On April 29th, 2021, the Bears snuck up and snagged Justin Fields at 11th overall. On June 6th, 2021, they signed Fields for four years, paying him a guaranteed 19 million dollars. The interesting part is he really shouldn’t have fallen that far at all, with the number of teams with a need at quarterback. I’m going to dive into how he fell, how the Bears should use him, and how he can have an impact on and off the field.
The Rise and Fall
It all started in 2019 when Trevor Lawrence was the hottest college quarterback prospect. Number one was locked up by him, so now people started to look at other quarterbacks. In comes Justin Fields, who has a sweltering 2019 season. In that season, he led all Big Ten quarterbacks in Passing Yards, Passing Touchdowns, Adjusted Passing Yards Per Attempt, Total Yards, Total touchdowns, and had the highest Passing Efficiency Rating of 181.4. The numbers he put up, and leading the Buckeyes to the Fiesta Bowl, led him to be number three in Heisman Voting and earned him the 2019 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. With Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, and Tua Tagovailoa leaving for the 2020 NFL Draft, that left Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields in the top QB spots in College Football.
The Pandemic hit the 2020 CFB season, almost canceling it before Lawrence started a trend on Twitter with #WeWantToPlay, Fields following soon after. But, in a weird year of opt-outs, the college football season was still on. Fields had a solid year in 2020, leading Big Ten quarterbacks in Passing Yards, Passing Yards Per Attempt, Adjusted Passing Yards Per Attempt, Passing Touchdowns, Total Yards, Total Touchdowns, and the highest Passing Efficiency Rating of 175.6. This earned him another Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a trip to the National Championship, where he came up short to Mac Jones, Devonta Smith, and the Crimson Tide.
This is where Fields’ stock started to get a bit shaky. While Lawrence stayed up at the top, a few names began to emerge that season: Florida’s Kyle Trask, Alabama’s Mac Jones, BYU’s Zach Wilson, and Notre Dame’s Ian Book. Due to this surge of QB talent Fields fell to seventh in Heisman voting, behind Jones, Trask, and Lawrence. Despite having good numbers and helping his team lead to a National Championship appearance, other candidates planted the seed of doubt in the NFL team’s heads. Maybe Fields’ wasn’t the number two quarterback prospect.
Cut to the 2021 NFL season, equally as wonky as the college football season. In the end, there were clear cut teams that needed to draft a quarterback (Patriots, Jets, Jaguars, 49ers, Bears, Broncos, Panthers, Saints, and Football Team), as well as teams that could arguably have needed a young QB (Raiders, Giants, Texans, Buccaneers, and Vikings). With the Jaguars holding the first spot (thanks to the Jets), everyone could tell they would pick Trevor Lawrence without question. So the speculation started with the Jets (#2), 49ers (#3), Panthers (#8), Broncos (#9), and the Patriots (#15).
Eventually, it came out that the Jets had their heart set on Zach Wilson, another quarterback off of the board. With Sam Darnold going to the Panthers, they were assumed to either trade down or draft a non-quarterback. Then came the great Mac Jones smoke screen and the emergence of Trey Lance. As weeks went by, Lance’s stock as a mobile quarterback with a good arm rose. In addition, he began to get noticed as a Lamar Jackson-esque quarterback, which had the media salivating. Yet somehow, Mac Jones was rumored to go to the 49ers at third overall, based on Head Coach Kyle Shanahan’s appearance and approval of Jones’ pro-day.
No matter who went to the 49ers, everyone agreed the 49ers would get a quarterback, the Broncos would get the next, and the Patriots would get the scraps. All was going according to plan when the 49ers picked Trey Lance. To most, it would seem a shock as Shanahan’s past quarterbacks have been more Mac Jones-esque, but it made sense as Lance had the highest ceiling. Next came the Panthers, who went cornerback in Jaycee Horn, showing their confidence in Darnold. The Broncos pick of Patrick Surtain II is where things began to grow interesting. They had traded for Teddy Bridgewater, not an upgrade over Drew Lock, but a good transition quarterback. Taking Surtain II was odd as Lock and Bridgewater were coming off decent but less than favorable years. Now two top-tier quarterbacks were dangling past the top ten picks.
The Patriots made the most sense to trade up with any of the three NFC East teams (Cowboys, Giants, Eagles). It made sense to trade up to grab Fields and let him develop and work behind Newton, ushering in a new mobile era for New England. Yet the Cowboys and Eagles swapped picks, seemingly to upset the Giants. The Eagles nabbed the Giants’ favorite WR, Devonta Smith, and so the Giants looked to trade down. Another opportunity for New England to trade up, but the Bears took it instead. So at #11, the Chicago Bears drafted Justin Fields, and Mac Jones fell to the Patriots. As a Patriots fan, I was disappointed, but having a sibling that is a Bears fan, I was happy.
Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace, and The Chicago Bears
Since becoming Chicago’s head coach in 2018, Matt Nagy has gone 28-20 in the regular season and 0-2 in the postseason, giving him a career average of barely above .500 wins (.560). To his credit, he worked with a decent quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky. Unfortunately, Nagy didn’t have much say in the choice at quarterback. That was all general manager Ryan Pace.
Pace is interesting. Since becoming general manager in 2015, his drafting has been very hit or miss. The Bears had gone 42–54 since Pace took over, most of the wins coming when Nagy became head coach. Pace’s first three drafts were headlined by: Kevin White (Bust), Leonard Floyd (Off the Team), and his most infamous in 2017. His 2017 draft wasn’t all bad. He got studs Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen, who have shaped up nicely. No, it’s the first two picks that have people scratching their heads.
In a draft that predicted quarterbacks were taken to go, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, and Mitchel Trubsiky, Chicago controlled their own fate with the third overall pick. Yet, they traded up one spot on the draft day with a 49ers team that didn’t necessarily need a quarterback (having traded for Jimmy Garoppolo) to take Mitchel Trubsiky. But what hurts more is in the second round, they took tight end Adam Shaheen, who would be away from the team after 2019. The Bears took Shaheen in front of weapons like Jonnu Smith, George Kittle, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Alvin Kamara, Cooper Kupp, Chris Godwin, and Kenny Golladay. This left them with an offense whose only bright spot was their O-Line, which is saying a lot.
Nagy wasn’t exactly set up for success when he stepped in 2018, but with a bolstered defense, the offensive-minded coach could focus on what he knew best. The first big thing was the acquisition of Allen Robinson, who has been a major upgrade at the wide receiver core. Next, Tarik Cohen had a breakout year, and Nagy helped Trubsiky have a pro-bowl year. This led them to a Division title, a 12-4 record, and a playoff berth. Though that birth was cut short by the dreaded “double-doink.”
In 2019, their draft was alright. David Montgomery and Riley Ridley have been solid offensive additions, but their second-round loss in 2019 hurts. Anthony Miller hasn’t been bad, but that pick they gave up was used on Mecole Hardman. Not only would Hardman have been an upgrade, but DK Metcalf was still available. Finally, a player they could’ve drafted was “Scary” Terry McLaurin, who was on the board come the third round.
So with the new pairing of Nagy and Pace, the drafting was slowly getting better. It wasn’t perfect, but improvement could be seen. It’s clear Pace has a better eye for defensive players, and Nagy has a pretty solid eye for offensive talent. In 2020 they secured Cole Kmet, who has been a solid safety blanket. But the real kicker was their 2021 draft, where they brought in a huge haul of offensive talent. Justin Fields for QB, Teven Jenkins and Larry Boron for the Offensive Line, Khalil Herbert add more depth to their running game, and Dazz Newsome adds depth to their wide receiver core. So while Nagy and Pace are both on the hot seat, some optimism is to be had with this team. A quick breakdown of their 2021 roster:
- QBs: A young stud in Fields, with sturdy transition quarterbacks in Andy Dalton and Nick Foles.
- RBs: A returning Cohen, with a steady Montgomery and some young backs in Artavis Pierce and Herbert.
- WRs: Allen Robinson clear-cut WR1, Riley Ridley and Anthony Miller fighting for WR2, and Javon Wims and Newsome going for WR3. Lots of fun packages with these.
- TEs: Jimmy Graham is still a stud, and pairing him with Cole Kmet makes a solid tight end group.
Since Nagy has come in, the roster has slowly improved, with the defense being consistently good. A lot of the defense goes to the Khalil Mack acquisition. So now this begs the question, how should this Chicago Bears team use Justin Fields? Well, he, on paper, is a better Trubisky. With an offensive squad, it’d make sense to favor the run and let Fields develop as a pocket passer. He can run when he needs to, which can make for some fun option packages. Nagy needs to get creative with his run game because if he can establish a strong running game, that’ll open up many play-action and option plays that Fields can excel at. I don’t expect Fields to be a standard pocket passer, just standing firm under pressure. I see him more as an improviser type like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson.
This Bears team has many upsides, so if Nagy doesn’t utilize them correctly and push them to their fullest potential, it will be a huge stain on his resume. Fields is basically any coach’s dream quarterback. He has shown a lot of talents, making him a serious dual-threat quarterback.
The On and Off Field impact of Fields
It will take a lot of screwing up and poor coaching decisions to hold back Fields from succeeding on the field. In my eyes, he has a lot of upside and seems to be pro-ready, but that has been said about countless other players. A mixture of injuries, overall team play, and poor coaching decisions led to said players failing. The best way for Fields to succeed on the field is just to be himself and play his best football, try to take Nagy’s playbook, and execute it the best he can.
A major part of why I wanted to write this article was to talk about Fields, off the field. It was reported in the upcoming weeks of the draft that Justin Fields had epilepsy. However, it hasn’t halted his playing time nor his ability to take a hit. As a former high school wide receiver with epilepsy, this meant the world to me. I want to say now that I understand Alan Faneca also had epilepsy, but I wasn’t aware of that until after I learned of Justin Fields’ diagnosis.
The biggest thing he could do to have an impact off-field? Just win and succeed, maybe donate or start a charity for children with epilepsy. For Fields, much like Faneca, success on the field shows people like me who couldn’t play sports due to epilepsy that it is very much possible. It would be cool to see him make Offensive Rookie of the Year, even cooler if he started a charity to help children with epilepsy. Maybe do some sports training events? Either way, it’s really cool to see someone overcome a diagnosis that I know can stop one’s playing career.
Keep your eyes out for Fields in 2021, he has all the tools to succeed and he has a fan for life in me.