For many fans and media members, this was the season that the Chicago Bears quarterback had to take a step to prove that he was the future quarterback for the Chicago Bears. That wasn't fair because this was just Justin Fields' second season in the League and because he is playing in his third offensive system in three years. When we look at several other quarterbacks in the League, it was really their third year before they became a consistently productive player.
We can use three current young quarterbacks in the League as examples. Those three would be the Ravens' Lamar Jackson, the Bills' Josh Allen, and the Eagles' Jalen Hurts. Like Fields, all three had questions about their talent coming out of college.
With Jackson, it was accuracy. He was more of a running quarterback while in college, and his throwing motion needed work. In his final two seasons at Louisville, his completion percentage was around 58%, which is poor considering today's college offenses. When he got to Baltimore in 2018, he didn't play until well into the season and like most rookie QBs was inconsistent at best.
The one thing he had going for him at Baltimore is that he has played in the same system since he got there, and that has helped him develop into one of the premier quarterbacks in the League. Still, even though his numbers showed significant improvement from year one to year two, it wasn't until year three that he really took off and became a force as a quarterback. Not only is he a dangerous runner, but he is a very good passer.
Josh Allen had several skeptics when he came out of Wyoming, and his biggest negative was accuracy, much like Jackson's. In his final two seasons at Wyoming. Allen showed his arm talent, but his accuracy was only about 56%, and he never played well against top competition.
Allen got to play more as a rookie than Jackson but struggled. He showed improvement in year two but still was inconsistent at best. In Allen's first two seasons, his completion percentage was like it was in college at about 56%. Allen took off in year three when the Bills brought in a true number one receiver (Stefon Diggs). It wasn't just because of Diggs though. Like Jackson, Allen has played in the same offensive system since he entered the League. He has mastered that scheme, and it shows on the field. His completion percentage jumped a remarkable 10 points from year two to year three.
Jalen Hurts was not a first-round pick like the others, but he was selected in the second round. The question on Jalen was why he couldn't hold on to the starting job at Alabama and had to transfer to get much-needed play time. Hurts played his final college season at Oklahoma in the quarterback friendly Lincoln Riley system. Before going to Oklahoma, the knocks on Hurts were accuracy and his ability to process quickly. All that improved while at Oklahoma, but many evaluators felt it was more Riley's system than Hurts himself.
As a rookie, Hurts struggled like most rookies but showed improvement in year two, but it's been this year, his third in the League and his second year in Nick Sirianni's system, where he's locked in. During the off-season, Philly went out to improve the talent around Hurts on the offensive side of the ball, and it showed. Week after week, Hurts puts up strong performances.
When we compare Fields to the above three, his college resume is much stronger when we look at the quality wins and his numbers. Still, many had questions on his ability to process and release quickness, and that's why he was the fourth QB drafted in 2021.
Like Hurts, the system he plays in changed from year one to year two. Last year Fields played in Matt Nagy's system, while this year he is playing in an entirely different scheme under Luke Getsy. The Getsy scheme is a form of the Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay scheme and can be difficult to master.
Fields started off slowly this year partly because of poor offensive line play and several injuries to his wide receiver corps. Through 13 games this year, the line has changed just about every week, as well as who was active among the receivers. Still, over the past six weeks, Fields' play has been remarkable, and the offense is averaging just under 30 points per game. It's not because of the offense that the Bears aren't winning.
Last year, Fields showed a hitch at the top of his release, which slowed his ability to quickly get the ball out of his hand. During the offseason, he worked on his mechanics, and while the hitch is still there, it's not nearly as pronounced as it was a year ago. The result is more quick throws and completions.
Fields has become more comfortable in the system, and his play has vastly improved. There is not a doubt in my mind that come next season, Fields will put up outstanding numbers and be looked at as one of the better young quarterbacks in the League.
There is one other similar trait that Allen, Jackson, Hurts, and Fields share, and that is they all have outstanding football character. Their drive to become great players is rare, and they will succeed because of that. All have overcome the weaknesses they showed in their game while in college, and it's because of that drive and work ethic to be great.
Bears GM Ryan Poles has more than double the cap room of any other team this coming spring, and with that money he will be able to upgrade the team on both sides of the ball. Adding a few pieces to the offensive side will give Justin Fields that much more ability to make plays. There is not a doubt in my mind that the Bears will contend in 2023 and mainly because Justin Fields will continue to improve and become the player we all want him to become. Fields has rare talent; he just needs time to master a system and add a few more playmakers.