'Knockoff Cam Newton' or the QB who 'pushed Burrow out of a job?'
Justin Fields is the No. 1 headline in the NFL this week. See how the entire NFL viewed the quarterback out of Ohio State. Once more, Bob McGinn empties his notes.
This is the third in a series of stories looking back at active players and their current situation vis a vis what it was entering the NFL draft. The comments from personnel men were made to me in the months leading up to the draft for my annual NFL Draft Series, which dates to 1985. Scouting football prospects is an inexact science, especially when it comes to off-the-field considerations. It has been said that no two evaluators view a player exactly the same way.
The scouting and coaching staffs of the Chicago Bears were unanimous in their overwhelmingly positive evaluation of Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields before the 2021 draft.
In an interview with The Athletic’s Adam Jahns not long after that draft, Bears GM Ryan Pace painted a picture in which all of the reports that were written by him and others on Fields were similar. The strong organizational conviction was the major reason why the Bears traded up from No. 20 to No. 11 with the New York Giants to select Fields. In exchange, the Bears gave up a fifth-round pick in 2021 and first- and fourth-round picks in 2022. The first-round pick turned out to be No. 7.
“What was cool about it was the consensus and unanimous opinion on a player,” Pace said. “It’s hard to find that. And this is one where the bandwidth of grades and the consensus on these grades was one of the tightest of any player in the draft, from all of our coaches to every single scout. We have 11 reports on Justin Fields, and they all basically have him in the same area.”
Members of Pace’s personnel department that concurred were director of player personnel Josh Lucas, assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly, director of college scouting Mark Sadowski, national scout Chris Prescott, executive scout Jeff Shiver, area scout Scott Hamel and combine scout Brendan Rehor. From the coaching side, there were reports from coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo.
Two and one-half years later, Shiver and Rehor are the only two still working for Chicago.
That spring, I interviewed 11 executives in personnel regarding Fields. Interestingly, they brought up almost as many weaknesses in his game as strengths. Among the negatives often cited were his shortcomings seeing the field, working quickly through a progression, making the proper decisions and serving as a vocal leader. When 16 of the scouts were asked which of the top quarterbacks had the best chance to bust, 7 1/2 votes were cast for Trey Lance, 3 ½ for Zach Wilson, three for Fields and two for Mac Jones.
It's certain that the rosy picture all the Bears evaluators saw in Fields wasn’t shared by scouts across the NFL.
Off to a disappointing start in his third season, Fields needs to do more in order to establish himself as the Bears’ quarterback of the future. A franchise that has merely one winning season in the last decade still holds 1940s hero Sid Luckman as perhaps its greatest quarterback.
Here’s the comprehensive look at how the entire NFL community viewed Fields. Many of the scouts’ comments certainly resonate this week…