After defeating the Los Angeles Rams, the New York Jets are stuck with the second pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. So, should they draft Justin Fields?
The New York Jets lost by winning. When they defeated the Los Angeles Rams, they lost the right to select Trevor Lawrence. The Clemson star is one of only four quarterbacks to be universally considered generational prospects since the merger. He joins the likes of John Elway, Peyton Manning, and Andrew Luck. That means their next franchise quarterback prospect will be either Ohio State’s Justin Fields or BYU’s Zach Wilson.
Losing out on a once-in-a-generation quarterback prospect is devastating for a Jets franchise that hasn’t had a franchise passer since Joe Namath. However, it’s not the end of the world.
The 2021 NFL Draft is not a one quarterback class. Yes, Lawrence is a special prospect, and the drop off after him is steep. However, Fields and Wilson are hardly consolation prizes. Both are elite quarterbacks in their own right.
That said, Jets general manager Joe Douglas now has a decision to make. Does he go with the super athletic and accurate Justin Fields?
Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Dealing with Pressure
This is by far Justin Fields’ worst tool. He doesn’t feel pressure at all. Unless it’s staring him right in the face he just doesn’t feel it. A few of the sacks he took this year were simply because he didn’t slide or step up in the pocket when he should have. After all, he didn’t feel the pocket collapsing. Even when he does slide in the pocket it’s usually not until after the pocket’s already collapsed. He just doesn’t seem to have a feel for what to do if he doesn’t have any rush lanes when the pocket starts to collapse.
This isn’t as big a deal as I thought it was going to be when I started watching his tape. I was expecting to see dropped interceptions and poor throws left and right, especially against Indiana and Northwestern. Instead, what I found was mostly good decisions on when to run and when to pass and he often found the right receiver to throw to. I found that only two of his five interceptions against Indiana and Northwestern could be attributed to him.
However, Fields’ decision-making goes out the window when he leaves the pocket and decides to throw it. It seems like he feels his receivers should just know what to do on a broken play and so he acts accordingly only to put himself in the worst position possible. Fields also has trouble knowing when it’s the right time to throw a deep ball.
Fields has an NFL-caliber arm, but that’s all you can really say. It’s below average by NFL standards and if he’s not careful on throws to the sidelines, it’s going to get him into trouble. Thankfully he has the accuracy to make up for this issue, but if he keeps making decisions as if he had Zach Wilson’s, arm it’s going to come back to bite him.
Justin Fields never gives up on a play no matter how hopeless. He’ll see his pocket completely collapse or have a free rusher come at him and instead of just eating the sack everyone knows is coming he’ll try and juke out the entire defense and end up losing 10 yards instead of three. Fields will get out of the pocket and find nobody open, but instead of throwing the ball away, he’ll throw it into coverage across his body.
Fields will stay in the pocket for five seconds, not because he can’t read a defense as many believe, but because he refuses to accept that he can’t complete a pass despite the tight coverage. As a result, he’ll wait until either someone gets open or his pocket collapses.
Justin Fields isn’t a finished product. He has everything physically that a team could want except for arm strength. His natural athleticism and accuracy are a rare combination of skills that puts him into a category of his own. Maybe the best comparison is Russell Wilson in that sense.
However, Fields doesn’t have the mental side of the game down. He’s still focused on trying to will his team to victory on every play. if the New York Jets draft him, they’ll need to get him to slow down and understand that he can’t win every play. Sacks are okay if we accept them instead of losing extra yards trying to make something happen. Throwaways are OK if they avoid sacks and turnovers.
Fields isn’t going to come into the NFL ready to take over a west coast style offense. He has the skillset to be able to master that kind of offense down the line, but not day one. He’s going to need a more simplified offense that allows him to take advantage of his running skills and spreads out defenses so his accurate, but weak, arm can be maximized.
He doesn’t need a perfect scheme to bring out his strengths, but he needs a coach who understands how to develop him. Like Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Kyler Murray before him, Justin Fields will a scheme built for him and patience to allow him to grow into his role.