Evaluating Justin Fields Requires Patience, Perspective

| December 14th, 2021

Evaluating a rookie quarterback requires two things: patience and perspective.

Patience is obvious. Most quarterbacks who start in their rookie year are drafted into undesirable situations with a dearth of talent. For Fields, the situation is even odder, as he’s been drafted into a lame duck coaching regime. So, while the flash plays are nice, and next year it will be exciting to see Fields in a proper offensive structure, it’ll likely be his third season before any reliable verdict can be reached on Fields as franchise quarterback.

Perspective requires understanding/recognizing the positives and negatives of the quarterback’s rookie campaign. There have been many positives.

  • Fields is a natural leader, and his teammates respond to him. Many a promising quarterback’s career has been derailed by an absence of this trait.
  • He’s tough as two-day old steak. Fields should not have played Sunday night. He was openly wincing on throws. But he’s always fought through injury.
  • His ability to extend drives with his legs is – right now – the most thrilling part of his game. And that’s not uncommon for this new wave of young quarterbacks. Josh Allen was essentially a runner for the first year and a half of his career. Fields runs when he must, which, sadly, is often in this offense.
  • He’s got a short memory. Pick six? No worries. Two throws later a 70-yard touchdown. Fields’ ability to forget the bad play has been a hallmark of his playing career since college.
  • There’s not a throw on the field he can’t make. The right coach will salivate at that prospect.

There have also been negatives.

  • First, the offense is entirely dysfunctional. There’s nothing coherent about it.
  • His accuracy has been questionable at times, mostly due to timing. He’s often either a tick early or a tick late with throws. And when you have receivers getting zero separation, that tick is the difference between a positive and negative play. This would be an element to watch closely, especially if the new coach sees a mechanical issue.
  • He’s turning the ball over too much. Why? Because it takes young quarterbacks time to recognize how fast their opponents are at the professional level.

These final four games of the 2021 season are preseason games for Fields. They are useful experience, to a degree. But his development is on pause until the Bears hire their next head coach. The next meaningful snap he’ll take is in September.