Fields in Focus (8/8): Final Takeaways and the Future Outlook

| May 12th, 2023

Today is the last of eight articles taking a closer look at Justin Fields’ 2022 season.

Lessons Learned

Let’s start with a brief recap of some of the main takeaways from the series so far:

  • Fields experienced moderate growth as a passer from his rookie season but did not make “the leap” that you typically see from great quarterbacks in year two.
  • Fields shows very clear strengths (throwing the ball deep, running) and weaknesses (short, quick passes and taking too many sacks). This leads to plenty of big plays but also far too many negative ones.
  • Evaluating Fields becomes difficult due to the poor supporting cast around him.
    • This especially showed up with the offensive line in the pressure data. Fields is always going to be a quarterback who holds the ball for a bit longer than most, meaning that he is particularly dependent on a quality offensive line to make that style work.
    • This showed up most clearly with the pass catchers when looking at how bad Chicago’s non-Mooney WRs were against man coverage. Nobody else was able to get open, and Chicago’s entire offense suffered as a result.

Year Three Growth

Now let’s look at how Fields compares to a trio of recent QBs who had year three breakouts: Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, and Josh Allen. The table below shows their statistics in year two vs. year three of their careers, and Justin Fields’ data for year two in 2022.

A few thoughts:

  • Looking at the other three QBs, I don’t think Tua Tagovailoa is a very good comparison. He doesn’t use his legs much and is generally a shorter passer with a high completion percentage. His year three breakout was driven by a new coach/offense and pushing the ball deeper (his average target depth increased from 7.0 yards to 9.6 yards), and none of that is related to Fields.
  • Hurts and Allen, on the other hand, are pretty similar stylistically to Fields in that they hold the ball longer and push the ball down the field, which generally results in a lower completion percentage. Their year two stats line up pretty well with Fields’, with the exception of Fields being sacked significantly more.
    • Improvement for both in year three coincided with them taking more of the easy stuff. According to PFF, Allen and Hurts both increased their rate of short throws (54% to 58% for Allen, 52% to 61% for Hurts) and decreased their deep shots (15% to 13% for Allen, 16% to 13% for Hurts). They didn’t completely change their play style but became a bit more willing to take the easy yards underneath, which helped them complete more passes, gain more yards per attempt, and avoid more interceptions. Fields had a similar year 2 passing profile (55% passes behind the line or short, 16% deep), and he should look to make those same changes in 2023.
    • Hurts and Allen both saw their rushing efficiency decrease in year three compared to year two, which is also a reasonable expectation for Fields after his rushing came close to setting NFL records last year. This study found that running QBs often see passing efficiency improve in year three, and that these QBs become less dependent on needing to use their legs as they become more effective through the air.

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