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On Fields and Fumbling: How bad is the problem?

JF1 has an issue with ball security, but it has more to do with the situations he finds himself in than his actual ability to secure the ball.

Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Todd Rosenberg/Getty Images

So, Justin Fields has a fumbling problem. That much seems undeniable. After all, he has fumbled the ball 35 times in just 35 games (and only 33 starts). Regardless of any other impression a fan might have of Fields, that’s probably too high. However, people are oftentimes very bad at keeping track of actual patterns and large numbers. Fans have trouble with context–not because they are flawed, but because humans in general have trouble understanding context.

How bad is Fields’ fumbling problem, in context? Well, it depends on who you are comparing him to. From 2017-2021, twenty quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. If you add together all of the times these quarterbacks rushed, caught the ball, or were sacked (basically, all of the chances they had to fumble), you’d have 7302 opportunities for these young men to literally drop the ball. They actually did drop the ball 561 times (or 7.7% of the time that they might have done so). Meanwhile, Justin Fields’ portion of these opportunities is 429 chances, which means that if he were simply consistent with his peers, he would have fumbled the ball 33 times.

That means that Fields’ actual fumble rate compared to his overall number of opportunities is 8.2%, which is the ninth-worst in this group, making him slightly better than Daniel Jones (9%) and slightly worse than Mitchell Trubisky (7.7%). He’s bad, but he’s not Tua Tagovailoa bad (12.6%). He’s still really close to average.

Fumbles per Dynamic Touch

Player Touches (Rec + Rush) Sacks Fumbles Rate
Player Touches (Rec + Rush) Sacks Fumbles Rate
Dwayne Haskins 40 49 12 13.48%
Josh Rosen 26 61 11 12.64%
Tua Tagovailoa 128 78 26 12.62%
Jordan Love 50 25 9 12.00%
Trevor Lawrence 186 84 28 10.37%
Sam Darnold 196 143 35 10.32%
Baker Mayfield 234 196 43 10.00%
Daniel Jones 333 179 46 8.98%
Justin Fields 309 120 35 8.16%
Mitchell Trubisky 225 124 27 7.74%
Zach Wilson 91 105 15 7.65%
Mac Jones 117 84 15 7.46%
Josh Allen 609 166 56 7.23%
Patrick Mahomes 353 135 34 6.97%
Kyler Murray 395 140 36 6.73%
Joe Burrow 183 148 22 6.65%
Deshaun Watson 370 211 36 6.20%
Justin Herbert 223 126 21 6.02%
Lamar Jackson 839 161 53 5.30%
Trey Lance 54 6 1 1.67%
Updated as of 11/29

Overall, then, the issue does not seem to be the rate at which Fields is fumbling. It’s high, but not unreasonably so. As mentioned, the Miami Dolphins’ Tua Tagovailoa fumbles at a higher rate per opportunity than the Chicago Bears’ starter, as does the Jacksonville Jaguars’ Trevor Lawrence (10.4%). It is worth pointing out, as well, that many of the quarterbacks who fumble the ball at a higher rate than Fields are quarterbacks who either did not last in the NFL or who did not last with their original teams. There are exceptions to both rules. Lamar Jackson has one of the lowest rates of fumbling per opportunity in the group–5.3%, beaten out only by Trey Lance (whose 1.7% seems more likely to be a result of the very small sample size than anything more meaningful).

The issue is instead that by running the ball as often as he does and by taking as many sacks as he does, Fields is consistently in a position to fumble the ball more. Whose fault that is can be argued, but the fumbling issue is part and parcel of the risk being taken and not unique to the player taking those risks.