Don’t Sell That Justin Fields Stock Just Yet
Treat this piece as what it is. It’s a propaganda piece. I’ve loved Justin Fields’ game for a while now and I recognize I’m biased towards him. However, this won’t stop me from convincing you of the same. Coming out of college, Fields was subject to some weird narratives and draft talk that wasn’t really true. People said he wasn’t a good pocket passer, can’t throw past his first read, and so much more. Some team had a 4th round grade on him:
“Highest I’ve heard is top 5, lowest: Round 4. My guess is 49ers aren’t moving up for him, but instead Trey Lance” — Gil Brandt
It’s asinine to me that some team thought that’s what he was worthy of. Fields had one of the highest passing grades in his last college season and was helped the least by his receivers as I showed below.
He fell a bit in the draft, and the Bears ended up trading up to pick 11 with my Giants to select the Ohio State quarterback.
My good friend Tej Seth (@tejfbanalytics) found that Fields recorded the highest CPOE (Completion Percentage Over Expected) out of all college quarterbacks since 2014 in this piece. That’s impressive no matter which way you try to split it. Notably, he ranked ahead of names like Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson. Furthermore, over 2019 and 2020, Fields produced the highest Wins Above Average, PFF’s value over replacement metric for college, out of all eligible players. The man is special. Nonetheless, college is certainly a different game than the NFL and he’s certainly going through an adjustment period just like every other rookie quarterback. He has the third-worst EPA/play and fourth-worst CPOE out of qualifying quarterbacks this year. Yet, there are many positives to draw from his game, especially when he’s in such a dire situation.
Many rookie quarterbacks come into the league and try to adapt their playstyles. Often, they’ll reduce the number of big plays they try to make or the average depth of their targets (aDOT). Not Fields. Among all quarterbacks with at least 137 dropbacks, Fields has the highest aDOT at 10.5 yards. He pushes the envelope, a very admirable trait from a rookie. Well, how about the big plays? By, PFF’s Big Time Throw% metric, Fields ranks 7th highest in the NFL at a clip of 5.9%. This is ahead of many names, including all his rookie counterparts and guys like Tom Brady, Dak Prescott, and Lamar Jackson. Let’s take this a step further though. I had a great conversation with Brad Spielberger from PFF on Twitter that culminated in the following tweet from a few weeks ago.
Obviously, his BTT% has fallen to 5.9%, but that still would be good for third-best among all rookie quarterbacks since 2017. Utterly impressive from a guy who so many thought wouldn’t do well in the NFL. Now granted, his higher BTT% comes with a higher Turnover Worthy Play percentage, which sits at 3.9% and is eighth-worst in the league. However, in such a lost year for the Bears, I’d much rather Fields play through his struggles and take the good and the bad as opposed to trying to contort his playstyle into someone he isn’t. We’ve seen rookies deal with rough years initially and then figure it out. Kyler, Lamar, and many more have gone through this. It’s just how it goes.
His aggressiveness has been a welcome sight though. On a rate basis, he attempts more deep passes, 20 or more yards, than anyone out of this rookie class at a 17.3% clip. And he throws them well, registering an 83.6 PFF grade on deep throws. He also has the second-highest adjusted completion percentage, which controls for drops, out of all rookies on deep throws at 42.5%. Yet, these behind-the-scene stats haven’t fully translated into results as he only has one touchdown throwing deep, which looks even worse with the four interceptions he has throwing deep. However, deep passing is volatile year to year, and to see Fields grade well and mix in plays like the following is vastly encouraging for his future outlook.
He hits his receiver, Darnell Mooney, in stride, keeps it out of reach of the hovering safety, and it results in a big gain. Give him time in the pocket and he’ll make plays immediately.
To cover some of his other stats quickly, he has a 56.5 PFF passing grade, 1,585 passing yards with a 57.6 completion percentage, and 6 touchdowns paired with 10 interceptions. Not inspiring at all at face level and he has a lot to work on, clearly. But this all comes with the caveat that he plays for the Chicago Bears. There’s been so much instability around him and just an overall lack of help that you’ll feel pity for him.
On His Own
There’s a lot of different directions I could go here. It’s the Bears. Their head coach, Matt Nagy, is widely regarded as a lame-duck coach and there was even a rumor that he was going to be fired after coaching his team’s Thanksgiving game. The offensive line is largely put together by puzzle pieces that don’t fit with each other at all. Fields had to deal with the trouble of not knowing when he was going to play, which was really egregious.
Coming into the season, Fields wasn’t named the starter. It was Andy Dalton. However, Dalton got hurt in week 2 against the Raiders, prompting Fields into action. Fields played week 2–4, but Coach Nagy publicly announced after the week 4 game that Dalton would still be the starter when healthy. Now, this didn’t hold true as Fields still continued to start afterward, but what does that do for your young quarterback. Rather than show faith in your rookie, you go out of your way to let people know you don’t want to start him. Surely the Bears knew they wouldn’t have massive playoff aspirations this year. Take the chance to ride with your potential franchise quarterback rather than a journeyman. That little thing ticked me and many others off, probably more than it should have.
Outside of that, Fields has also dealt with injury, as he was out for the majority of weeks 11 through 13 after sustaining a tough hit to his ribs. This robbed him of maintaining continuity and getting into a routine with starting reps in-game. Of course, others have had to deal with this too, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier on him. What others don’t deal with though is the rest of the Bears’ roster.
The Bears’ defense ranks 5th worst by PFF grade and 6th worst by EPA/play allowed at 0.075. The offensive line has the 12th worst PFF pass-blocking grade. Teven Jenkins, the left tackle the Bears drafted in the second round to protect Fields, has only played 49 snaps this year. Allen Robinson, the Bears' number one receiver for some time now, is having the worst year in his career. He’s posting career lows in almost every stat, from yards/route run to PFF grade. Many have had problems with his effort level, which well, I can’t blame them as long clips like the following continue to pop up.
Fields possibly could have had a touchdown or at least many more yards there if Robinson’s man was blocked. Going back to the offensive line, not a single lineman has graded out above 70 this year, save for Jason Peters who just got hurt. 10 different linemen have taken snaps for the Bears, with no one truly establishing themselves. Fields has faced pressure on 43.1% of his dropbacks, third-worst in the league. Granted, some of these pressures are the quarterback’s fault, but not all. An encouraging note that’s somewhat related is Fields’ ability to run when under pressure, as he sports an 83.3 rushing grade when under pressure. Going back to the pressure point, the Bears’ offensive line has held responsibility on 89% of dropbacks, the seventh-worst in the league. Again, Fields holds responsibility as well, but you can’t expect your rookie quarterback to do well when playing in such tough conditions.
Making matters even worse is the old age of the offensive line, and honestly, the whole team. The following graphic from OverTheCap shows just how old the Bears are.
Their defense, which already isn’t effective, is the oldest in the NFL. There isn’t a single receiver guaranteed to be on the team in 2022 besides Darnell Mooney. For a team with a quarterback on a rookie deal, there are way too many question marks to feel comfortable about its future. Fields will certainly have new receivers, new linemen, and even coaches working with him next season. This type of turmoil isn’t encouraging for someone who will just be entering their second season. However, I think that’s enough negativity, so let’s finish off with some bright nuggets.
Keep The Faith
We’ve established how poor the situation Fields is playing in. We’ve gone over how he’s still maintained his own playstyle, staying aggressive. Adding on to that, when he’s kept clean in the pocket by his line, he has the second-highest PFF grade of his rookie peers and the highest BTT%. Yet, this only occurs on 56.9% of his dropbacks, which is the lowest in the class. The ability to command an offense in a clean state is absolutely there. As long as the Bears continue to build around him, expect him to only get better.
To end, let’s look at some clips that show why you should still believe in him. Here’s a quick clip in which he sandwiches that ball into a spot that only Robinson can get to.
He had the defender behind him boxed off and the defender in front had his back turned to Fields. It then falls on Fields to deliver the ball out of the reach of the front defender, which he did. He does more of the same here:
Establishing a back-shoulder connection with your receivers is tough, yet Fields got it done. Out of reach of the defender, only in a spot where Robinson could go up and get it, textbook. Another really encouraging sign from Fields has been his connection with Darnell Mooney. The sophomore receiver is having his best campaign and plays like the following have played a large part.
Look at that RAINBOW. Admire it. If Fields can keep making those types of throws, he’s going to stick around a long time. He also plays particularly well on plays in movement, such as bootlegs, scrambles, and off-structure throws. Like this:
Noticing the collapsing pocket, he evades pressure and fires a strike to the corner to the end zone. Certainly, it’s a connection to watch for as he and Mooney play with each other more and more. On another note, his movement ability is really impressive and it translates to his running game.
He’s tied with Deebo Samuel for the 8th highest rushing grade for non-running backs at 76.6. He averages the 4th most yards per attempt among the same group, clocking in at 5.9 ypa. Not every quarterback has this type of ability to serve as a dual-threat. And of course, this serves him extremely well in fantasy football, which I feel almost obligated to cover so I’ll touch on it real quick.
In his last six starts, Fields has eclipsed 35 rushing yards five times. He’s also gone over 18 fantasy points in three of his last four starts. He’s going to become the perfect Konami code quarterback for fantasy owners, as long as his legs continue to hold up which we have no reason to believe they won’t With this, as he progresses as a passer, he’s going to turn into a slam-dunk QB1 for fantasy purposes sooner than later. I’d view him as a borderline top ten quarterback in dynasty and would be willing to draft him in the 9–11 round range in redraft next year.
Unfortunately, with that rushing ability comes fumbles, and he’s fumbled 10 times already this year, which is definitely something that needs improvement. Nonetheless, seeing that he has the ability to make plays with his legs is especially encouraging when combined with what we’ve seen from him as a passer.
In the end, Fields certainly has some work to do. But the same applies even more to the rest of the roster he’s working with. He’s shown flashes and is just scratching the surface of what he can be. Give it time, Bears fans. Be confident in your future knowing you’re tied to a young quarterback with a great future ahead of him.