With the NFL’s dead period upon us, I figured it would be a good time to unveil a series that I have yearned to complete for a long time: Justin Fields’ mechanics.
As some of you may know, quarterback play is my single biggest affinity in the game of football, and at the center of this affinity lies mechanics. This passion for mechanics, however, clashed with my love for the Chicago Bears when, in 2021, they drafted one of the most mechanically-raw quarterbacks in NFL history in Justin Fields. With his play in 2021, it presents an opportunity for me to dive into the nitty-gritty of throwing a football while simultaneously breaking down our potential franchise quarterback.
This series will be broken down into three parts: Fields’ motion at Ohio State, what changed during year 1 in the NFL, and what needs to change for him to take that next step.
Hopefully, this series will also allow you to gain an understanding of core mechanical principles for quarterbacks, understand how each issue impacts on-field performance, understand what’s fixable, and potentially offer a few key points to keep in mind when you yourself are throwing a football.
With that said, let’s dive right in and analyze Fields’ throwing mechanics at Ohio State to set a baseline for his progress.
The most glaring issue with Fields’ motion at Ohio State was the floppiness of the arm. Far too often, he would lock out his body and throw purely with his arm rather than integrating the body with the arm.
Just take a look at the before and after of this drag route against Alabama.
The only difference between the two images is that the arm moved upwards. There is no shoulder turn generated and he doesn’t load his back leg on the backswing. This results in no opposites being created between the upper and lower body.
What is an opposite, you ask? Well, first off, take a look at this before and after of Tom Brady.
In this before and after, Brady has stepped toward the target while turning the shoulders to create momentum. This results in his upper and lower bodies moving in opposite directions, which allows him to use his core muscles for extra power and unleash the ball with as much power as possible while still maintaining accuracy.
Think of the movement like a rubber band slingshot. You pull the rubber band back to create tension and then release it to let it fly to the target.
Fields, on the other hand, tries to do it all with his arm, and as a result, he loses control of the ball on a 2-yard route. This exemplifies the fact that it is impossible to consistently be accurate and powerful with this type of a motion because there are just too many moving parts.
Hitch in the Motion
Fields’ floppy arm leads to his second (and most obvious) mechanical flaw: the hitch in the motion.
Take a look at the following throw against Michigan State.
Because Fields’ arm is detached from the body, he sequences with the elbow before the forearm.
In a technically-perfect motion, the forearm is the first part of the arm to move because it maintains alignment with the shoulders on the backswing (remember that the shoulder must rotate backwards to create the opposite on the backswing).
But in the case of Fields, the elbow is the first part to move because, when the body stays locked, that is the only way to preserve alignment with the shoulders.
This leads to that elbow being in unnatural positions such as below.
There are many issues with this.
First off, much like with the floppy arm, there are simply too many moving parts.
Secondly, because it is such a loopy motion, it is easy for defenders to time, which leads to batted balls at the line of scrimmage.
Thirdly, it is a plea for strip sacks. In the NFL, pockets are about the size of a phone booth, so it’s difficult to consistently throw with people around you when you have such a long motion that requires lots of space.
It can also lead to chronic elbow soreness. When you constantly flip from Fields’ position in the picture to the point of release, that puts a ton of torque and stress on the elbow, which - when throwing 150 to 200 times per day - is just asking for injury.
Finally, the only way to shift from this position into the release position is by quickly flipping the ball above the elbow, which - in essence - is that hitch in the motion. That leads to lack of consistency in the ball’s release point, hence why Fields would get into over-the-top throwing, as shown in the image below.
Now compare this to Joe Burrow, who often throws with the ball in perfect release position.
Notice how much higher Fields’ release point is than Burrow’s. The arm is way too high.
This is critical for two reasons.
First off, how can you maximize power with the ball practically vertical? It’s such an unnatural position that it is impossible to do so.
Secondly, when throwing, you want your arm to finish high and across the body (i.e., around the opposite pectoral) rather than low (i.e., the opposite pant pocket) so you can be as accurate as possible. After all, when your arm goes from vertically upwards to vertically downwards, how can your power go directly forwards?
But when releasing the ball as high as Fields, it’s only natural that you finish in the opposite pocket, hence why it’s tough to be consistently accurate.
These are all issues that stem from the hitch in the motion, which - once again - ties into the lack of shoulder turn Fields would generate at Ohio State.
Arm Angle Breakage
Fields’ final upper body flaw at Ohio State was that the arm angle would break. Much like the hitch in the elbow and high release point, this stems from his floppy arm.
In today’s NFL, there are two angles at which quarterbacks throw: 90 degrees and 135 degrees. 90 degrees is typically for quarterbacks that leave lots of space between the ball and their palm (i.e., Joe Burrow, Tom Brady, etc.) because it allows them to still finish with the arm in the opposite pectoral. 135 degrees is typically for quarterbacks that leave little space between the ball and their palm (i.e., Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Aaron Rodgers) because it allows the ball to spiral off of the index finger while still finishing in the opposite pectoral.
But regardless of the angle of choice, it must be preserved throughout the motion.
Fields at Ohio State rarely did this. Oftentimes, the arm angle would break, such as during this throw against Northwestern.
Notice how the angle at his elbow changes throughout the motion. It starts off at 90 degrees on the backswing but then grows to 135 degrees. It then stays at 135 degrees until the release point, during which he brings it back to 90 degrees.
This breakage in the arm angle makes it difficult to be consistently accurate because - once again - there are simply too many moving parts for everything to come together.
Additionally, it lengthens the arm, which further contributes to the elongated and loopy motion.
Fields’ final major flaw at Ohio State resided in the lower body, as he would often throw his body off balance by over striding to throw his fastball.
This is best shown through the following example against Alabama.
Fields starts with his feet narrow and then overcorrects this by taking an extremely long stride.
Ideally, one’s base would look as follows.
In this example, Jones maintains a strong base with his feet about shoulder width apart, and as he throws, he takes a medium-length stride that allows him to stay on balance throughout the motion and still throw the ball with power.
In Fields’ case, however, the narrow base to long stride makes it impossible to remain balanced and efficiently transfer his lower body power through the ball, hence why he overthrows Garrett Wilson on the fade ball.
Additionally, much like the floppy arm and hitch in the motion, over striding further elongates the motion, which makes it difficult to throw in a condensed pocket with defenders around the feet.
Though the tone in this article sounds far more pessimistic than not, remember that this breakdown is just to set a baseline for where Fields was before he began his NFL career. The more important part will be covered in part 2 of this series: what progress did Fields’ make in his throwing motion, and how did that manifest itself during year 1?