clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

What Would Success Look Like for Justin Fields in 2023?

With one preseason game in the books, debate is already swirling around Chicago’s quarterback. What else is new? Still, it’s worth considering what is reasonable to expect of the QB1 in 2023.

Tennessee Titans v Chicago Bears Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Justin Fields is entering the third year of his NFL career with revised help in every facet of the offense. Will he establish himself as a successful quarterback and earn an extension? What would that even look like?


From 2016-2020, eighteen quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. Ten either had their fifth-year option picked up or had major extensions in place before the fifth year: Burrow, Tagovailoa, Herbert, Murray, Allen, Jackson, Mahomes, Watson, Goff, and Wentz.

An eleventh (Daniel Jones) ended up receiving a major extension after not having his fifth-year option picked up; it came after he managed a 92.5 passer rating and a playoff run in his fourth year with the New York Giants. A twelfth (Jordan Love of the Green Bay Packers) received a very modest contract extension that could probably be fodder for a much longer article in its own right.

That leaves six first-round quarterbacks who did not receive a fifth year with their drafting team: Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Mitchell Trubisky, Dwayne Haskins, Josh Rosen, and Paxton Lynch.

Mayfield’s third year saw him with a passer rating of 95.9, which seems promising even if his passer rating for the Cleveland Browns was a somewhat middling 87.8, but his organization chose to acquire a new quarterback through the trade market. Sam Darnold managed to peak at a passer rating of 84.3 in his second year before regressing in year three, only to leave the New York Jets with a franchise-specific passer rating of 78.6 at the end of that season. Trubisky likewise saw a peak in his second year (95.4) but faltered in year three (83), and the Chicago Bears era of his passer rating was a Mayfield-esque 87.2. The other three failed to start even 17 games in their careers.

Thus, while there are a number of factors that will go into an organization’s decision to extend a quarterback, for the most recent five-year span under consideration, these quarterbacks essentially needed a three-year average passer rating of at least 90 in order to be extended, and the only quarterback with a passer rating under 93 in the critical third year who stayed with his team needed to “prove it” in his fourth year–and in addition to a playoff win he almost hit the 93 passer rating benchmark, as well.

Determining Fields’ Floor

Across the last three seasons, the team with the 20th-highest number of passes in the league has averaged 33.5 pass attempts per game, whereas the 30th-highest number of passes has averaged roughly 30 pass attempts per game. Not surprisingly, then, 32 pass attempts per game is more or less on track with the average for the 25th-highest pass rate. That means that Fields would be in the bottom quarter of passers in the NFL when it comes to volume, but just barely.

Meanwhile, over the course of their careers to date, here are the catch rates, yards per target, touchdown percentage, and first down percentage of the players currently projected by many to be Fields’ top targets.


Baseline Catch % Yards per Target Touchdowns per Target 1D %
Baseline Catch % Yards per Target Touchdowns per Target 1D %
Moore 59.09% 8.44 3.41% 41.07%
Mooney 60.87% 7.29 3.34% 34.11%
Claypool 57.00% 7.45 4.10% 42.32%
Kmet 66.99% 6.79 4.37% 33.01%
Tonyan 77.84% 8.16 9.66% 39.77%
Herbert 82.14% 5.46 3.57% 28.57%

If Fields just attempts 32 passes per game across a 17-game season and throws 30% of his targets toward Moore, 20% of his attempts toward Mooney and Claypool, and 10% toward each of the others, here is what their productivity might look like without any improvement. Note that this leaves out Scott, Foreman, and Johnson as possible “upgrades” at positions, and it makes a number of assumptions about usage and health. However, this is intended as a “WAG”-type estimate.


Possible Outcome Share Catch % Catches Possible Yards Possible TDs
Possible Outcome Share Catch % Catches Possible Yards Possible TDs
Moore 30.00% 59.00% 96.29 1,377.93 5.56
Mooney 20.00% 61.00% 66.37 792.89 3.64
Claypool 20.00% 57.00% 62.02 810.99 4.46
Kmet 10.00% 67.00% 36.45 369.44 2.38
Tonyan 10.00% 78.00% 42.43 444.16 5.25
Herbert 10.00% 82.00% 44.61 297.26 1.94
Totals 100.00% N/A 348.16 4,092.67 23.23

If these parameters are generally sound, Justin Fields would be 348/544 for 4093 yards with 23 touchdowns. His career average would have him throwing 20 interceptions, as well. That would see Fields with an 85.52 passer rating, which is only a marginal improvement over his 2022 campaign, and it basically assumes that Fields is unable to elevate his play or that of the receiving threats he is playing with. It seems safe to say, however, that turning in worse than an 85 passer rating or fewer than 240 yards per game would have to be considered a disappointment simply based on the weapons Fields now has to work with. It would also leave him in the Mayfield-Darnold-Trubisky range of quarterbacks in terms of measurable performance as a passer.

Precedent For Growth

My previous look at quarterback play “out of the gate” and their eventual performance found that almost every QB in question stayed within the high mark determined by his first four starts and that 70% of quarterbacks had their career passer rating stay within 10% of their first season. For Justin Fields, this would either be a passer rating that caps at 91.9 (his third start) or 93.7 (+10% on his second season, which I am using under the argument that his first year was functionally not a true starting season under Matt Nagy).

In either case, a passer rating of 91.9 or 93.7 would be enough to place Fields in line with the 16th-best QB, Daniel Jones (92.0) to 12th-best, Kirk Cousins (93.7) passer rating in 2022. For 2021, those ranges straddle the 15th-best quarterback, Derek Carr (92.0). In terms of boxscore scouting, this would likely show itself in decreased interceptions and a slightly higher completion percentage. That level of performance would put him more or less at the thresholds attained by the first-round quarterbacks whose teams extended them. His career passer rating would likely be a little lower than most would prefer, but that does not account for what he is able to do with his legs. Ultimately, though, it is well within precedent for Fields to have a passer rating just barely within the top half of starting quarterbacks but outside of the top ten.

One of the things that is important to note when discussing a player in a game as team-dependent as football is that normally, the rate-limiting factor on improvement is not the player himself, but rather the team around him. In simple terms, a team creates an ecosystem that either supports the growth of its players or does not. Thus, one reason that quarterbacks frequently struggle to improve on their past performances is that those around them are likely performing at roughly the same level as they have previously. The ability to “change up” a team and to improve that system is limited by the practicalities of the salary cap and the draft. Only so many positions can be upgraded at one time, and If the same coach is calling similar plays, and if three of the same five people are blocking while the same three people are catching the ball, then even a player who tries to grow will be constrained.

Here, “success” for Fields would also have to be considered “success” for Ryan Poles, as well. The players around Fields who have contributed more than 50% of the offensive snaps in the last two years are Sam Mustipher (99%), Cole Kmet (88%), Cody Whitehair (83%), Darnell Mooney (75%), David Montgomery (59%), Larry Borom (54%), and James Daniels (52%). What is notable about this list is that four of the seven players listed are offensive linemen, and only one of those is currently projected to start. With David Montgomery also being replaced, more than a quarter (27%) of the offensive snaps by players over the last two years will be cycled over.

While the argument could be made that “skills” players with a history of performance will play at a comparable level to their prior seasons, they likeliest measure of improvement for an offensive line that is 60-80% revised (depending on how one considers Whitehair’s move) will in fact be increased offensive output in general. Based on typical QB pressure data, a likely avenue for this improvement would be fewer turnovers and an increased completion percentage–exactly the areas that Fields needs to see improvement.

An Optimistic Projection

The prior suggested statline (and its resulting 85.52 passer rating) already projected a 64% completion rating for Fields, which would be an increase of +4% over his 2022 performance while still only landing at the 20th-best performance from that season. As mentioned, Fields would need to see even greater accuracy (to perhaps 66%, moving him into the Top 15) without a decrease in yards per completion in order to elevate his game. That seems reasonable, if ambitious. A modest decrease in interceptions and a comparable increase in touchdowns would also be key. If the improved offensive line could simply help him make those changes, he would post a 90.95 passer rating based on 359 completions out of 544 attempts. He would also have 4,222 passing yards and 25 touchdowns but only 18 interceptions.

It’s important to note, though, that roughly speaking only ten quarterbacks a year actually play all of the regular season games. At a 15-game season, Fields would instead have 317/480, 3728 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. This would make Fields a “bubble” case for extension based on recent precedent, but that does not take into consideration his exceptional contributions as a rushing threat and his leadership ability, both of which should factor into any discussion about his contributions to the team.

Is it possible that Chicago’s offense will perform better than this in 2023? Obviously. However, reaching these marks would be an indication that Fields is at least able to take advantage of the improved tools around him and that #1 is likely to be in Chicago for the foreseeable future.