Where will Justin Fields land?
At one point, the Ohio State product was a lock for QB2 behind Trevor Lawrence in the 2021 NFL Draft. Now, Fields’ standing as a top-10 passer is, seemingly, anything but certain.
Fields has gone through the wringer during this pre-draft cycle: His work ethic has been unfairly questioned, his mechanics have been picked apart and his gameday processing “issues” have been way, way overstated.
While NFL Draft experts can’t come to a consensus on where Fields is going to land, there seems to be a popular spot — inside of the first 10 picks — where the passer seems to be a great fit.
Here’s where draftniks are saying Fields will go on Thursday night:
Daniel Jeremiah, NFL Network
Analysis: “This could be a trade spot, with some teams picking after Detroit potentially in the market for a quarterback, but I wouldn’t rule out the Lions staying put and taking a signal-caller themselves. Fields has more upside than Jared Goff.”
Jeremiah’s reasoning makes sense here: While the Lions traded for Jared Goff this offseason, Fields’ athleticism, arm and ceiling are all pluses to what Goff is offering right now. While Detroit may opt to give Goff a year to figure it out in the new offense, Fields may benefit from sitting for a year.
Mel Kiper, ESPN
Analysis: “You should know by now how much I like Fields. He has all the tools to be a superstar, and he’d thrive in Kyle Shanahan’s offense.”
Kiper has a tendency of over-thinking things in his mock drafts, but this is the right call for Kyle Shanahan and Co. at No. 3. While reports suggest that Shanahan is hot after Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, Fields possesses the athleticism that Jones doesn’t have. He also has the big-game experience that Trey Lance lacks, though that’s also a fairly overstated narrative.
Todd McShay, ESPN
Analysis: “Drew Lock hasn’t yet started a complete season and was missing his No. 1 receiver (Courtland Sutton) for essentially the entire 2020 campaign, so the verdict is still out on whether he can be the guy. But while I like his game and believe he can be a good starter, his production hasn’t met expectations in a division that includes Patrick Mahomes, Derek Carr and Justin Herbert.”
McShay thinks that if a quarterback is available at pick No. 9, whether it’s Fields or Trey Lance, the Broncos will take a passer or a defensive playmaker. Logic says that there’s been too much shaky play from Lock in a Broncos uniform, and Fields presents a fresh start for George Paton and Vic Fangio.
Dane Brugler, The Athletic
Analysis: “How seriously are the Broncos considering a quarterback at No. 9? With a first-year general manager in George Paton (and John Elway not completely out of the picture), it is tough to know. But Drew Lock hasn’t done enough to secure the starting job and Fields’ talent might be too good to pass up.”
George Paton is inheriting both Drew Lock and head coach Vic Fangio as he enters his first year on the job, meaning there could be a year grace period to figure out what they want to do at quarterback. Still, Fields is too good of a talent to let slip past the Broncos, who have had trouble finding that next franchise guy after John Elway, and to a lesser extent, Peyton Manning.
Brugler’s point stands: Lock simply hasn’t done enough as a quarterback in two seasons to justify passing up on Fields’ electric talent.
Peter King, NBC Sports
Analysis: “Count the Panthers as another team that would love to take a passel of picks from New England or Washington to move down. As I wrote last week, Carolina hates the fact that the franchise has averaged 6.2 picks per draft in the last eight years when the average team has 8.1. I’m not sure at all they’d use the pick here on Fields, because they’re truly optimistic about Sam Darnold. But owner David Tepper has made no secret that finding a franchise quarterback has to be job one, two, three and four for the team. Fields falling to them makes sense—even if it would crush the new incumbent QB.”
The Panthers selecting Justin Fields just weeks after trading for Sam Darnold isn’t as crazy as you’d think. Carolina is desperate to find the next franchise quarterback, and the Darnold experiment can go one of two ways: He improves just enough to be a top-15 QB, or the faults he showed while with the Jets continue to emerge. The idea of Darnold making the jump to a top-10 passer is just unfounded at the moment, regardless of how bad the situation was in New York.
So to that end, the Panthers selecting Justin Fields doubles their chances of finding a franchise guy, but the organization would almost certainly opt for Fields long-term in the immediate over Darnold.
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News
Analysis: “The Broncos and Fields seem meant for each other based on what else is going on with the QB match game, and it remains to be seen whether Denver will need to trade up to protect its own most coveted asset in working to upgrade over Drew Lock. Fields is a good fit in terms of scheme, structure and supporting personnel under Pat Shurmur.”
Shurmur had his rough times as an NFL head coach, but his reputation as a pretty good playcaller is well-earned. Shurmur has had talented quarterbacks, but none with the physical attributes of Fields, making it a very good match — on paper.
Chris Simms, NBC Sports
Analysis: “Bucs got everything, there’s no need on their football team. Again, I didn’t go into this with a preconceived notion of, ‘Hey, I’m gonna leave Justin Fields for 32.’ I didn’t do that. … They’re gonna go, ‘Great, this is perfect for you. Learn from Tom Brady.'”
Simms, for however good of an analyst he is, seems to be way off the mark on his projection here. While a slide for Fields could be in the cards, projecting him to go all the way at the back of the first round doesn’t make much sense. If Fields does fall, someone will trade up to get him, and Simms already projected the WFT to scurry all the way up to select Trey Lance in the top 10.
In the NFL in 2021, rookie quarterbacks typically benefit from playing right away, and even though Tom Brady is (maybe?) entering the end stages of his career, there’s no telling when Fields would be able to get on the field to play. Fields riding the bench for more than a year would immediately remove the benefit of a rookie QB deal for Tampa Bay, especially when there’s no telling how long they’ll be able to keep the uber-talented group together.
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