It was all part of the plan.
Justin Fields took a quick step to his right, flipped his hips and suddenly started to roll to the other side of a would-be formation. As Fields continued to drift to his left, he launched a pass with a tight spiral destined to travel roughly 65 yards into the air. As receiver C.J. Saunders tracked the ball underneath, the vocal rumblings grew from whispers into an applause.
The pass hit Saunders in stride, giving Fields the moment he hoped for heading into his final opportunity to impress NFL personnel with his talent.
This pass, thrown against air and without defenders, was part of a play script crafted well before Tuesday. Much like BYU quarterback Zach Wilson a week ago, Fields planned for that wow-factor moment, which was what he was striving for on that particular throw.
“We were showing them me escaping the pocket and getting my hips turned,” Fields said. “It was one of my top throws of the day. C.J. is a great receiver, a great person all in all, a great leader and a guy you want on your team and a guy you want to be around. Of course I think that was one of my best throws of the day.”
Leading into Tuesday’s pro day, Fields, along with Wilson, trained with former BYU and NFL quarterback John Beck. Beck led Fields’ portion of pro day and was responsible for preparing him for the play. That was what Beck did with Wilson for his pro day as well, when the young quarterback rolled to his left before dropping a perfect pass deep down the middle of the field.
Thanks to Beck’s design, both quarterbacks got what they were looking for in their throwing performances.
“It’s actually funny. Me and Zach were both working out in California so we pretty much had a similar script in terms of what throws we were hitting, probably just different movements,” Fields said. “That throw was on there before I even left California. I thought I could show that throw off and that’s what I showed (at pro day).”
Fields and Wilson are among the top four quarterbacks in this year’s draft class, with both capable of being selected in the first five picks. In what is regarded as one of the most quarterback-rich groups in recent NFL history, Fields, a Kennesaw native who played high school football at Harrison, used pro day as a means to potentially separate himself from the other top-tier quarterbacks not named Trevor Lawrence, the expected top overall pick.
In addition to his impressive outing throwing the football, Fields showed off how fast he is by clocking a time of 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash. To put this time in perspective, the only quarterback to run a faster time at the NFL scouting combine was Robert Griffin III, who ran the 40 in 4.41 seconds. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL did not host a traditional scouting combine this year.
Although Fields’ time is incredibly fast for a quarterback, he wasn’t too pleased with the time.
“Everyone knows my goal in the 40-yard dash was to at least be in the 4.3s,” Fields said. “Of course, I’m kind of mad about that. I thought I threw pretty well. I had a few missed throws but that happens. Every pro day is not going to be perfect.”
Over the past two years at Ohio State, Fields emerged as one of the top players in college football, which included being a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in 2019. In both of his seasons with the Buckeyes, Fields combined to complete 68.4% of his passes for 5,373 yards, 63 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
His best performance was arguably against Clemson in this past season’s Sugar Bowl, which served as a semifinal game in the College Football Playoff. Fields completed 22 of 28 throws for 385 yards, six touchdowns and an interception in a 49-28 victory.
His stellar two seasons came after beginning his career at Georgia in 2018, when he backed up former starter Jake Fromm. Fields transferred after his lone season and received an NCAA waiver to play immediately at Ohio State.
The move paid off handsomely for Fields and the Buckeyes with two consecutive trips to the playoff.
The Falcons sent an impressive group to Ohio State’s campus to see the Peach State product work out, with general manager Terry Fontenot, coach Arthur Smith and offensive coordinator Dave Ragone all making the trip. With Fontenot preferring a best player available strategy in the draft, Fields could be an option for the Falcons since they hold the fourth overall pick.
Since the draft process began, the greatest criticism levied on Fields has been that he doesn’t move through his reads at a level suited for the NFL. With his pro day outing, Fields hopes to have put those concerns to rest, even if his critics aren’t the main source of his motivation.
“My drive, my wanting to be great, my willingness to be great comes from inside,” Fields said. “To be honest, if everybody on the outside was telling me how great I was and I hadn’t reached the level of potential I think I can reach, that drive and willingness is coming from inside of me. I try not to pay attention to the outside voices because at the end of the day they have their opinions but they don’t really know what’s going on inside of the building or inside of a certain offense. My dedication and passion to be great comes from within.”