Justin Fields’ draft-night wait at his family home in Kennesaw went a little later into Thursday night than many foresaw. Three quarterbacks went – bang, bang, bang – with the first three picks. One was an FCS player from North Dakota State, Trey Lance. But none was named Fields.
Ten picks in, Fields was still dangling out there. Then the Chicago Bears – a quarterbacking wasteland for decades now – traded up with the New York Giants for the 11th pick. A quarterback had to be on their mind. Now which one would they pluck from the most recent college national championship game – Alabama’s Mac Jones or Ohio State’s Fields?
With the 11th pick the Bears chose Justin Fields.
Speaking moments after the selection, Fields invoked his experience at Georgia – which famously stayed with Jake Fromm over him during Fields’ freshman season – as one that helped him through this night.
“I’ve gone through situations where I haven’t been chosen, and the world has seen the outcome of that,” he said. “My goal now is to not worry about those teams (that passed on him). Those teams have nothing to do with me. My goal if we play (them) is to beat them. The draft is over for me. For me personally, I’m ready to get to work.”
Of the wait, he added, “I felt like my family was more nervous than me. I’ve been in so many different situations in my life where I think I want something, but God has a different plan for me. I put my full trust in God; he has put me in a perfect place for me. Whatever his will is, is what’s going to happen. I’m excited to be a part of this organization.”
The Bears are getting a 22-year-old who was identified as special from his time at Harrison High, where he was one of the two top quarterback recruits in the country, along with Thursday’s No. 1 overall pick from Clemson, Cartersville’s Trevor Lawrence. Two of the top 11 picks Thursday grew up within 20 miles of each other.
Initially, of course, Fields chose Georgia, where he made cameo appearances as a freshman behind Fromm in 2018. Apparent as it was that Kirby Smart was going to stay with Fromm, Fields transferred to Ohio State before the ’19 season. Good call, for in Columbus, Fields fully explored his talents.
As a sophomore at Ohio State, he ranked third in the nation in touchdown passes – 41, to only three interceptions. A Heisman Trophy finalist, he lost to Clemson and Lawrence in the national semifinal game, his final pass of a 29-23 loss intercepted in the end zone.
The 2020 season may have been thrown into confusion by COVID-19, but Fields still had ample opportunity to measure himself against the best of this quarterback draft class. He would have his day in a semifinal rematch with Clemson’s Lawrence, throwing for a Sugar Bowl-record six touchdown passes in a 21-point Buckeyes victory. But Alabama and Jones (464 yards, five touchdowns) overwhelmed him in the national championship game (Fields was 17-of-33 for one touchdown and no interceptions in his final college game).
Over two seasons with the Buckeyes, he went 19-0 in the regular season, won a pair of Big Ten titles to go with the dual trips to the College Football Playoff. Fields was 296-of-579 passing for 5,373 yards, 63 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
He also had 867 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground. As if to add an exclamation point to those numbers, he ran an unofficial 4.44 40 at Ohio State’s Pro Day, the second fastest time for a quarterback in 15 years. That, plus all the high-value games in which he’s played, combined with a 6-foot-3, 227-pound frame makes him an intriguing combination of speed, strength and experience.
“My No. 1 strength I would say is showing up in big moments,” Fields said Thursday. “I think when big moments present themselves, I feel like there is another thing that kicks inside of me. Playing well on big stages I think is definitely one of my strengths.”
There will be no homecoming for Fields. After Lawrence (Jacksonville), BYU’s Zach Wilson (New York Jets) and North Dakota State’s Lance (San Francisco) went with the first three picks, Fields was there for the Falcons at No. 4. But they opted for Florida tight end Kyle Pitts.
During the offseason the Bears signed veteran quarterback Andy Dalton, at the time proclaiming him their “QB1” in a Tweet. It was his understanding he was coming in as the latest Bears starter, following in the humble footsteps there of the recent likes of Brian Hoyer, Mitchell Trubisky, Mike Glennon, Chase Daniel and Nick Foles.
That scenario was rewritten Thursday night.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution