The Chicago Bears traded up in the 2021 NFL Draft to select Justin Fields as their potential franchise quarterback. Because the Bears traded up and given the nature of the position Fields plays, fans expected him to be a top-notch quarterback from the beginning. I've been around the NFL game most of my adult life, and it seldom works that way with quarterbacks. Very few come out of the gate like Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs or Justin Herbert of the Chargers. It takes time and patience, and there are several reasons why.
One of the best young quarterbacks in the League today is the Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen. When the Bills selected Allen, there were fans who complained as many felt UCLA's Josh Rosen should have been the pick. What those same fans didn't know is that Rosen didn't have close to the same traits that Allen had, and he was not a leader. In fact, according to many scouts who made school calls to UCLA, Rosen was one of the most disliked players on that UCLA team. Allen was always the right pick, but he was raw and needed to improve his throwing mechanics.
As a rookie in 2018, Allen struggled. The Bills finished 6 – 10, and Allen threw for only 2074 yards, 10 TDs, and 12 interceptions. What was worse was he completed only 52.8% of his throws. One of the big problems Allen had in college was that he wasn't accurate. For his career, he completed just over 56% of his throws. In today's college game, that is atrocious! Since I began scouting in 1981, there has always been a saying in the evaluation community: "Quarterbacks who are inaccurate in college won't all of a sudden become accurate as pros." With Allen early on, the saying was correct. In fact, it was correct for two full seasons, as in 2019, Allen completed only 58.8% of his throws, but his touchdown to interception ratio improved to 20 TDs to nine interceptions.
Allen had two things going for him that would help him become the player he is today. First, he has impeccable football character. I talk about football character often, and it is not the same as personal character. Personal character is how a person lives his life, while football character is about a player's love/passion for the game, desire to be great, work ethic, coachability, leadership, and intelligence/instincts for the position.
Allen has an exceptional work ethic. He spends most of his off-season time working on his game, he doesn't want to be average, he wants to be one of the best in the game.
The other constant Allen has had since entering the NFL is he has been in the same offensive scheme since his rookie year. For his first four years, Bran Daboll was the Offensive Coordinator, and since his second year, Ken Dorsey has been his quarterback coach. When Daboll became the Head Coach for the Giants this year, Dorsey was elevated to Offensive Coordinator. Allen has basically been working for the same people and in the same scheme for five seasons now. That makes growth much easier than when coaches and schemes change.
Allen's career took off in year three; his completion percentage jumped better than 10 points to 69%, which is unheard of. That has everything to do with him constantly trying to improve and playing within the same system. It also helped that in year three, the Bills brought in some top receivers via free agency.
Now let's compare that to Fields. As I mentioned Tuesday, the way he was coached and brought along last year as a rookie was awful. The scheme didn't fit his skill set, nor did the play calling. The previous coaching staff never helped him with his mechanics, and the result was inconsistent play. He showed flashes of brilliance but no consistency.
This year Fields is basically a rookie again as he is playing under a new coaching staff and in a completely different scheme. Except for Darnell Mooney, all his wide receivers are new, and they too are new to this scheme, with the exception of Equanimious St. Brown. It takes time for everyone to get on the same page. For that reason, I feel Fields isn't as comfortable within the scheme as both he/we would like.
Like Allen, Fields has outstanding football character and will do all he can to become the player he hopes to be. It won't happen overnight; it takes time. Remember, with Allen, it was his third season before the light turned on. I expect similar with Fields.
Like Allen, Fields spent most of his off-season working on his game and mechanics. In college and last year, he had a hitch at the top of his delivery that slowed his release. For the most part, the hitch is gone because of the work he did in the off-season.
The current coaching staff is strong and knows how talented Fields is. They also know that he is far from being a finished product and is more of a work in progress. It will get better; there will be more flashes of brilliance but also some poor play. It's all part of a young quarterback growing within the scheme. I'm very confident your patience will be rewarded.