NFL Draft

2021 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Ohio State QB Justin Fields

Justin Fields

From now until the 2021 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.

#1 Justin Fields/ QB / Ohio St.6’2 6/8”, 227lb

The Good

-Has acceptable hand size (9 1/8”) that you want in your signal caller
-Has the size and filled-out frame you desire for durability purposes
-Great athletic profile in terms of speed (4.46 40) and explosiveness for the position
-Accelerates well in the open field when he decides to tuck and run
-Has some shake to avoid tacklers, but also has the size and frame to pick up the tough yardage by breaking through tackles with physicality
-A natural runner with the ball in his hands when he needs to tuck it and go
-Was well utilized on QB designed runs as well as having a sense to scramble out of the pocket with the play is breaking down
-Great in the RPO game with the RB to make the read man have to decide, having the legs to break a big one if he keeps it
-Great option in the red zone as a runner with the physicality and strength to pound his way in on the sneak or get the corner on the rollout
-Has a strong arm that has the ball fly off of his fingers and can hit accurately 60+ yards downfield
-Can really have some zip on the ball when he needs to fire it in quick and put it on his target
-Can lead his receiver well with his throw when on crossing route concepts or when the break out to the sideline
-Has a pretty deep ball when he can step up to throw, having the arm strength and ball placement to put it right in front of his receiver to run underneath
-Has the arm talent to make off-platform throws when getting hit or over a defender
-Great on the play action game with his mobility out of the pocket and ability to rollout into a pass
-Has the ability to work outside of the pocket and extend the play when pressure is coming
-Plays with a strong base in the pocket as a passer, having solid drop backs, but could stand to have more active feet and hips when moving inside the pocket
-Mobility inside the pocket is solid, yet has moments where he could sense pressure and sidestep/step up in the pocket to deliver a more accurate ball
-Tough in the pocket and as a runner, willing to take a hit and come back and play through pain (Clemson)
-Able to break sacks and get away from defenders with his strength and athleticism
-Fairly accurate when throwing the ball on the run, yet throwing mechanics can be altered for a more elongated release
-Release is fairly quick on most throws, including his deep balls

The Bad

-Primarily operated in the shotgun in the spread system at Ohio State with little experience under center
-Doesn’t always play with that testing speed as a runner, hitting that top gear rarely on his attempts
-Will often times turn his shoulder or throw off his back foot backing up when dealing with pressure as he releases the football, leading to more inaccurate passes
-Tends to be a one-read QB, looking down his receiver downfield and locking on them until he breaks open or he has to scramble out
-Doesn’t look the safety off with his eyes with his read progression, locking on 1 target and allowing the deep man or off coverage CB to undercut the route
-Not afraid to put it into contested catch situations trusting his receiver to make a play, but can trust his arm a little too much on occasion when throwing into tight coverage
-Will try to make something out of nothing, resulting in more negative plays when he should wither take the sack or throw the ball away to fight another down

Bio

-Junior prospect from Kennesaw, GA
-Sister, Jaiden, a softball player at the University of Georgia
-Rated as the No. 2 overall player in the Class of 2018 behind only Trevor Lawrence
-Also played shortstop and second base for the Harrison varsity baseball team and was a highly-touted baseball prospect with MLB draft potential
-Played in 12 of 14 games as a true freshman for Georgia in 2018, completing 27 of 39 passes for 328 yards and four TDs and also had four rushing touchdowns as a backup
-Transferred to Ohio St. after his 1st season in Athens
-Broke out as a first-year starter his sophomore campaign when he completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,273 yards while accounting for 41 passing TDs and threw in 484 rushing yards and ten rushing scores
-Played in 8 games as a junior due to the pandemic, completing 70% of his passes for 2100 yards and 22 TDs while adding in 81 carries for 383 yards and five scores
-Made it to the CFP both times as a starter, losing in the semifinal as a sophomore and in the National Championship as a junior

Tape Breakdown

Justin Fields has been a hot commodity since his days as a prep athlete. He ended up deciding to stay home and play at Georgia, but after being unable to unseat Jake Fromm in his 1st season, he decided to enter the transfer portal and become the new starter for the Ohio State Buckeyes. The move did wonders for Fields, as he posted outstanding numbers in his 1st season with the team both as a pass and a rusher. He decided to opt into the 2020 season during the pandemic, showing similar talent and progressing to the championship game compared to the semifinal the year prior. Fields is an elite athlete for the position, having the size, speed, strength, and arm talent teams are yearning to find in today’s signal caller. He is a great runner on both designed runs and also when he needs to improvise when the pocket breaks down to scramble for yardage. Here against the Huskers, Fields gets the snap and goes to his first read, however, he decides to tuck and run the ball, scrambling out to his left where he finds green grass and room to run as he works to the sideline. He gets the angle on several defenders in pursuit and then spins out the final defender at the goal line for the TD.

 

He has great mobility on play action and rollout plays to avoid pressure. He also is very strong and thickly built, being able to shake off defenders and also push his way to get extra yardage as a physical runner. Here on this play against Indiana, Fields evades the pressure of the defender coming up the middle, shaking off the diving tackle attempts and takes off out of the pocket, accelerating downfield and runs past a couple of defenders, eventually spinning from one inside the five and gets to the goal line to set up his offense for a goal-to-go situation.

 

One key aspect of Justin Fields in comparison to other QB prospects in this draft class is his build, possessing a strong, rocked-up frame that is made to withstand punishment at the next level. Along with this is his mindset of being a competitor that is tough and can play through pain to help his team succeed. This was on full display in the Semi Final CFP Game vs Clemson where #47 James Skalski nearly cuts Fields in half with a crown of the helmet hit to his midsection, damaging his ribs. However, Fields comes back to have the best performance of his collegiate career, throwing six TD passes in route to upset the Clemson Tigers.

 

 

As a passer, Fields has a cannon of an arm that can hit the deep ball and put some juice on the intermediate throws to put it on his target quickly. Here against the Tigers, Fields shows off his arm talent as he maneuvers the pocket after the snap, sidesteps a defender pushing the pocket to his right as he winds up and uncorks it over 60 yards in the air for the long bomb TD to #2 Chris Olave, placing the ball right over his shoulder into the breadbasket.

 

His throwing motion itself is solid and isn’t too slow with the release, despite some short arming the ball here and there. He can throw on the run really well putting the ball on his receiver and can make the off-platform throws. Here on this touchdown pass against the Tigers, Fields takes the snap and rolls out to his right on the boot concept, looking for his receiver to break open on the comeback in the end zone. Fields squares up his shoulders while on the run and delivers a strike off-platform to Olave right in front of the pylon along the sideline for six.

 

His ball placement as a thrower, both in the pocket and on the run, is pretty impressive. He can make some tight window throws from a clean pocket as well as off-platform when being chased by a defense. Here against the Spartans, Fields rolls out to his right after faking the give to his tailback, finding his receiver along the sideline and then delivers a beautiful ball over top the defender’s outstretched arm right on the sideline while on the run. Fields puts the ball on #2 Chris Olave’s numbers, giving him room to run up the sideline and stiff arm a defender coming in from the side for the score.

 

Another good example of Fields being able to adjust to pressure around him given his arm talent is this throw vs the Crimson Tide in the National Championship Game where Fields takes the snap and puts enough loft and juice on the ball as he lets go in a collapsing pocket to put it on #5 Garrett Wilson on the money for the TD. Sure, Fields made the throw off his back foot turning his shoulder away from contact to avoid the big him, but he, in this scenario, adjusts his throw with his arm strength to put the ball where it needs to go.

 

His footwork is solid as a passer in the pocket, having a strong base and the steps on his drop back down to step into his throws. Here on this touchdown strike against Nebraska, Fields gets the snap and goes through his three step drop back, stepping up into the pocket to deliver a line drive down the middle of the field to his receiver breaking open for the score. Fields shows a quick, compact release to his hip pocket and has good lower body use as he steps into his throw.

 

However, the extra season of play did expose some of Fields key weaknesses. He can have a better sense of pressure in the pocket and could side step pressure better or step up to avoid pressure on the edge. He also tends to turn his shoulder or go off his back foot on throws when he gets hit, causing arid passes that can be turnover-worthy. Fields also seems to trust his arm a little too much on tough throws, trying to throw it into tight coverage or put it up there when he gets hit, leading to turnovers. Here on this throw against Indiana, Fields stays on his first read a little too long downfield as the play breaks down, quickly turning to his TE in the flat for his second option, but opts to go back to the right side of the field with the defender coming in front of his face, running right into another defensive lineman and throwing it across his body on his back leg while getting hit into contested coverage on the sideline where the ball is tipped up into the air multiple times before the defensive lineman comes down with the INT.

 

He also needs to improve the game with his eyes, as he tends to lock onto one receiver with his 1st read and not move on to the next read in his progression. Because of this, safeties and corners don’t have to play honest and can cheat and undercut the route, leading to pass breakups and INTs. For example, on this play versus the Hoosiers, Fields takes the snap out of the shotgun, having his eyes lock onto his target running the vertical pattern out of the slot on the left side. #22 Jamar Johnson (who I also have done a report on) reads Fields’ eyes as he stares down his receiver, and thus begins to break over to that side of the field. Fields tries to fire it in there, slightly overthrowing his intended target and gives enough time for Johnson to undercut the route for the pick.

 

Overall, Fields has notable issues upstairs he needs to clean up into to succeed against NFL-caliber defenses. However, he is a natural leader who has displayed his toughness on multiple occasions, having out-dueled even Trevor Lawrence on the biggest stage. Should he improve these mental errors, Fields should figure to be a dynamic player at the position that can tear up defenders with his arm as well as his legs. He isn’t a completely clean prospect and carries some risk, but his traits and leadership qualities are tantalizing for a potential franchise QB. As far as pro comparisons go, I am in agreement along the lines of an often-used comparison for Fields to Dak Prescott. Both have nearly similar frames for the QB position, similar arm talent and accuracy both in the pocket and on the run, and also have that upper-end athleticism. I acknowledge that Fields is a better tester than Prescott, but the plays they both made in college on the run and how Dak has taken more of a shift to be a passer first to save his body in the league is what I can see being the same case for Fields as he transitions to the pros.

DISCLAIMER: I am not suggesting that Justin Fields is in play for the Pittsburgh Steelers at #24. He should be off of the board within the top ten picks of the draft most likely, barring some unforeseen slide on draft day. I merely want to point out his strengths and weaknesses as a football player and acknowledge that he has the tools to be a great player in this league should the team that drafts him takes his development as a passer seriously and surrounds him with the pieces to capitalize on his immense talent. Given the recent reports and videos of Fields and Mike Tomlin’s connection at the Ohio State Pro Day, there could be speculation that Pittsburgh would be interested in jumping up in the draft to select Fields should he fall. This would be a great dream to have, ushering in the next era of QB play for the Black and Gold. However, given the likelihood that Pittsburgh would still have to trade up to the top of the draft to acquire Fields in a likely bidding war situation with other teams, along with the other big needs on the roster in hope of fielding a competitive team to capitalized on Ben’s remaining time in Pittsburgh, the chances of this scenario actually coming to fruition are probably slim-to-none.

Projection: Early Day 1

Games Watched: vs Clemson (2020), vs Indiana (2020, vs Northwestern (2020)

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