2021 NFL Draft Rookie Profile: Justin Fields (Fantasy Football)
We are less than a week away from the NFL Draft and the player I’ve talked about the most over the last two weeks is the only remaining QB left in my Rookie Profile evaluations. Truth be told: I’ve placed a couple of wagers on Fields going inside the top-5 as well as a longshot (+1600) for him to go No. 2 to the Jets. Betz and I discussed Fields’ draft props last week as well as a first-round mock draft on Friday’s podcast.
Let’s look at Fields’ college production profile, his athletic measurables and spend the majority of the time analyzing what shows up on film. In the end, I’ll give my thoughts on his place in rookie drafts and some comparables in the NFL.
Editors Note: This article is part of our Rookie Profile series going on until the 2021 NFL Draft. For more on each rookie, check out Andy, Mike, and Jason’s exclusive rookie rankings and production profiles found only in the Dynasty Pass, part of the brand-new UDK+ for 2021.
College Production Profile
|Year||School||Class||G||Pct||Yds||Y/A||TD||Int||Rush Att||Rush Yards||Rush TDs|
The two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year started out his career at Georgia behind Jake Fromm and promptly transferred right into a starting job in Columbus. The recent success of transfer QBs Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Joe Burrow, and Jalen Hurts shouldn’t deter anyone from Fields.
The 2019 full season numbers are eye-popping following the record-setting 2018 season Dwayne Haskins put up. The Cam Newton comps are a bit lazy considering Fields was a much more accomplished passer than Newton was at Auburn. Fields’ rushing production looks minuscule compared to Newton’s 1,473 rushing yards & 20 rushing TDs in his lone season starting. For a player coming into college with high expectations, Fields led his team to back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances and a 20-2 record.
Fields’ pro day was the cherry on top of an already impressive physical resumé. At 4.44, he’s the only QB prospect other than Robert Griffin III in the last 20 years to run a sub-4.5 while being at least 6’2. If you’re interested in more tape from his pro day because you have nothing better to do with your time in late April, here is a YouTube video of every single throw.
Dak Prescott is another close comp although if you remember coming out of Mississippi State, Dak was a giant question mark including one scouting report that emphatically stated “inconsistency mars almost every aspect of his game, especially mechanically“. He was given a 5th round grade so let’s not creat a revisionist history here… Fields is a much better prospect.
What’s On Tape
My method for watching film is simple: get out a pen and pad of paper. Watch each passing attempt taking note of the down and distance and simply write down what I see. For a QB, I focus on accuracy, aDOT, footwork, locating 2nd reads, and how they stand in the pocket under pressure. For Fields, I took ten of his games:
Games Viewed: Alabama (2021), Clemson (2021), Northwestern (2020), Indiana (2020), Michigan State (2020), Penn State (2020), Clemson (2019), Wisconsin (2019), Nebraska (2019), Rutgers (2019)
1. As a thrower, he looks almost effortless.
Although championed for his dual-threat skill set, if you were evaluating Fields as a passer alone, his mechanics and strength are near the top of this class for me. The pro day is an insolated environment so watching actual games, it’s apparent his arm strength and velocity are NFL-ready. In the most recent Clemson game, his 56-yard bomb to Chris Olave gets all the press but his six TDs in that game were more than a product of a massive arm. He throws “ropes” if you’re familiar with the term. The ball not only is placed but, on rollouts, Clemson’s scheme dictated that Fields had to put enough velocity on the throw to get it there with timing. He was marvelous in that game especially operating in the red zone.
Here’s an example from the Penn State game where the pass rush forces him to deliver the ball sooner than he’d like. This may not look like a huge play but based on where Fields had to backpedal this was a 25-yard throw right on the money.
He came out dealing against Rutgers (yes I know the opponent was weak) but apart from a called QB sneak on the first play from scrimmage, he was functioning as a pocket passer waiting for WRs to get open on drags across the middle of the field. A lot of criticism for players with “big arms” is that 20+ yard plays connect only a handful of times per game. The intermediate throw (10-19 yards) is one of the most telling signs for a college QB if they are ready to take the next step. He was PFF’s highest-graded passer on intermediate throws amongst this 2021 draft class including a ridiculous 80.8 adjusted completion percentage. If I could give you one takeaway from his film, it was the conviction and fluidness of his passes on this part of the field. That’s an elite trait in my book.
If I could give one critique, he needs some touch on short passes, especially in the 2020 film. I counted at least five instances where he overthrew Trey Sermon out of the backfield. This was a knock against Cam as well for a while and the narrative that was written is “Cam doesn’t throw to RBs”. Once he was outfitted with an RB with that elite pass-catching skillset (aka Christian McCaffrey), that was put to rest. I expect the same at the next level for Fields.
2. He’s a decisive runner.
As a runner, Fields’ was dangerous and made teams play “11-on-11” in a way that opened up a lot of the passing game. He Fields’ decisions were very much analog in the sense of what he put in is what he received in return. He’s not necessarily in the “lightning” category where generational runners Mike Vick and Lamar Jackson were just blistering fast albeit at a much lighter frame. He doesn’t “dance” the same way Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson do in the pocket but seems to be able to make guys miss much more than those two. He’s very intentional and has the ability to make guys miss and even break tackles, which might be forced from his game at the next level.
Here’s a “decisive” run against Michigan State where he sets up two Spartan defenders but he’s not so much improvising the way Lamar does but seems to map out on the field where he wants to run.
For fantasy, I don’t have to convince you of the type of floor this gives your QB every single week. The question is what type of offense (San Francisco?) is he going to be asked to captain. If someone is picking him within the top-5, you have to imagine they’ve envisioned him running as an added dynamic to their offense.
3. He needs to work on recognizing pressure in the pocket.
The Northwestern game in the Big-10 Championship is the one everyone poo-poos all over. If you’re just box-score watching, you’ll see 114 passing yards and two INTs. That’s rough. With the Northwestern pass rush getting constant pressure upfield, there were a couple of instances where he was either slow to react or ran his way into a sack. The performance looks like a disaster in a vacuum but the Buckeyes decided to run it down the Wildcats’ throat and RB Trey Sermon ended up with 331 rushing yards! He attempted just seven passes in the entire second half and attempted just four passes over 15+ yards. I won’t make excuses but simply add context that his numbers were directly connected to the game plan and adjustments Ohio State made early. I’ll also argue that both of those INTs were fluky and the fault of his WRs who fell down and one clearly ran the wrong route.
In the first half of the 2019 Big-10 Championship game against Wisconsin, he was constantly under pressure, and the times he did try to wiggle his way out did not go so well. Ohio State went into halftime down 21-7 and was fortunate to even get that close. That half is arguably the worst I had seen from Fields although he still had his moments.
In terms of pocket awareness, 25 percent of his pressures turned into sacks in 2020, a somewhat high rate compared to the rest of the draft class. He had the 2nd highest percentage (28.6) of sacks that were deemed the “QB’s responsibility” according to PFF behind only Arkansas’ Feleipe Franks.
This can be correctable as much of the issues were not getting the ball out fast enough (as I’ll detail below) and failing to recognize blitzes. Any young QB can deal with those issues and for fantasy, sacks taken aren’t necessarily an overall negative when you look at the careers of Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. They are always among the league leaders due to extending plays sometimes to the detriment of a drive and others with a big-time play.
What’s Not on Tape
This is arguably the most crucial part of any scouting analysis, in my opinion. It is easy to splice together highlight reel takes and forget that we are looking at college football players; in other words, the majority of players the prospect faced will never be playing on an NFL field and likely will be vying to be your financial planner or turning to high school coaching. We cannot only glean from film watching based on what our eyeballs are showing us. Sometimes it’s best to ask yourself the question: What am I not seeing? This involves asking questions and reflecting.
Here are a couple of takeaways of what didn’t show up:
1. He didn’t get rattled.
Watching the first Clemson game, I wanted to see where he took the biggest step forward as a leader and a prospect. The boxscore reads Clemson 29 Ohio State 23 and it ended with a Fields interception as Chris Olave broke off his route. But on that final drive, he put the team in a position to win the game as a sophomore. Despite throwing two INTs, Fields was elite in that game and it showed when the two teams matched up again the following year.
As I previously mentioned, the first half of the Wisconsin game was… rough. This was the Buckeyes’ best drive thus far and he promptly fumbled it away fighting for extra yards on a play where he should’ve gotten rid of the ball much earlier.
Watch the second half of that game and the way he responded keeping Ohio State’s undefeated season alive despite being down 21-7 at half.
Some might mistake Fields’ quiet confidence as detached but as his coach, Ryan Day, shared that his competitiveness, toughness, and the way he goes about his business on the football field is unlike anyone he’s been around. Showing emotion is a great thing but becoming unhinged is another.
2. Quick release
Fields’ throwing motion is by no means slow or hitched in his release. However, if I had to nitpick about what could hinder him at the next level it is quick, short-area passes. For any QBs transitioning to the NFL, the game just comes at you so much faster. While Jimmy Garoppolo‘s physical tools are nowhere close to Fields, he is a master at getting the ball out fast with his quick release. Any West Coast offense predicates itself on timing and getting the ball out fast. I noticed a couple of instances where Fields was slow to react and thus missed his receiver not so much on account of zip but timing. Here’s an example against Northwestern where he was just half-second too slow to hit Sermon out of the backfield and his long throwing motion gets the ball batted down.
Both of his early interceptions against Indiana were due to holding onto the ball way too long. The first one he’s late to place the ball and doesn’t recognize the Indiana safety lurking in the deep middle of the field. The second one is a prayer thrown up as he’s being sacked. There is a stretch early in the second quarter where the sequence (sack, batted ball, batted ball) almost killed a drive before delivering some strikes to Chris Olave.
His metrics bear this out as he had the second-most average time to throw (3.11) among this draft class and as he spent more time in the pocket, big plays happened.
|Justin Fields||Rank in ’21 QB Class|
|Avg. Time to Throw||3.11||2nd of 23|
|% of Throws Under 2.5 sec||62.7||22nd of 23|
Adj. Comp % on Throws More than 2.5 sec
|77.4||1st of 23|
2021 Fantasy Outlook
Fields can make a fantasy difference in Year 1 given his production on the ground. While he never put up ridiculous rushing totals in terms of a per-game basis, there is going to be a rushing baseline in the NFL. I wrote a piece a few years back entitled Kyler Murray, Rookie QBs & What History Can Tell Us as a. Since 1990, every rookie QB that has crossed that 80 rushing attempts has not only been a fantasy force but maintained a top-10 QB per game pace. For a 17-game season, it’s not hard to see Fields maintaining 4.7 attempts per game considering he averaged 9.9 per game at Ohio State.