Bradley’s Buzz: How would Justin Fields look as a Falcon?

Justin Fields could have been Georgia’s quarterback. He became Ohio State’s quarterback. As a sophomore, he was a Heisman finalist. As a junior, he led the Buckeyes to the national championship game.

Fields could have been the Falcons’ quarterback. He was available when the new administration of Terry Fontenot and Arthur Smith exercised its first draft pick in April 2021. The Falcons opted for Kyle Pitts, the gifted tight end. Fields was taken seven picks later by the Bears. He’s now their starting quarterback. The Bears face the Falcons on Sunday.

Explore2021 draft rewind: Bears select QB Justin Fields with 11th pick

Fields is from Kennesaw. He and Trevor Lawrence of Cartersville were rated the nation’s top recruits in 2018. Lawrence became a three-year starter – and a national champ – at Clemson. Fields signed with Georgia. His first collegiate start came for Ohio State. He threw four touchdown passes that day.

Kirby Smart could win 10 national championships and there’ll be those who say, “He’s also the guy who picked Jake Fromm over Fields.” That’s true, if not the whole truth. Fromm led the Bulldogs to an SEC title and the College Football Playoff final as a freshman. Fromm was a known commodity, or so we thought.

Fromm finished fifth in passing efficiency in 2018. The freshman Fields played some, but not so much as to threaten the incumbent. Fromm had a bad day at LSU, prompting calls for Fields to be given an expanded role. For reasons still unknown, the next game was the first in which Fields played no part. Georgia routed Florida. Fromm was great.

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, faced with a not-dissimilar issue, benched senior Kelly Bryant, who’d led the Tigers to the 2017 playoff, after a rout of Georgia Tech in which Lawrence threw four touchdown passes. To be fair, Fields never had a game like that as a sub. Also to be fair, he wasn’t afforded such an extended look. At UGA, he ran more than he passed. Against LSU, he ran once for 3 yards; he didn’t throw a pass.

Fields’ only memorable moment in SEC championship loss to Alabama came when he was swarmed on a fake punt with the score tied and the Bulldogs facing fourth-and-11 at midfield. He traveled with Georgia to the Sugar Bowl against Texas but didn’t play. Georgia lost. The next day, he was in Columbus, Ohio. His request to play immediately – the transfer portal wasn’t yet operative – was granted forthwith.

Fields’ career soared at Ohio State. For reasons also unknown, Fromm’s cratered thereafter. He slipped to 51st in passing efficiency. He left Georgia with a year of eligibility remaining. He wasn’t drafted until the fifth round. He’s on his third NFL organization in three years as a member of Washington’s practice squad.

Fields is the Bears’ franchise quarterback, though there have been grumbles that he isn’t asked to throw enough. Here’s where our latest sort-of-tie-in arises. Going by stats, the NFL quarterback Fields most resembles is Marcus Mariota.

It’s understandable that the Falcons took Pitts last year. The new bosses were committed to at least one more year of Matt Ryan. Julio Jones was on his way out. Ryan needed a target to augment, um, Calvin Ridley. Now Ryan is gone – Ridley, too – and the Falcons have Mariota.

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He ranks 24th in pass attempts; Fields is 26th. Mariota ranks 28th in completion percentage; Fields is 30th. Mariota ranks ninth in ESPN’s QBR; Fields is 11th. Mariota ranks seventh among quarterbacks in rushing yards; Fields is first. The Falcons rank fourth in rushing; the Bears are first. The Falcons rank 30th in passing yards; the Bears are 32nd. The Falcons are 4-6; the Bears are 3-7.

It’s an oversimplification to say the Falcons could have had Fields, which doesn’t make it untrue. Drafting Fields with Ryan’s contract on the books wouldn’t have made short-term sense. Hindsight, as hindsight often is, is less forgiving. Smith would have the sort of quarterback he apparently likes, and that quarterback would be 23, not 29, and on a long-term contract, not a one-and-done deal.

This much is undeniable. The Falcons have been in the market for their quarterback of the future for a while. Maybe that quarterback is Desmond Ridder. If not, they’re still in the market.

The above is part of a regular exercise, written and collated by yours truly, available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Bradley’s Buzz, which includes more opinions and extras like a weekly poll, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We’d be obliged if you’d give it a try.

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