Futures: Ohio State QB Justin Fields

Ohio State Buckeyes QB Justin Fields
Ohio State Buckeyes QB Justin Fields
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

Stop comparing Justin Fields to previous Ohio State quarterbacks. At best, it is a lazy dismissal of a prospect without having to put any critical thought into why he may or may not actually succeed. At worst, it is a disingenuous way to add on additional criticism to a player someone may already not like to begin with. There is reason to believe Fields is not a flawless prospect, but the helmet stickers have nothing to do with that.

What makes the Ohio State argument so disingenuous is that none of the previous Buckeyes quarterbacks were supposed to be good, save for Dwayne Haskins. Right off the bat, we can remove anyone prior to the Urban Meyer/Ryan Day era from the discussion. It makes no sense to compare quarterbacks from different systems. Craig Krenzel, Troy Smith, and Terrelle Pryor do not matter in this conversation.

That leaves us with Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones, and Haskins. Miller was eventually moved to wide receiver. Barrett went undrafted, while Jones was a fourth-round pick for little more than having a booming arm and a short miracle run in the playoff. Haskins was a legit first-round prospect and is the only player worth comparing to Fields. Even then, though, it's clear Fields is a different animal, both in terms of tools and play style.

The key difference between the two most recent Buckeyes quarterbacks is that Fields is a big-game hunter. Haskins was a good processor in college, but more along the lines of someone who wanted to keep the train on schedule. Fields, on the other hand, will hold out for every chance he can get to deliver plays down the field. The construct of Ohio State's offense clearly shifted over the past two years to accommodate Fields in that way and it paid off.


Take this laser shot deep down the middle versus Nebraska, for example. To the bottom of the screen, Ohio State is running a fade/flat combination, which more or less works out like a smash concept. Fields opens to that side, sees the safety bail off the hash to play a deep third over a cloud cornerback, and moves on. Next in the progression is the crossing route from the tight end, but the two hook players have this covered. The easy play from here is to just flip it to the checkdown to the right. It's second-and-4, so it's not like forcing anything is necessary.

Fields wants the home run instead. Fields catches the middle-of-the-field safety pinned down on the crosser rather than gaining depth. Fields then knows he's got the one-on-one on the post and shows zero hesitation in hitching up to let it rip for a touchdown. For all the reported concerns that Fields is a one-read processor, he sure looked capable of reading out a full progression there.

Below is another favorite of mine, this time against a much more daunting Alabama defense. Earlier in the quarter, Fields was caught off guard by one of Alabama's split-field coverages and missed a potential shot down the middle. Fields did not let that mistake happen again.

In this clip, Alabama starts with a two-deep look and the field safety immediately flies off the hash. Fields can now operate under the assumption he is going to get a split-field look with nobody covering the deep middle section of the field. He moves on from the covered smash concept to the field and brings his eyes back to the vertical route smack between the hashes. Despite knowing he has held the ball for some time and is in danger of getting popped, Fields delivers a dime right over the receiver's far shoulder for a huge gain.

All throughout Fields' film catalog, there are clips of him getting to back-side vertical routes that many quarterbacks would not dare attempt. And, for the most part, Fields manages his aggression well and does not put the ball in danger. Fields threw just nine picks on 579 attempts during his two years at Ohio State. That's just 1.55% of his passes. When Fields did get in trouble, though, it was usually on these plays where he was hunting for the home run when he did not necessarily need to.

Indiana's defense caught Fields off guard a number of times, and this clip is a good example. The Hoosiers defense comes out in a single-high look with the deep safety shaded towards the boundary. Naturally, Fields checks the deep safety right off the snap for any shenanigans, but the safety turns his hips and slides to the boundary. Fields believes him to be out of the equation for anything over the middle. As such, Fields comes back to the middle and rips the seam route a tick too late, allowing the safety to double back and pick him off. Fields could have thrown the dig in behind the curl/flat player who expanded too far, but as he is often prone to do, he got fixated on the deeper route and forced it. He's usually right on these sorts of plays, but when he's wrong, it does look pretty ugly.

As much as Fields loves to hunt for these big plays, the trade-off is that he often holds the ball in the pocket for a long time. Naturally, Fields will invite more pressure and take more sacks than the average quarterback may, but the idea is that the payoff will be great enough to warrant it. Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill, and Deshaun Watson are great examples of quarterbacks who play this way. It's not that these quarterbacks do not know what they are looking at, they just choose to index heavily into a high-risk, high-reward play style.

If a quarterback is going to hold the ball, pressure will be inevitable, especially in the NFL. One of the best ways to maximize that play style is to be fearless in handling pressure and athletically capable of escaping it when necessary. Fields quite handily checks the box for being able to maneuver the pocket and manage pressure.

Third-and-7 against Nick Saban's defense is not a fun place to be, yet Fields delivers in this instance. As was common for Ohio State throughout the season, a free rusher slips through right away and has to be picked up late by the running back. Credit to the running back for getting there in the nick of time, but the free rusher still gets some depth and forces Fields to relocate. Without fret, Fields slides up while keeping his eyes downfield, then resets and delivers a perfect throw through a keyhole 15 yards past the line of scrimmage to move the sticks. Managing the pocket and delivering over the middle like that against Alabama is as close to NFL film as it gets for a college quarterback.

The cherry on top for this area of Fields' game is that he is also an excellent athlete who can break the pocket to make plays when he needs to. Now, to be clear, Fields is not someone who will scramble around like a chicken with its head cut off and try to make hero plays. He is not Russell Wilson, Josh Allen, Carson Wentz, Patrick Mahomes, or whoever. Fields is instead very good at moving outside the pocket and keeping his eyes up to look for safe throws, often opting to take off himself rather than forcing a potentially dangerous ball. Fields is not a coward, per se, but rather he does an excellent job of identifying which risks are truly worth it versus when to just take a free chunk of yardage on the ground.

This play exemplifies Fields' escapability and reasoned passing mentality outside the pocket. After successfully escaping the pressure, Fields could direct his eyes back to the middle of the defense and try to go for the hero throw further down the field. Instead, Fields recognizes the best thing to do is take the yards he can, so he moves towards the sideline to throw to the wide receiver doing a good job working back to the ball. It's not a sexy play, but every single coach in the league will take a quarterback who can convert a pressure into a safe first-down throw.

Sometimes passing is not really an option, though. Pressure can be so chaotic that the only option is to take off immediately and hope for the best. With Fields, the "best" is often huge chunk gains, because he is a phenomenal athlete. Fields' straight-line speed is more than threatening, but as this clip highlights, his real calling card as an athlete is how explosive he is. It's so easy for Fields to stop, reset his feet, and explode in a different direction, which just makes him a menace to tackle considering he is a sturdy 6-foot-3 and 228 pounds. No pocket is too broken for Fields to somehow wiggle his way out of.

Fields does everything you want to see from a quarterback in terms of getting to the throw. He can read the field, is willing to be aggressive, understands how to manage the pocket, and has all the physical tools to keep plays alive. In many ways, that does not sound all too different from the last quarterback featured in the Futures series, Trey Lance. What separates Fields from a player such as Lance, however, is that Fields is one of the most accurate quarterback prospects in recent history. If Fields gets to the throw he wants, it is almost a certainty that he will complete it.

I have personally charted quarterback prospects dating back to the 2016 class. I chart the entirety of a player's final season, as well as a portion of the previous season, which serves as a sort of anchor for any improvement or decline during their final year. Fields' adjusted accuracy (weighted by depth of target) of 83.2% is the best rate I have recorded in those six years. To every level, Fields' accuracy is simply phenomenal.

If Fields needs to lead a receiver across the field to enable yards after catch, he can do it. If he needs to fight a tight red zone window, he can do it. If his receiver needs the ball low and away in order to be protected from taking a hit, Fields can put it there. And so on and so forth.

This throw from the 2019 semifinal game is a great example of how thoughtful Fields' placement can be. Fields puts enough arc on the ball to clear the hook player dropping over the right hash, yet low enough and tight enough to the hash so that the receiver can get down without taking a hit from Isaiah Simmons (11) who is playing as a deep-middle defender. Fields also has to put that perfect arc on the ball while ensuring there's enough juice for it to get there before the deep defender can turn and make up ground. It really does not get prettier than that.

It's not just throwing with touch that makes Fields capable of hitting nearly every throw either. Fields delivers with more than enough heat to fit tight windows, especially in the red zone. This ball against Clemson is among the most impressive throws of Fields' career. The window is nearly nonexistent, yet Fields manages to rifle this ball in between a safety and the outstretched arm of a cornerback.

Now just over a month away from the NFL draft, it is absurd the kind of pushback a prospect of Fields' caliber has received. Even though he is still a first-round quarterback to most, he has been dropping down the list of available quarterbacks when he should be nothing other than QB2. BYU's Zach Wilson is an exciting gunslinger and North Dakota State's Trey Lance is an intriguing gamble, but Fields is a legitimate first-overall caliber prospect. In a class with Trevor Lawrence, Fields should not actually go first overall in 2021, but he is good enough to have been the first quarterback off the board in almost every draft class over the past decade.

Fields is a former five-star recruit with two years of excellent production at an elite program. He has great size for the position, has A-tier physical tools, and has proven himself capable of making NFL reads and throws to every level of the field. Getting hung up on having a few instances where he holds the ball too long or knocking him down a peg because he is not the savant playmaker that Mahomes is just feels a classic case of missing the forest for the trees. Every team even somewhat considering drafting a quarterback should be snapping at Fields as soon as Lawrence comes off the board.


43 comments, Last at 26 Mar 2021, 11:43pm

1 Simple

I do not think it is absurd to look at the last four QBs from there and wonder if these are more than just four data points, and decide this could actually be a trend.  It can be very hard to separate the QBs performance from the supporting cast, especially a team such as OSU with such a strong cast.

12 It's become a thing on the…

It's become a thing on the board over the last year, at least for some posters.  I don't remember it happening in years past, but recently rather than simply sharing their thoughts on the subject at hand, there's often a leading personal shot delivered, for no good reason that I can perceive. It doesn't contribute to the conversation in any positive way, and detracts (for me) from the remainder of their comments, which can often be perceptive and interesting.

13 You're just bitter...

...that I called you a Thunder Cat!

If these are "personal shots" from your perspective, I wonder how you get through daily life.

This is nothing rough, at all.


21 That last sentence sums it…

That last sentence sums it up nicely.  There are two posters who have appeared here in the last 12 months whose posts I don't read.   Much more enjoyable discussion when some guys are muted.  Thankfully, my list is only at two so far.

31 Spoken like a true Millennial.

In reply to by RobotBoy

Passive aggressive types don't survive out in the world long.

No one uses the world "bellow" in casual speech except maybe an English major.

I'm betting you are an admin somewhere or IT person.


36 low iq, worn out

In reply to by Duff Soviet Union

seriously, you think this was the momen to roll out your small minded bigotry? Beyond low iq move duff. 

37 I blame covid

just seems like in general, the rude, crude and insulting has reached a new low over the past year. covid-brain, the result of too much isolation.

40 Nah, that's just DIVISION. …

Is there some sort of contest at FO threads these days, to be as inanely belligerent as possible?

Nah, that's just DIVISION.  He's that way.  We've had a few of those here before.  Remember Chris?  He's the guy who once challenged another poster to a fist fight. 

5 OP spent the 1st four paragraphs

In reply to by Raiderfan

on why it's essentially absurd. Did we judge Patrick Mahomes because of Graham Harrell, Kliff Kingsbury, Billy Joe Tolliver or Monte McGuire? Correlation doesn't equal causation. 

And why is it always the QB (5 star might I add, and ahead of Lawrence by some going into college) that we cant separate from cast? Why not judge, and thus downgrade, the cast because of the great QB? Hint: because we can usually separate them. 

2 Good write-up

Not an Ohio St fan at all. BUT, esp. after seeing him carve up Clemson while hurt in the CFP semifinal, I was pretty sure he was 1B to Trevor Lawrence's 1A. Haven't seen anything on BYU's Wilson, so I can't really compare the two. But I have wondered why mock drafts that I have seen have been pushing Fields down a few picks. Tua going #5 overall last year had everything to do with his injury, not his talent. Thus, I can't see why NYJ would do anything but have a card with Fields' name on it, and hand it in (call it in?) a few minutes after they are on the clock. Sure, if somebody offers something crazy, you might entertain a trade-down. But unless you are convinced that Fields and Wilson are basically equal, and will still get one of them, I don't even know that you look at trading down. To me, Trey Lance and Mac Jones are a notch below--Jones b/c of his crazy WR & RB talent (plus the rest of the team), Lance b/c of his inexperience and playing at a small school. (BTW, not a NYJ fan either.)

4 Watched each of his games

Fields is the best QB Ohio State has ever had during my lifetime.  I've watched every Ohio State game for the last 30 years, and he's incredible.  He's not perfect, of course.  He sometimes makes mistakes under extreme pressure, the Indiana game being the best example of this.


The one thing that does give me pause though is the amount of pass catching talent on this team.  Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson are first round talents, and Jeremy Ruckert may end up being a first or second rounder.  Some of the freshmen from 2020 are also likely to be first or second rounders (Smith-Njigba, Fleming).  It's a tremendous amount of talent that the Buckeyes haven't had since Troy Smith was behind center (1st rounders Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr, Anthony Gonzalez, 2nd round Brian Robiskie, 4th round Brian Hartline).

7 Agreed.  I've watched…

Agreed.  I've watched basically every OSU game since 1993 and he is easily the best QB they have had in that time frame.  I obviously haven't  watched the film, but I was not surprised to read the line in the article about his adjusted accuracy being high.  It always seemed to me that his ball placement and YAC accuracy (hitting receivers in stride) was elite, and noticeably better than Haskins.  I take your point about the talent of his receivers, but that kind of accuracy scales well.  He had a lot of big windows, but I think his throws would have been completed through smaller windows.

Yes, he sometimes held the ball too long and relied on his athleticism to bail him out of bad situations (which it often did).  But he did always seem to be looking downfield.  I claim no ability to project college QB success in the NFL, but I'd be optimistic if my team took him.  Seems to be a good character guy too.  

8 Fields drop...

People are skeptical that he'll transition effectively to the NFL game, possibly due to his lineage at OSU.

He'll be drafted third after Zach Wilson but before Trey Lance.

Would be surprised if he is drafted second overall.

11 Some of this...

... is what seems to be the annual rite where one QB who was looked at as a top of the draft prospect as the college season wound down all of a sudden gets (relatively speaking) turned into a pumpkin and another who was originally a flawed/marginal prospect all of a sudden gets pumped up into the greatest thing since sliced bread.

14 I do put some stock...

In reply to by serutan

...in to what Chris Simms said about the QBs on PFF today.

Fields had great athletes on a dominant team, but his actual mechanics are flawed and he was never forced to go through multiple progressions due to the scheme OSU ran.  The offense was watered down and catered to Fields' athleticism, rather than challenging him to read defenses thoroughly.  Additionally, OSU ran over their league for the most part and how much was he challenged?

Simms basically called him a bit of a project as it relates to the NFL game.

I still think Trevor Lawrence is going to be better than Zach Wilson.  Fields is an unknown.

18 Gee

"For all the reported concerns that Fields is a one-read processor, he sure looked capable of reading out a full progression there." 

Right in the article...

20 The “one read quarterback”…

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

The “one read quarterback” thing gets tossed at literally every QB short of Manning and Brady. It’s a garbage non criticism

25 99 Duff Balloons!

I was only talking about Fields, not all QBs and the criticism has come from a former NFL QB who watched his game tape from several games.

I'm going to give his opinion more credence than others.  That's just the way it works.

Or you could listen to professional analysts, the same guys who predicted the SB completely wrong!

That alone shows me that this whole analysis goes way beyond statistics.  The human element is a much larger factor.

We'll see with Fields, but the rumbling are clear and he's likely to drop in the draft due to those concerns.

26 That's the problem...

In reply to by DIVISION

The thing is it's not true. And you could watch the film yourself to confirm but you're relying on a fallacy as if a former player automatically means valid criticism. It's not an opinion when there are countless instances of him progressing.

You keep perpetuating an awful stereotype. Again, it seems you completely skipped this article. Do this too when you lump all "professional analysts" together, as if they're one. The "human element" is literally what you're missing and dismissing. The irony. 

29 The Human Element.

I was referring to the Psychological aspect which sports analytics can't accurately convey.

That's my field of expertise, Psychology.

I was recently interviewed by this site and the feedback I gave them was exactly that; they over rely on statistics without understanding or properly conveying the psychological impact that goes in to these games because they are played by players, not machines.

There's no way to accurately measure that, but it's certainly a confounding variable.

When someone like Aaron Schatz doubts his own metric (DVOA) and picks against his metric by choosing KC to beat Tampa in what was predictably a mismatch, I have to sit back and take notice.

Some of these analysts are too deep in to the stats and are losing sight of the bigger picture.

I use my intuition much better than most of these analysts...........which is the lesson here.

35 ...

In reply to by DIVISION

That's mine too...

But you seem to be avoiding the topic at hand. The continuation of the stereotype of QBs like Fields. Listening to media heads that are factually incorrect. And spreading it here where there aren't as many well-versed in the college field (for whatever reason, it doesn't matter).

Your hubris on your own "intuition" is clouding your own analysis of the situation. Seems like a bad look. 

42 Nice article. Thanks.  I…

Nice article. Thanks.  I particularly liked this bit: 

Why aren’t we wondering whether or not Trevor Lawrence can get through a progression when he’s playing in one of the more rudimentary schemes you’ll find at a Power 5 school? Why isn’t Zach Wilson, who might as well have been wearing a red practice jersey in that BYU offense, hearing the same questions? What about Mac Jones, who racked up a lot of his yards on RPOs?

41 That alone shows me that…

In reply to by DIVISION

That alone shows me that this whole analysis goes way beyond statistics.  The human element is a much larger factor.

Man, are you on the wrong website.

16 Great article, thank you Mr…

Great article, thank you Mr. Klassen.  It answers some of my issues with Fields (his holding the ball too long for my taste, mainly).  New Around Here also pointed out that Ohio State's system with receiver option routes forced Fields to wait for his receivers to make their reads before he could throw.  I also agree that he was very accurate, but I still have some caveats about him, as well as some points in the article.  Most of his throws seemed to be wide open, at least early on in the year before the Indiana game.  You did pick out some tight window throws, but it seemed to me that Zac Wilson had more of those this year, with the caveat on Wilson that he wasn't close to as accurate as Fields was last year.  You also did not show his worst play against Indiana, where he held the ball too long, ended up getting pressured and threw a softball up for grabs that was picked off and then fumbled.  That play gave me Mark Sanchez flashbacks, unfortunately.  Of course, Wilson has a couple of really stupid plays from the last two years as well.

Now, to the caveats about minor points in the article.  Alabama's defense was only 20th in FEI this year.  Coastal Carolina, San Diego State, Indiana, Clemson and, last but first in total defense, Northwestern all ranked ahead of the Crimson Tide.  Fields' three games against those teams were tougher than facing the Tide defense, as well as Wilson's games against Coastal Carolina and San Diego State.  The problem with going up against Alabama is keeping up with their record setting offense.  If that wasn't the case, maybe Kyle Trask wouldn't have torched the Crimson Tide and then got embarrassed by the #7 Oklahoma Sooner D.

I also don't know that I would call Wilson a gunslinger exactly.  He did trust his arm a lot, completing tight window throws as tough as the touchdown against Clemson above, but he seemed to be smart about when to put the ball in harm's way this past year (that isn't true of past years, but his accuracy also improved, probably due to have surgery to fix a torn Labrum).

To sum up, I agree now that Fields should go high in the first round, but I don't agree that he is a safe pick the way Sewell is.  However, I am also not as high on Lawrence as a lot of other people (he's repeatedly high in his ball placement, with his star receivers saving him in ways the OSU guys don't for Fields).  TV gurus are treating Lawrence like a reincarnation of Luck and Elway, and that is an over the top assessment.  I pretty much think of the top three as almost tied.  Fields has less starts than Lawrence and Wilson, which is one of the only reasons he would be less safe than them as a high pick.  Also, all three would be better off sitting on the bench to start next season, but that's almost always been true.  If Rothlisberger and Marino could sit for a couple of games to see what they'll have to deal with, why not T-Law?


32 Lawrence...

He's about as safe a pick as you can get in a draft.  Even his floor is going to be sufficient for most teams.

You couldn't say that about Fields or Wilson.  I think Fields has some boom or bust potential.

Hopefully Urban gives Lawrence a decent running game so he has the chance to develop without getting killed like Darnold did in NY or Carr did in Houston many years ago.


19 Question from someone who…

Question from someone who doesn't watch any CFB:

Assuming this analysis is right, should the Jags offer a trade with NYJ? Put another way, is Lawrence better that Fields and an extra #1 this year and next (plus any other compensation they might be get from the deal)?

23 Good question

2, 23 and a 2022 1st for 1? Jags should do that as more shots >>>>> anyway. 

Lawrence is QB1 but there's a good argument that can be made for Fields

After all, the last prospect as good as Lawrence eneded up not being as good as the more mobile one picked later in 2012. 

24 I doubt Joe Douglas would…

I doubt Joe Douglas would get suckered into that the way Ryan Pace did for Trubisky.  If he's not giving up a ton of picks for Watson, he's not going to do so for a prospect who isn't that much more safe than Wilson or Fields.

28 Shhhh!!!!

Let him keep falling! Maybe then Bill Belichick will be able to spirit him away to his dungeon without anyone noticing.

34 What are the reports…

What are the reports regarding his work ethic and character/demeanor? Every year, there are college QBs who dominate their opponents and look like the next coming of Manning, but I notice that some of the epic busts over the years have had big behavioral red flags: Leaf, Leinart, Jamarcus, Manziel, etc. It seems that a guy's willingness to become a student of the game and develop his mental game is super important to excelling in the NFL. Seems obvious, but this aspect gets far less coverage come draft time. That's probably because it's intangible, nebulous, susceptible to tiresome armchair psychologizing, yadda yadda yadda.

Any thoughts with regards to this year's 1st rounders?