COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Justin Fields has a chance to make Ohio State history Thursday at the NFL draft when he can become the fourth Buckeyes quarterback taken in the first round.
Few quarterbacks, or players, have been as hotly debated as Fields, who could go as high as No. 2 overall or, less likely, a mid first-round pick. Fields began 2020 as the presumptive No. 2 pick behind Trevor Lawrence, who is expected to be taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars and coach Urban Meyer.
But some NFL scouts, general managers, coaches and analysts have expressed concern that Fields holds on to the ball too long and struggles going through progressions. Those fears, whether legit or not, have many wondering how high he’ll go.
Draft analysts have BYU’s Zach Wilson going No. 2 to the New York Jets, who traded 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold to the Carolina Panthers.
The 49ers also traded up with the Miami Dolphins to secure the No. 3 pick. San Francisco needs a quarterback, and it will either be Fields, Trey Lance from North Dakota State, or less likely, Alabama’s Mac Jones.
That scenario, of course, depends on Wilson going to the Jets. Immediately after the 49ers are the Falcons, who will, sooner rather than later, need to replace 35-year-old Matt Ryan. It’s unclear whether Atlanta will draft a QB, so Fields could be available for the Broncos at No. 9, the Vikings at No. 14 or the Patriots at No. 15. Even the Lions might be interested at No. 7 despite trading for Jared Goff in the offseason.
If Fields gets selected in the top five, he’ll be the highest OSU quarterback drafted since Art Schlichter, who was taken 4th overall by the Baltimore Colts in 1982. Offensive guard Wyatt Davis is the only other Buckeye who has a chance to be drafted in the first round.
Fields will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks at Ohio State. He led OSU to a 20-2 record in two seasons, including two trips to the College Football Playoff and a dominating semifinal win over Clemson last season. In that game, Fields played through excruciating pain and threw six touchdown passes to avenge OSU’s loss to the Tigers in a semifinal the previous season.
The Kennesaw, Georgia, native committed to Georgia but transferred to Ohio State after one season when it became clear he would not start over Jake Fromm. Fields beat out the competition to claim the starting job as a sophomore and didn’t take long to establish himself as one of the top dual-threat QBs in the country and was named a Heisman finalist.
In 2020, Fields advocated for a season when it was canceled by the Big Ten by starting a petition that garnered more than 400,000 signatures. But recently ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky said he heard from personnel inside the NFL that Fields does not love football and is the type of player who is ‘last in, first out’ at practice.
Those comments sparked a firestorm of people coming to Fields’ defense, including OSU coach Ryan Day.
“The season gets canceled, he doesn’t opt out and go to the NFL draft. Some guys did,” Day said. “Not only does he not opt out, he fights to get the season back. He has a petition, he goes on national TV and fights to get the season back. Then he comes out and plays and plays really well. … All I know about Justin Fields is, he’s one of the hardest working guys, he’s one of the most competitively tough guys and when he sets his mind to something, he gets it done.”
Orlovsky said he called Fields to apologize about the comments, but former OSU quarterback and ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit blasted Orlovsky for misrepresenting Fields.
Fields finished his career at Ohio State with 5,373 yards passing, 78 total touchdowns, nine interceptions and an impressive 68% completion percentage while winning Big Ten offensive player of the year twice.
Fields was the most accurate passer (75%) in 2020, per PFF. He showed moments of poor decision-making with five interceptions and is prone to hold onto the ball a little too long. But his upside equals that of Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson as an accurate thrower with an ability to extend plays, improvise and keep defenses off-balance with his running prowess.
He showed that speed during Ohio State’s Pro Day when he ran 40 yards in 4.44 seconds, the second-fastest time for a projected first-round pick since 2006.
Concerns arose once again when the NFL Network reported Justin Fields has been managing epilepsy and has been taking questions from NFL personnel about dealing with the disorder. Fields believes he will outgrow the disorder because other members of his family have done so as well, according to the NFL Network.
NBC4 and KLAS in Las Vegas will host a live draft show featuring analysis and reaction of all 32 first-round picks starting at 8 p.m. Eastern time Thursday.