Justin Fields On Path To Exceed Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen?

This story is all about reaction. Like the way one veteran offensive coordinator started gushing about Justin Fields when asked a week ago about the second-year Chicago quarterback.

“It’s everything you want to see in a young player, everything,” the coach said, the words flowing out of his mouth with excitement. “The way he sees things now compared to a year ago … we all knew he was a really good runner, but the way he plays within the passing game is making him a great runner.

“He’s not doing a lot of complicated stuff, but he knows what he's supposed to do … Really, I know we have a ways to go, but if this is an indication of what’s to come, he’s going to be better than Lamar (Jackson) and he could be right there with Josh Allen as a combo run-pass guy. And I’m a fan of both.”

Fields, who came into the league with concerns about his preparation as a pro passer from his time at Ohio State in the Urban Meyer offense, has taken huge strides in his second season. It’s not yet as good as Jackson’s second year in 2019, when the Baltimore quarterback ran for 1,206 yards, threw 36 touchdown passes, and was named Most Valuable Player.

At the same time, what Fields is doing is relatively close. Over the past four games, the Bears have scored 29 points or more. Jackson had a streak of five such games in 2019, including three games with 40 or more. In Fields’ four games, he has eight touchdown passes, two interceptions and five rushing touchdowns. In Jackson’s five-game streak, he had 13 TD passes, zero interceptions and rushed for four scores.

Allen and the Buffalo Bills didn’t have a stretch like that until his third year in the league.

In some respects, the results were even less expected from Fields, even though all three were first-round picks. That’s because some people saw plays during his rookie year that raised red flags. There was the time in the exhibition season when Fields wasn’t ready for a strongside blitz that came right at him in the face. Fields was not just physically hammered, but looked mentally caught off guard.

Contrast that play with a 61-yard touchdown run that Fields had against Miami on Nov. 6 this season. Going against an odd-looking man defense where all the defenders in the middle were looking at Fields, he saw how spread out the defense was and simply ran through the field for the breakaway touchdown.

In some ways, it was like a version of running back Adrian Peterson in his early days when Peterson changed the geometry of the running game. The obvious difference is that Fields has shown the ability to make throws from the pocket with growing consistency.

“When he first got in the league, I didn’t think that much of him, but you see where he’s going and now I think he has a chance to be a really special player,” former NFL head coach Mike Martz said. “Some of that is that he has more consistent coaching than last year when the coaching staff wasn’t as settled. “Now, the coaching staff really seems to have a plan for him. They were trying to leave him in the pocket early in the season and now they are running more boots and rollouts to get Fields into open space. They only have him in the pocket about 10 times a game now, but you can see that he has answers when he’s back there.”

As Martz also noted, the action inside the pocket tends to move much faster than on the outside. Getting Fields out of the pocket has both slowed the process for him and slowed down how the defense attacks him in the pocket.

In all, it’s a fascinating development process for Fields. The type of process that could answer the long-term quarterback problem that has haunted the Bears for decades, particularly if Chicago is able to surround him with more talent.

“They definitely need to put some better players around him,” Martz said. “But you really see the whole thing coming together. He knows where his answers are, he knows when to scramble, when to run and when to throw it away. He’s getting a great understanding of how to play the position.”

Written by
Jason Cole has covered or written about pro football since 1992. He is one of 49 selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has served as a selector since 2013. Cole has worked for publications such as Bleacher Report, Yahoo! Sports, The Miami Herald, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, and started his career with the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto. Cole’s five-year investigation of Reggie Bush and the University of Southern California resulted in Bush becoming the only player to ever relinquish his Heisman Trophy and USC losing its 2004 national championship.