Chicago, this is not a dream. The Chicago Bears, who have been forced to suffer through arguably the worst quarterback play of any franchise in NFL history, have finally found their franchise signal-caller.
Early in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, Bears general manager Ryan Pace pulled off a trade that moved Chicago up from Pick 20 to Pick 11. It cost them the 164th overall pick, a 2022 first-rounder and a 2022 fourth-rounder, but they ultimately secured Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, the third-ranked prospect on the PFF big board and the fifth-best prospect PFF has ever evaluated.
This was the perfect scenario every Bears fan was likely hoping for, but like a punch-drunk boxer spurned by past disappointments, many thought it impossible, expecting the worst. But general manager Ryan Pace came through; he took advantage of others' mistakes and finally got the Windy City the franchise quarterback it has been begging for.
The Bears have long had a history of bad quarterback play. Names such as Sid Luckman, Jim McMahon, Erik Kramer and Jay Cutler spring to the forefront whenever the best passers in franchise history are brought up. But if I could bet on it, I would bet that we will eventually think of one name only in that debate: Justin Fields.
Fields is that that good as an NFL prospect. And yes, he certainly benefitted from a good situation at Ohio State, but he’s not like other Buckeye quarterbacks who flamed out in the NFL.
The Ohio State product possesses athleticism, arm talent, pinpoint accuracy, an ability to extend plays, fantastic judgment and unreal wheels, all traits that no other Chicago quarterback has ever come close to boasting. It's why Fields was able to produce at an elite level as the Buckeyes’ starter in 2019 and 2020, leading to the honor of being the most valuable player in college football over those two seasons, according to PFF’s wins above average (WAA) metric. He posted a PFF grade of 91.5 in 2019 and 93.5 in 2020, both of which were top-five marks among FBS quarterbacks.
PSA: We get to watch Justin Fields play football today
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 24, 2020
In the Mitchell Trubisky era of Chicago football, the downfield passing offense was virtually non-existent. The Bears put up just 40 passing touchdowns on 10-plus-yard throws across those four years, 30th in the NFL. On those same throws, their quarterback room ranked third-to-last in expected points added (EPA) per pass attempt and second-to-last in uncatchable-pass rate.
That’s not going to be an issue with Fields at the helm, as the Ohio State quarterback put up a career big-time throw rate of 8.4% during his time in college, the highest mark by a Power Five quarterback since PFF College's inception in 2014. And since 2018, Fields ranks first in uncatchable-pass rate on 10-plus-yard throws and second to only Joe Burrow in accurate-pass rate on those same plays.
The arm talent is the real deal. Fields consistently and accurately put the ball on the money with his cannon downfield.
Justin Fields could be picked top-10 and still be the steal of the NFL Draft pic.twitter.com/VcTVJgeq3x
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 26, 2021
Bad decision-making is also something that has long plagued the quarterback position in Chicago, as Trubisky ranked sixth-to-last in turnover-worthy play rate in his time with the Bears. And over the last decade, Bears QBs have thrown a crisp 118 interceptions on 10-plus-yard passes, the third-most in the NFL over that span.
Once again, this isn't going to be the same story with Fields under center, as his career turnover-worthy play rate of 2.1% is the third-best ever recorded by a Power Five quarterback.
Another underappreciated attribute that fields will bring to the Windy City is his ability to impact the run game. He clocked a 4.44 40-yard dash at his pro day and ranked second among FBS quarterbacks in rushing grade in 2020. He has totaled 49 runs of 10-plus yards, picked up a first down or touchdown on 42% of his carries and averaged 3.7 yards after contact per attempt in his three-year college career. The latter two figures rank first and second, respectively, among Power Five quarterbacks since 2018.
Whether it’s a designed run or a scramble creating something out of nothing, Fields is going to make plays on the ground, and that’s an asset Matt Nagy will take full advantage of.
Justin Fields: Highest rushing grade by a non-RB in the Draft (84.3)
— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 26, 2021
The belief that Fields is a “one-read quarterback” is inherently false. Over the last two years, no one in this draft class produced a higher grade after moving past their first read than Fields. However, his processing speed is a tick slow, as noted in the PFF 2021 NFL Draft guide. This showed up against the blitzes and coverage rotations Indiana threw his way this past year as well as in the College Football Playoff Semifinal against Clemson back in 2019.
Fields' 3.08-second average time to throw against the blitz since 2019 was the longest in the entire FBS. And while this isn’t ideal at the next level, it isn’t an inherent trait; it’s something that can be developed and improved on. Fields’ mechanics are also a bit worrisome to some and are likely a reason for his slide, but this far down the board? Absolutely not. He should have been the third overall pick, and there was even an argument to be made that he should have been the second overall pick. To take that a step further, just a year ago we were debating his potential to challenge Trevor Lawrence for the top spot.
Fields outperformed Lawrence in 2020, he still slid down the board considerably. And even though he suffered a rib injury in the College Football Playoff Semifinal against Clemson, Fields still managed to put on the best playoff performance we have ever seen, posting a 94.6 passing grade, four big-time throws and zero turnover-worthy plays.
Fields’ physical profile is all but perfect — it is what the league is trending toward at the position. He has all of the most important traits of an NFL quarterback and the production to back it up.
Is he going to hold onto the ball too long from time to time? Probably. Is he going to take more sacks than one would like to see? Probably. But you know what he is going to be? Deadly accurate, a big-time run threat, a top-notch downfield passer, a sharp decision-maker and a quarterback who can make something out of nothing when needed. And that sounds a lot like the guy from Seattle that Chicago tried to land via trade early on this offseason.
That's who Fields is in my eyes — he's the jumbo version of Russell Wilson.
Fields has all the requisite tools to become the best quarterback in Chicago Bears history. He would be the first overall pick in most classes, and Chicago instead landed him 11th overall. We got to give a tip of the hat to Pace, Nagy & Co. for taking action and making this move everyone else was afraid to make. A few years down the road, we will be talking about this being one of the greatest trade-ups in NFL draft history.