College football is an interesting beast. It’s so common to see players dominate at that level and then go on to disappoint in the NFL that nearly everyone gets second-guessed before the draft. If that happens to Ohio State’s Justin Fields in the draft, it would be a huge boon for the Saints and Sean Payton, and they would be remiss not to take him at 28.
While it’s unlikely, there’s already been talk about Fields dropping. Dan Orlovsky made headlines on the Pat McAfee show by relaying information he got from sources about Fields being a “last one in first one out” type player, comments for which Orlovsky caught a lot of fire online. Fields is the latest black quarterback to suffer questions about his work ethic in weeks and months preceding the draft, but the evidence just isn’t there.
A good example of Fields’ preparation came this season against Northwestern in the Big 10 Championship Game — a game where he actually struggled but had a good gameplan for. Northwestern was content to sit back and play a quarters defense, which Fields was able to shred early on with short passes.
If you’re going to force a team out of quarters defense, this is how you do it. Fields is looking down field to hold the safeties, but he’s going to the check-down the entire way here. On 2nd and 10, Ohio State picks up good yardage to get ahead of the chains again, and the offense is in business.
On the ensuing 3rd and 2, Fields takes a similar defensive look and capitalizes on it.
With Northwestern sitting back in zone, Fields once against takes what the defense gives him. He hits his receiver on a sit route and picks up a first down. The only nitpick here is that he does have another receiver in space down the field, but as he picks up the first down, it’s hard to get too worked up about.
Finally, we get a look at how Fields works out of play action.
What makes this play impressive? It’s the timing. Fields knows that the linebacker is going to get there, but they freeze him with play action and Fields hits his receiver out of the curl route for a first down. It’s a great play design for 2nd and 10 that’s fairly well-covered. But more importantly, it’s well-prepared for on offense, the timing is perfect, and Fields puts it right on the receiver’s shoulder.
With that being said, while Fields started strong against Northwestern, he unquestionably sputtered as the game went on. The thing about these underneath routes is that they need to open something up later in the game. The Buckeyes never did that, and they suffered for it. Luckily for them, they had Trey Sermon, who rushed for 331(!) yards. OSU had a good game-plan against Northwestern that netted them a 22-10 win, and in spite of Fields’ struggles, he did enough for them to win. That’s the mark of a good quarterback.
So here’s a look at a game where Fields decidedly did not struggle: The Sugar Bowl against Clemson.
This is just so ridiculously easy. He has a receiver burn his cornerback on the fly route, but my favorite part about this throw is that it looks like he protects his receiver. The safety doesn’t have an angle, but Fields hits his receiver’s shoulder away from the safety for a huge gain. While that might cost Ohio State a touchdown, his receiver lives to fight another day. That’s invaluable and will make receivers a lot more trusting of their quarterback moving forward.
No throw for Fields is more indicative of his potential than this one in the red zone, however:
There aren’t enough good things to be said about this throw. The way he holds the defense by looking underneath, sees the safety lean for a split second, and throws an absolute seed for a touchdown. It’s an impressive display of arm strength, and it’s a massive touchdown for a Ohio State.
Ultimately, plays like this are what make you realize Fields is different. He has supreme confidence and he’s perfectly content to sit in the pocket and make plays. That’s great for a coach like New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, and it would allow Payton to open up the playbook to accommodate Fields’ legs as well.
In his career, Fields completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 5,701 yards, 67 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He’s a smart quarterback, he can read defenses, and he can create. He had a QB rating of 178.8 for his career. The consensus No. 1 pick, Trevor Lawrence, had a QB rating of 164.3. While Lawrence is clearly the more complete prospect, Fields should not be that far behind him.
Fields is also entirely of scrambling, but at the NFL level, you want a player who won’t default to that. Fields won’t do so, but with Fields, we could see Payton start to draw up some designed running plays.
Arguably the best part of all of this, however, is that Fields wouldn’t be starting Day 1. Jameis Winston is signed for this season, and Fields could be behind “break in case of emergency” glass. He has a ton of talent, but as we saw against Northwestern, his in-game adjusting needs a bit of work. OSU had a plan against NW, got punched in the mouth, and didn’t adapt much in the passing game. That’s where a coach like Payton would help.
If NFL teams wise up, of course, this is all moot. There’s no reason Fields should be available at 28. But with the talk around him, if he were to drop a la Teddy Bridgewater or Lamar Jackson, he’s a can’t-miss player for the Saints if they’re interested in going “best player available.”
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