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Fantasy Football: Is 2021 the year of Justin Fields?

Lake Forest, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (1) works out during rookie minicamp at Halas Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.

It is objectively fun to play Monday morning quarterback and question the decision-making of coaches around the league. This isn’t to suggest that a regular fan knows even 1% as much about the game of football as an NFL coach, but messing up more-or-less proven analytical decisions like clock management or when to go for 2 points can lead to copious amounts of warranted outcry from even the most casual fans.

Editor's Note: PFF's 2021 Fantasy Football Draft Guide and 2021 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheets are LIVE!

There are still a few months between meow and actual football being played; that doesn’t mean the public hasn’t found coaching decisions to be mad about already. The largest issue throughout the summer has seemingly been Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy’s insistence on naming Andy Dalton the team’s starting quarterback over No. 11 overall pick Justin Fields. Most coaches resort to the age-old ideology about competition bringing out the best in everyone when asked about the depth chart; Washington Football Team and Philadelphia Eagles head coaches Ron Rivera and Nick Sirianni have yet to name Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jalen Hurts their team’s official starter despite each being the overwhelming favorite.

Not Nagy, who has ruffled the feathers of Chicago faithful with two particularly weird statements in regard to his team’s quarterback situation.

  1. A few weeks after the draft, Nagy stated “Andy is the starter.” Hilariously, Nagy also said Dalton is “essentially like a rookie as well” since, you know, the artist known as The Red Rifle hasn’t played an NFL snap for the Bears, either. Nagy is seemingly into the idea that Dalton and Fields could be his version of Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes, never mind the fact that Smith was at least an average starter (at worst) for the Kansas City Chiefs for four seasons before they drafted Mahomes.
  2. Appearing on The Cris Collinsworth Podcast, Collinsworth asked if there was any way that Field would start Week 1. Nagy stated “No. … Andy is our starter.” Note the entire podcast paints a more reasonable picture in that the Bears are simply trying to do what’s best for Fields; unfortunately, this entire message wasn’t properly conveyed in the Twitter universe.

It’s not Nagy’s job to make sure the public knows what his plans are; that doesn’t mean his insistence on putting Dalton over Fields hasn’t been annoying when attempting to decipher exactly when the dual-threat talent will be under center in 2021. What follows is a breakdown on just how good Fields was during his time at Ohio State, what Dalton brought to the Dallas Cowboys in 2020 and what we should make of this situation in fantasy football land ahead of next season.

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Fields is anyone’s idea of an elite prospect

PFF had the following to say about Fields in our 2021 NFL Draft Guide:

“You’ll hear about the knocks on Fields throughout this draft process, from the track record of Ohio State quarterbacks to his ugly games against Indiana and Northwestern to his slow processing and decision-making. I’m not here to say those concerns aren’t valid, but the physical tools and leadership he brings to the position are too great to ignore. Over the course of his career, Fields has been one of the most accurate quarterbacks we’ve ever charted. In his first game against Nebraska this season, he didn’t let go of a single off-target pass. Add in his rushing ability, and that’s a winning combo.”

The latter accuracy point went under the radar throughout much of draft season. Fields made one big-time throw after another throughout his two seasons with the Buckeyes, regularly exhibiting the sort of pinpoint downfield accuracy needed in order to make a successful transition to the NFL.

Fields’ 2021 performance against Clemson demonstrated the sort of absurd ceiling he possesses. Obviously arm talent isn’t an issue, and there were more than a few occasions over the past two seasons where he looked like the fastest player on the field.

The latter point could prove to be particularly important for Fields’ Year 1 production: Rushing quarterbacks tend to be a bit of a cheat code in fantasy land, and each of the past rookie success stories at the position has carried at least a solid level of rushing upside. Overall, seven rookie quarterbacks have finished as a top-12 fantasy producer since 2010:

Herbert was the only player from the group to average fewer than 25 rushing yards per game in college, but his testing and performance in 2020 demonstrated the reality that this was less of a weakness and more of a skill set that wasn’t utilized at Oregon. Note that Fields averaged a robust 39.4 rushing yards per game at Ohio State.

Of course, the other main trend from the group above was the chance to be their squad’s starting quarterback by Week 1, or in Herbert’s case Week 2. This is the larger issue for Fields: Just how long will Dalton’s leash be?


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