Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
If Trevor Lawrence is the golden boy of this QB class, then Fields should still be something more than silver.
He has been right there with Lawrence since the 2 led the national recruiting rankings. ESPN ranked Fields #1 over Lawrence, while 247Sports and Rivals favored Lawrence. Fields garnered more than 40 scholarship offers and initially committed to Penn State. He de-committed and enrolled at Georgia -- in his home state -- but transferred to Ohio State after his true freshman season. (Fields got an NCAA waiver to be eligible right away because of “documented mitigation circumstances.”)
As a 1st-time starter for the Buckeyes in 2019, Fields ranked 3rd in the nation in passing efficiency -- trailing only LSU’s Joe Burrow and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts. Fields also ranked 8th nationally with 9.2 yards per pass attempt and delivered a top-shelf TD rate of 11.6%. He averaged 2.9 TDs per game for the season, delivering 2+ in every game until the playoff loss to Clemson. That contest also included 2 of his 3 INTs for the year.
2020 found an abbreviated season for Ohio State -- after the Big Ten initially opted not to play. Fields cracked the top 10 in passing efficiency once again, though, and nudged his yards per attempt up to 9.3. He posted a 9.8% TD rate and ranked 6th nationally in completion rate.
Fields earned conference offensive player of the year and top-QB honors en route to reaching the national-title game. He got there by knocking off Lawrence and Clemson with a monster 385-yard, 6-TD passing performance on 78.6% completions.
For his career, Pro Football Focus deemed Fields “one of the most accurate quarterbacks we’ve ever charted.”
Games watched: Indiana 2019, Clemson 2019, Indiana 2020, Clemson 2020, Penn State 2020, Northwestern 2020
Justin Fields is fun to watch. Granted, it was just a sampling of games for each player, but I enjoyed watching him more than I did Trevor Lawrence.
The accuracy charted by PFF shows up on multiple planes through multiple games. Let’s start with an expertly placed mid-range sideline ball against Clemson in the playoffs following the 2019 season.
It’s worth noting that completion beat A.J. Terrell, who would become the Atlanta Falcons’ 1st-round pick that April (and a full-season starter as a rookie).
This example highlights Fields’ willingness to give his WR (Chris Olave) the opportunity to win a contested ball. Of course, the ball placement is also key to Olave’s success …
Fields’ arm strength combines beautifully with his accuracy to make him dangerous at every level.
That includes gorgeous deep balls such as this masterpiece that traveled about 60 yards in the air in last January’s destruction of Clemson.
And Fields can deliver the ball while on the move.
Fields has garnered multiple Deshaun Watson comparisons. Mike Renner of PFF calls him “a smaller Cam Newton.” Obviously, either of those comps would mean good things for his fantasy future if proved true. What I like about the Newton comp is that it highlights not only Fields’ elusiveness as a scrambler and rusher, but also how strong he is in the pocket.
An incomplete pass can be a positive play, when the alternative is a sack for a loss. And even this throwaway highlights Fields’ arm strength. (Hey, he even completes the pass to a Buckeyes staffer.)
One knock on Fields has been a tendency to hold the ball too long. According to NBC Sports’ Thor Nystrom, Fields averaged 3.07 seconds to throw on plays where he wasn’t blitzed vs. 3.21 seconds when he was blitzed.
That could support the notion that he holds the ball too long, as well as the knock that he doesn’t process quickly enough when reading his options. Or maybe it just means he needs to be willing to scramble more often instead of waiting for something to come open. Or maybe it’s even just a 1-year blip -- especially possible when that season lasted just 8 games and included various teammates and coaches losing time to positive COVID tests.
I can’t say holding the ball is not a problem for Fields, though I can say that it didn’t stand out as a problem in the 6 games I watched. He looked especially willing to check down in the January win over Clemson, hitting Trey Sermon for 4 of the RB’s 12 receptions on the year.
I can also point out that holding the ball remains an issue for Deshaun Watson, even through 4 years in the NFL. He seems to still be faring OK on the fantasy front.
Fields did vomit a few of those plays where the QB is clearly trying too hard to make something happen instead of just taking the sack, most notably on multiple occasions in last season’s Indiana game.
Eli Manning did that kind of crap throughout his NFL career, and he spent 14 years as the Giants’ full-time starter. Fields, by the way, threw all of 9 INTs across 22 college starts. And 7 of those were contained in 3 games.
What Manning couldn’t do, of course, was escape a crowded pocket for big rushing plays the way Fields can.
And Fields doesn’t always switch into full scramble mode. This play shows him begin the escape before pulling up in the face of a defender and taking a shot to the end zone.
A nice play by the DB turned that into an incompletion, but that ability can be the difference between a 3rd-and-goal TD toss and settling for a FG. The constant run-pass threat of Fields will also continue to pressure defenses, especially as he continues to develop.
How different are Fields and Lawrence as long-term fantasy prospects?
I ask that not because I have an answer. I don’t. It’s more rhetorical, because I don’t think they’ve proved all that different to this point.
They entered college the same year in basically a tie for the top spot in recruiting rankings. It took Fields a transfer to Ohio State, but both QBs delivered on that promise as top-level starters. Each took a turn out-dueling the other in the playoffs. And both guys threaten defenses with passing as well as running ability.
The biggest difference so far looks like experience: Fields attempted 618 career passes while starting 22 collegiate games. Lawrence launched 1,138 passes across 40 games at Clemson.
I’m not trying to argue Fields over Lawrence as a QB prospect here. A bevy of evaluators talk about Lawrence being 1 of the most complete, “safest” QB prospects ever. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. gave him the 4th-highest grade he’s ever assigned a QB -- trailing only John Elway, Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning. (And that’s no revisionist list, as the top 10 also includes Andre Ware and Ryan Leaf.)
Lawrence looks like the safest bet from this QB class to deliver in the NFL. But I don’t think his fantasy ceiling looks all that different than Fields’. Depending on how the various surrounding factors develop, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fields winds up the better fantasy producer.
Expect Lawrence to land atop our QB rankings for dynasty rookie drafts later this spring. But -- at least in my rankings -- don’t expect the gap to be large between him and Fields.