Justin Fields: QB1
Updated: Apr 2
Photo by Jay LaPrete/Associated Press
Ah, yes. You've arrived at an article that is as contrarian as they come. An article that questions most of what you've been told for the better part of the last three years. An article that, if you've followed my work the last few months, is long overdue. Justin Fields has slipped to the consensus QB3 in this class, behind Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson; yet, my process has led me to QB1 designation for the now-former Ohio State Buckeye. I can't tell you how many times I have gotten the question: can you sell me on this?
I can try.
I have been pretty open about my scouting process over the last few weeks. But I feel as though I should explain here. We at The Cut have an extensive prospect rating scale, with 12 contributing factors to each position. Some of the factors:
Accuracy to all levels of the field
Mechanics and footwork
And a ton more. With all quarterbacks, we watch every game available. I traditionally watch some games twice, especially when I come to conclusions that get me accused of being "clickbait."
This season, we've incorporated analytics into our model to determine a weighted grade. Traditionally, the metrics that are most heavily indicative of translatable success for quarterbacks are QBR, TD%, and Rating. We've factored those into the model.
One of the main knocks you see on Justin Fields is pocket presence. In 2019, his pocket presence was subpar. In 2020, he remedied that, for the most part. The above clip highlights his improvement in feeling a rush, resetting his feet, and firing. I noted on Twitter that, to the average viewer, this seems like a simply dump off play. This is exactly what people tell you Justin Fields cannot do.
Here's another example of advanced footwork that leads to heightened accuracy to all levels of the field (thank you to Mark Schofield for the content):
In the bottom clip, watch how his feet and hips completely shift to the middle of the field once he moves off of his first read to the left. There are plenty of quality NFL starters that don't have this advanced level of footwork reset-ability. Justin Fields is better than most quality NFL starters right now.
This is a clip that will consistently show up in highlight tape, and for good reason. Not only does Fields use the shoulder dip to hold the single-high safety for just a split second. He also puts a ball in as perfect a spot as they come. 30 yards downfield, too.
I’d file this under off-platform, but because Justin Fields is in a scheme that gave him NFL reads and movement, this is simply within the offense. The accuracy it takes to roll out, not miss a beat, and fire to the sideline is impressive. Justin Fields performed out of this world on designed play action rollouts; a scheme component that should be present in whatever scheme he lands in next season.
I mean. Come on.
Justin Fields' adjusted completion percentage on throws 20+ yards downfield was 59.4%, per PFF. His completion percentage on play action passes was 74.0%. I could put 20 more clips up highlighting Fields' accuracy. Or I could ask you to trust me when I say that Justin Fields is going to throw absolute dots at the next level.
I choose the latter, for sake of avoiding redundancy.
The Read Progressions
The one thing that has been fairly perplexing to me during this draft cycle is the narrative that Justin Fields is a 'one-read quarterback.' I don't think that's true in really any form or fashion; in fact, I'd argue that he's more advanced than any other prospect in this class at ticking through his progressions.
Based on his footwork, you can tell he always planned to come off of his first read in this play. But then to move from the middle of the field (while effectively maneuvering within the pocket; notice where his feet are set) to the far middle is subtle, but significant. Justin Fields moved to his third read or check down at a far higher rate than the consensus QB1, Trevor Lawrence. This is from the 4-game sample I took for a previous article. In just this sample, which doesn't include his best game as a collegiate quarterback, Justin Fields reached his third read or better 8% of the time.
Here, we see him scan the entire field in a matter of seconds. Many will say "what is he looking at, his tight end is wide open over the middle of the field?" And my argument back is: do you want him to hold onto the ball and wait for his tight end to settle down (while a safety breaks on the ball) or do you want him to trust his arm?
He trusts his arm and throws this ball on a rope in the perfect spot, but not until he resets his feet and moves all the way from right to left.
The most impressive thing about Justin Fields' progressions is his ability to move both right to left and left to right; a lot of quarterback prospects have one side that allows for more comfort. I'll touch on how he can improve in this area later, but Justin's ability to scan the field is not one that concerns me.
The Safety Manipulation
Manipulating safeties is something that a ton of current NFL quarterbacks can't get down. Justin Fields did it often in his second year as a starting college quarterback.
Here, we see Justin Fields "locking into his first read." That's what people will tell you is happening. Instead, Justin Fields is taking the dropped linebacker out of the equation to set this up:
The "staring down" of the first read opens up an entire third of the field for the second read. Some people will attribute this to the scheme, which has merit. Justin Fields was likely taught to stare down his first option in order to free up the entire left side of the field. Brilliant scheme, but brilliant execution from a quarterback that is allegedly bad at reading the field. Spoiler: he's not.
Here's another example:
He's staring down his go-route in order to pull this circled safety deeper. He effectively does so (notice the five-yard difference between the above picture and following picture). Then:
He opens up the entire short side of the field. The vertical offense absolutely aided in Justin Fields' ability to manipulate safeties, and the protection has to be sound for this offense to work, but Justin Fields' safety manipulation is at an elite level already.
One more; and one of the more subtle ones that you will miss if you blink.
As Fields pulls the ball on the play action, his eyes are locked to his right. As soon as he sees the safety cheat down to fill the middle of the field, he immediately moves to his 9-route in Garrett Wilson. This isn't the most accurate throw, but the subtle glance to his right side absolutely makes this play happen.
The Arm Talent
I called the Justin Fields vs. Trevor Lawrence arm talent argument a push in my last article discussing Justin Fields, and I stand by that. While Justin Fields definitely loses in the 'zip' assessment, his off platform work compensates.
(I left the Twitter notification in on purpose - leave me alone).
Justin Fields can throw a more accurate ball while off balance on a rollout than some can standing in the pocket. While this clip is a designed rollout, it still exemplifies his ability to make throws off platform. Here's another:
Just in case you missed the throwing motion:
And yes, this is a different throw from the one in the accuracy section above.
Another designed rollout:
You're probably asking: why are these throws all on designs and not off of broken plays (where the excitement happens for Zach Wilson)? When plays break down in the Ohio State offense, the route combinations don't promote scrambling and throwing downfield. Because the receivers are already 20+ yards downfield, they have nowhere to go during a scramble drill. Therefore, most of the time, Justin Fields will take a gap up the middle and move the ball with his legs. In the NFL, the route combinations will be a little more advanced, building in those scramble drills and taking advantage of Fields' ability to make things happen. Fields is outstanding at keeping his eyes downfield when he does get out of the pocket, so when he's rolling out because he escaped pressure, I fully expect accurate off platform throws such as the ones above. Is that a projection? Absolutely. But his ability to place balls off one leg and rolling to either side inspires a ton of confidence.
The Metrics That Matter
A few weeks back, I took the 10-year average of top-ten quarterbacks in the NFL with respect to DVOA and charted their college metrics in their final year to determine which metrics correlated most strongly. The three that stood out: QBR, TD%, and Rating. The 10-year average:
Justin Fields' 2020 marks:
Justin Fields' career marks:
This doesn't guarantee that Justin Fields will be a hit. It doesn't tell me directly that he's the QB1. It does tell me that his chances are incredibly high (and for what it's worth, all three of the other top prospects have above average metrics - full transparency here).
The Areas of Improvement
I often hear "no prospect is perfect" when I point out some of the concerns I have for Trevor Lawrence. I agree 100%. And while I think that Justin Fields is the best quarterback I've evaluated, I'd be cheating you all if I didn't tell you what slightly concerns me.
The situation that Justin Fields was put in definitely helped him. While Ryan Day's scheme is very much so a pro-style offense with NFL-level route combinations and thus, read progressions, Ohio State was also able to put one of the best offensive lines in the country in front of the stud quarterback. When that line broke down (which was rare), Justin Fields was very hit or miss. His under pressure metrics aren't the best. He threw 4 of his 6 interceptions when under pressure. He took a sack 1 in every 4 pressures. And he threw for just 279 yards. The promising part? His adjusted completion percentage was higher than both Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson when faced with pressure.
The other area of improvement for Justin Fields is the speed with which he moves through progressions. I'd argue that this isn't really his fault (cue the "you're just giving him excuses" crowd). The vertical offense that Ohio State runs calls for holding safeties and opening up areas of the field, as I mentioned above. But at the NFL level, his eyes need to move quicker. He isn't going to have the protection that he had at Ohio State every play, and he needs to be able to hit his check down quicker. He always looks for the big play, and while I think that's good in some instances, it may cause issues at the next level.
Justin Fields has been either my QB1 outright or QB1B since the end of the 2019 season. His recruiting profile placed him above Trevor Lawrence in some circles as they both headed into college, and quite frankly, Fields outperformed him in their collegiate careers. I didn't even touch on Justin Fields' escape-ability, because I think he's going to be such an elite thrower of the football that his scrambling and rush ability will be less important. His three-level accuracy is unmatched in the class, his ability to manipulate a defense is elite, and his arm is no slouch. The Ohio State quarterback narrative has been played up to a level that blinds folks; I am often asked what I thought about Dwayne Haskins, as if that correlates at all with how I feel about Justin Fields. Scout the player, not the helmet. And if you scout Justin Fields, you'll see an elite talent that I personally believe is better than Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance. If you don't want to join me on the Justin Fields Hype Train, I fully understand. And I absolutely respect your process. But for me:
Justin Fields: QB1.
Until next time!