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Justin Fields doesn’t deserve to fall in the 2021 NFL Draft

The draft process has chewed up and spit out one of its best players.

We have no idea where Justin Fields will go when it comes to the first round of the NFL Draft, but wherever it is, it’ll be too low. The pre-draft machine has been over-analyzing his play since the end of the college football season, and now Fields finds himself being potentially the fourth, or even fifth quarterback off the board. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

The way things should work in the world is when NFL teams make a mistake, they learn from it and do better the next time. Yet as Fields enters the draft, he’s facing the same tired critiques that so many Black quarterbacks before him have also faced.

Whether Orlovsky was parroting anonymous comments or not is inconsequential. It filled the tired trope of the player who didn’t have the “desire to be great.” Fields is a player who, before all this stuff began, was honestly garnering conversation whether he’d have a better pro career than Trevor Lawrence. That might be a bit of a stretch, but it’s far less ridiculous than the idea that there are three or four quarterbacks better than Fields available in this draft class.

The knocks on Dak Prescott when he entered the NFL and fell to the fourth round were all mechanical. The assumption was there was too much to teach him, so his value was shot. Now he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league. That was only five years ago. Memory of that mistake has left, to a degree, because Fields won’t fall out of day one, but there are still lingering issues, because many of these same knocks are being applied to the Ohio State quarterback.

There’s concern of Fields’ vision, how he evades pressure, and his anticipation of deep throws. Issues for sure, but also the mistakes you’d expect most college football players to need to iron out. Remember those three knocks for a second. Now let’s look at how Justin Herbert was evaluated a year ago.

  • Ball placement to lead receivers can be better
  • Struggles to escape sudden pressure
  • Toggles between caution and worry attacking first two levels

Herbert, as we know, went on to break the NFL record for passing yards as a rookie. The issue here isn’t that we need to dunk on scouting reports, because everyone has hits and misses (see, literally everyone on Josh Allen). It’s that we keep falling for the same pre-draft tropes of what weakness is. It happened with Prescott, it happened with Herbert, now it’s happening with Fields.

And it’s all so, so dumb.

Fields is a player who completed over 70 percent of his passes. Who threw for six touchdowns against Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. Who ran for 104 yards against Michigan State when his receivers were having trouble making an impact. All season long he led by example and took Ohio State to the national championship game. That potential, that promise is getting washed away by concerns over his personality, or the work that a team will need to be put into him. Meanwhile scouts seemingly have no problem with Zach Wilson ostensibly throwing 50/50 jump balls all season against terrible competition while at BYU, because he gets to be compared to “gunslingers” like Aaron Rogers. Forget that this kind of play really doesn’t work in the NFL, he’s a gutsy gunslinger and we love guys like that!

There are some fair concerns about Fields. He’s young, and when it comes to high-end football we’ve really only seen him in a VERY quarterback friendly Ohio State offense, Dwayne Haskins put up big numbers in that too, but he never possessed Fields’ ability to be athletic in the pocket and evade pass rushers. The skill to want to stay in the pocket and pass while having the athleticism to pick up yards when needed is what the modern NFL craves, but the NFL is apparently higher on other players than they are on Fields.

Fields will fall if the 49ers don’t take him at No. 3, far below where he deserves. A team will get the second-best quarterback in this draft, and he will hopefully be in a position where he can sit and learn. If that happens he’ll repeat history again, joining Dak Prescott and Justin Herbert as the guys who were way better than the process gave them credit for.