On Thursday night the New England Patriots could possibly be faced with making the biggest decisions a franchise can possibly make. First, whether or not they will select a franchise quarterback. If the answer is yes, the focus shifts on who they will mortgage their future for.
As things currently stand, the three quarterbacks on the roster all are returning from the 2020 team. The same squad that went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. Despite the added talent and belief that the incumbent starter Cam Newton can improve on his rocky 2020 campaign, the future of the QB position has yet to be addressed.
Free agency has come and gone, and New England’s lone move at the quarterback spot was to retain Newton’s services on an incentive laden one year deal. The trade market has produced little movement around the league despite the usual bevy of rumors and hypotheticals discussed on every morning talk show in America. So here the Patriots stand, less than a week away from the NFL Draft, with one last shot to make a move and get their guy.
Normally waiting this long is a bad thing, especially when you’re picking in the middle of the first round. But luckily enough for the Patriots, it looks like the rest of the NFL is going to let this future franchise guy slip.
Name: Justin Fields
School: Ohio State (Junior)
Opening day age: 22
Size: 6’3”, 227 lbs
Expected round: 1st
#Patriots Draft Target Thread: QB #1 Justin Fields (Ohio State) 6’3” 227lbs.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 23, 2021
- Rocket arm.
- Accuracy is tremendous, can fit the ball in tight windows.
- Unreal athlete. A true dual-threat QB.
- Tough as nails competitor. pic.twitter.com/wheaO8j4Je
Strengths: Justin Fields has everything you look for in a quarterback. He’s got a great arm, consistent accuracy, running ability, toughness, and his leadership is unmatched. If he chose baseball, he’d be a five tool prospect.
First, let’s talk about the arm talent because it is something that immediately jumps out, not just because he can launch the ball far down the field, but because he can deliver it with velocity and/or touch. Excuse my cliche, but the ball jumps out of his hands. Ohio State’s offense asked him to throw the ball on roll-outs fairly often and that is where the touch really showed up.
Plenty is made of Fields’ arm strength, and deservedly so, but he’s shown so much more than that. The touch he’s able to put on throws while rolling out are just as impressive as the deep balls. pic.twitter.com/uUVes4ttm4— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 23, 2021
His accuracy and velocity were ever present in the vertical passing game, he had 22 completions of 25+ air yards for nine touchdowns. Both ranked #1 of all NCAA quarterbacks.
Here’s a quick clip that encapsulates all of Fields’ tools.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 23, 2021
He stands in the pocket through his progressions, works from right to left, finds the deep man and launches it 60+ air yards right into the bucket. All while off balance and avoiding the rush. pic.twitter.com/HqLMKwjJeO
Athletically, few compare to Justin Fields. His 4.44 40-yard dash graded as a 9.98/10.00 on Kent Lee Platte’s Relative Athletic Score system. He’s a true dual threat quarterback, but did a great job of only pulling the ball down when absolutely necessary.
I don’t think the term “dual threat” is used enough when talking about Fields. Which is preposterous because he’s a top five athlete in the draft. It’s all done so effortlessly. pic.twitter.com/r0JIHT2ura— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 23, 2021
Though some have tried to question his commitment to the sport, there is no question about whether or not Justin Fields lives and breathes the game of football. I could tell you about how he started the “We Want to Play” petition when the Big Ten was planning on cancelling the season, or how droves of former coaches and teammates came out to refute claims that he wasn’t a great leader. Instead I’ll just leave you with this.
Reminder: Any team would be lucky to have Justin Fields as their next franchise guy. This sequence from the Playoff Semifinal is just a glimpse into the competitor and leader that he is.— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 22, 2021
That’s not to mention the fact that he ran a 4.4 forty and has a rocket for a right arm. pic.twitter.com/msNEVgV9Ys
Weaknesses: The biggest knock on Fields since his season ended is how “he can’t read defenses and doesn’t throw past his first read”, which is a misinformed narrative that has spread like wildfire.
The biggest reason we’ve seen this narrative form is due to the offense that Fields ran in college. Ohio State receivers ran a ton of long developing routes, making it look like Fields was holding the ball too long, when really the play hadn’t even started to develop yet.
The real problem that he had was trusting in his physical traits to overcome mental mistakes. If Fields ever was late on his progressions (something that happens to all quarterbacks) he would often lock onto the first receiver he saw and try to make the superhero throw. He often got away with it in college, and won’t in the NFL.
As much as I’d like to tout how Fields is perfect, he’s not. The biggest issue I see out of him is trusting his arm too much. Throws like this aren’t going to work in the NFL. pic.twitter.com/HYYfKhXCqa— Keagan Stiefel (@KeaganStiefel) April 23, 2021
What would be his role?: I would normally say “potential franchise quarterback” when talking about a first round QB but that doesn’t quite feel right. Instead I’ll go with “franchise savior and potential superstar.”
Justin Fields has everything an NFL quarterback needs. Does he need some refining in some areas? Absolutely. Then again so does every other prospect in the history of mankind. The future role for him has not and will not change, he’s the guy that a franchise builds around.
Who’s his competition?: First round quarterbacks don’t have competition, they have mentors. We’ve seen it a ton in the past. Patrick Mahomes sat behind Alex Smith. Jordan Love is sitting behind Aaron Rodgers, who had to wait his turn behind Brett Favre. Carson Palmer, Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson all had to wait their turn before being named starters late in their rookie years.
The same approach would be expected out of the Patriots, who have a returning starter in Newton, that shares similarities in skill set and leadership style. There is potential for that to be a beautiful relationship.
Why the Patriots?: Well, to run an NFL offense you need a quarterback, and without a selection in this year’s draft, the Patriots are limiting their options for 2022 and beyond. Cam Newton will be 33 when the 2022 season begins and is not currently slated to be a Patriot passed this year. Jarret Stidham will be headed into year number four, but has yet to make a start or show New England anything that would make them believe he could take over in 2022. Then there is Jake Dolegala, the former FCS quarterback who entered the league as an undrafted free agent. I’ll go out on a limb and say he won’t be the guy.
Why not the Patriots?: The only real argument against drafting Justin Fields would be the price. New England would need to make a move into the top-10 if they wanted to ensure a shot at drafting him. With teams like Denver, Washington, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh all in need of a signal caller, a bidding war may break out. Something that I’m sure Bill Belichick wants no part in.
Verdict: If the rest of the NFL is going to give the Patriots a chance to draft the No. 2 QB in the draft, they need to do it. Forget everything about Zach Wilson, or Mac Jone, or Trey Lance. Justin Fields is the clear cut number two guy behind Trevor Lawrence. Bill Belichick has another chance to take advantage of the rest of the NFL, I can’t see him turning that down.