in the 2021 NFL Draft. He has the prerequisite skills and intelligence to make accurate throws on the run if he can learn to process the field faster. We already know he can read the field quickly from the pocket and can make accurate passes when pressured. Translating those skills shouldn’t be a huge undertaking for a competent quarterback coach.

Fields still has a ton of upside as a starting quarterback in the NFL. But scouts will likely want to at least explore the idea of Fields learning to speed up his processing on the run. If only to open up one more avenue for the offense to succeed.