Somehow, Justin Fields has seemed to have turned into the forgotten man amongst the quarterbacks of the 2021 NFL Draft class. Fields showed exceptional accuracy from the pocket, displayed elite arm strength, and was a threat on the ground with almost 400 rushing yards in only eight games in 2020. While his reads were a little slow, he’s shown more consistency and upside than every quarterback in the draft not named Trevor Lawrence.
Deep Ball Accuracy
The arm strength and deep accuracy from Fields was elite all season. He led all of the big prospects with 70% of his passing yards coming before the catch. He took deep shots early and often, and connected on them at an impressively consistent rate.
Short and Intermediate Accuracy
The accuracy is there in the intermediate and short game as well. He can throw off platform rolling right or left, has exceptional ball placement away from defenders, and can make every single throw on the field.
When everything goes wrong, Fields can still make the throw he needs to with touch and accuracy. Despite pressure, Fields is able to elevate and get enough on the ball while also providing touch to layer his throw. He fits the ball in behind the flat defender and before the deep third defender can make a play.
Bad Reads, Great Throws
He can lock onto reads at times and skip over where he should be looking, but even when he’s wrong, he has such great accuracy that it didn’t matter. Ohio State is running the Shallow Cross concept. Shallow cross has a glance post outside, a sit route over the ball, and a drag underneath. That glance route is almost never thrown. It is more of an alert and clear out than a throw that’s usually made. Especially when you have a Cover 4 look in the tight red zone and a condensed field, that throw becomes incredibly difficult to make.
The read is typically to look at the sit route first and then the drag coming in behind it. The sit and drag puts the linebacker in conflict. That’s exactly what’s happening here as the drag is about to pop open with the linebackers flowing to the sit. Instead, though, Fields chooses to throw the glance up top. It takes a perfect throw with the safety inside and the corner bracketing outside. A perfect throw is exactly what Fields gives.
That kind of decision making was a recurring theme for Fields. He’d give you pause with his decisions, but impress you with his accuracy. Ohio State is again in the tight red zone and is running a rub at the bottom of the screen. Fields initially looks that way, but just as the rub is coming open, he comes off the read. The next route inside is a spot route, which is also wide open. Fields bypasses that throw as well and instead chooses to throw back hip to attack the leverage of the corner to the top of the screen. It’s a great throw and shows the amount of zip and ball placement he can have, but it’s also flat out the wrong read.
Lack of Anticipation
Reads for Fields just came a beat late. He got away with it in college and despite a few mistakes, he made the correct reads. That lateness is nitpicking a little, but it’s a real concern at the next level where everything is accelerated. Fields didn’t throw with the anticipation of guys being open underneath and at the intermediate level. Especially on a number of rollouts he would wait for comebacks to break open before throwing them. They’re complete and the accuracy is great, it just would have been nice to see him begin the throwing motion based on the leverage of the defender and have the ball in the air by the time the receiver is turning to break off their route.
For quarterbacks, their footwork should be telling them where they need to be in the progression. Each hitch is generally tied to the next read. Fields here is reading the curl from his #2 receiver and the ball should be out at the top of his drop. The defender underneath has widened to the flats and the space for the curl is wide open. Instead of throwing with anticipation, Fields hitches two more times and delivers the ball after the receiver has already snapped off their route. Again, it’s complete and it’s the right read, it’s just a little slow. That’s what a lot of people are concerned about and what they mean when they say he struggles with his reads and anticipation.
Where it can become a real problem is when he pre-determines routes before the snap and isn’t able to get off of those reads if the play isn’t there to be made. Here, Fields attaches to the rail route from his running back down the sideline. Wanting that matchup and looking to exploit a linebacker is fine, but as soon as the corner to that side leaves his man to help stay on top of that route, Fields needs to come off of the read. Instead, he tries to force the ball and asks his running back to go win a jump ball over both a corner and a linebacker.
Talent to Overcome Poor Decisions
Those kind of decisions are a concern, but then you watch the next play and Fields shows perfect touch on the move and hit’s guys right in their facemask in front of a chasing defender and all the sudden those decisions become a little more palatable.
Fields is a bonafide play maker and finds ways to make things happen on the field. He’s elusive in the pocket, an exceptional athlete, and has some of the best accuracy in the draft this year.
He can take off and burn you with 4.40 speed and has all the tools you could dream of in a prospect. That makes him a threat in all areas of the field and while he may have some growing pains, the ceiling is pretty special.
Trevor Lawrence is being touted as a generational talent, Zach Wilson is throwing across his body at his Pro Day, and Mac Jones may have the eye of Kyle Shanahan, but if Justin Fields is the fourth quarterback taken, some team is going to get a steal. If he has time to grow and learn to process things more quickly, he might just be the best quarterback to come out of this draft.