Why I'll be stunned if Justin Fields doesn't break Ohio State's NFL quarterback curse
Believe what you want when it comes to smoke screens about Justin Fields heading into the home stretch of the NFL Draft. If there is a growing sentiment within NFL circles that Fields somehow lacks the traits needed to be a franchise quarterback, we’ll find out soon enough.
What’s undeniable is that Fields is trying to become something Ohio State has never had: a legitimate NFL franchise quarterback.
History doesn’t favor the Buckeyes. If that’s what’s working against Fields during the pre-draft process, well, let’s just say it wouldn’t be a surprise. What would be a surprise is if Fields isn’t the first to finally break through.
We should probably start with a history lesson because not enough people are aware of just how rough it’s been for Buckeyes quarterbacks in the NFL. They’d look at the fact that between Troy Smith, Braxton Miller, Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields, 6 of the last 15 B1G Offensive Player of the Year awards went to Ohio State quarterbacks. Of course, those guys, so far, have a combined 20 career touchdown passes in the NFL. Throw J.T. Barrett in there and that number doesn’t change.
Here’s the list of Ohio State’s drafted quarterbacks in the 21st century:
- 2002: Steve Bellisari
- 2004: Craig Krenzel
- 2007: Troy Smith
- 2011: Terrelle Pryor
- 2016: Cardale Jones
- 2019: Dwayne Haskins
(No, Ohio State. You cannot count Joe Burrow as a Buckeyes quarterback in the NFL because, technically, he was drafted out of LSU.)
Actually, let’s back up a second. Do we realize just how deep this drought goes?
It’s almost unfair to call it a drought because a drought implies that there was once rainfall. It’s a curse, if anything. The Buckeyes have never had a quarterback make a Pro Bowl. In fact, the infamous Art Schlichter was the first drafted Ohio State quarterback to throw an NFL touchdown pass (he had 3 in his short-lived NFL career).
Here’s all you need to know. Tom Tupa ranks tied for No. 3 on Ohio State’s all-time list for touchdown passes in the NFL (12), and he’s better known as a punter. He’s tied with Haskins, AKA the guy who looks like a bust after 2 years in the league. Kent Graham is No. 2 with 39, and the undrafted Mike Tomczak, AKA the guy who backed up the oft-injured Jim McMahon on the 1985 Chicago Bears, is No. 1 with 88.
To recap, here’s your Mount Rushmore of Ohio State quarterbacks in the NFL, strictly based on career TD passes:
- 1. Mike Tomczak, 88
- 2. Kent Graham, 39
- T3. Dwayne Haskins, 12
- T3. Tom Tupa, 12
Woof. By the way, Tom Brady at age 43, threw 40 touchdown passes. If you just took Brady’s age 41-43 seasons, he’d be No. 1 on Ohio State’s all-time list of career NFL touchdown passes.
(Come on, Buckeyes fans. Let Michigan have that.)
The first Ohio State quarterback drafted in the NFL was Don Scott. He went No. 9 overall to the Chicago Bears in 1941, but he instead volunteered to fly planes in World War II, where he died before he ever played in the league.
After Scott, it took another 41 years for the Buckeyes to have a quarterback drafted in the first round. That was Art Schlichter. Yikes. Then Haskins in 2019 was the only other Ohio State quarterback drafted in Round 1.
So among Round 1 quarterbacks out of Columbus, the bar really couldn’t be any lower for Fields. You’ve got a war hero who never played in the NFL, one of the biggest busts in NFL history and a Year 3 guy who already got released by the team that drafted him.
And for what it’s worth, I was one of the people banging the drum for Haskins 2 years ago. When the Giants drafted Daniel Jones ahead of him, I thought it was absurd to pick the middle-of-the-pack guy from Duke as opposed to the guy who put together arguably the best season we’d ever seen from a B1G quarterback. Jones doesn’t look like a smart pick, but picking Haskins ahead of him might’ve been even worse for the Giants.
Haskins, perhaps more than the 22 Ohio State quarterbacks drafted before him, could certainly be at the root of some of the anti-Fields arguments. He was the only one of that group who played in Ryan Day’s offense. If there’s a belief that Day’s offense doesn’t lend itself to making quick decisions, that will only be proven wrong if Fields becomes an NFL star.
That hasn’t really been at the forefront of the public criticism, though. Dan Orlovsky’s comments from “people in the know” let to an immediate backlash in support of Fields, including comments from Day that praised his work ethic and how he inspired Ohio State during the weird COVID offseason.
Day is right. Orlovsky’s comments were reckless, even though he apologized for sharing what he’d heard. To say that Fields, who was at the forefront of the #WeWantToPlay movement, lacks a desire to want to be great was reckless in every sense of the word. That’s only going to add fuel to Fields’ fire, especially if he slips in the draft.
That’s not to say Fields is undoubtedly the best quarterback in the draft based on what Day said or because his college stats were remarkable (63-9 TD-INT, 68%, 9.3 yards/attempt and 15 rushing TDs in 2 seasons at Ohio State). Look no further than past Ohio State quarterbacks to see that gaudy college stats don’t equal sure-fire NFL production. And Fields is by no means a perfect prospect.
Everyone knows about the flaws shown in games against Indiana and Northwestern. Fields forced the action in situations where elite defensive minds were determined not to let the passing game take over. Fields also has a tendency to wait a bit too long in the pocket and not use that mobility a bit sooner.
Are both of those things coachable? Absolutely. Fields can get out of those collapsing pockets, which is partially why his mental clock is different than the viewer at home. Burrow was like that in college, too. He got to the NFL and realized he couldn’t escape everything and that he was taking too many unnecessary hits, so he adjusted. Fields, I expect, will have a similar approach. It’s not that he lacks mobility, by any means.
As for the ability to read coverages and not force the action, Fields started 22 games and had 2 bad ones. The guy was at the top of every scouting report imaginable during that time. By the way, that included the Clemson game that was after those 2 aforementioned clunkers, and we all know what happened that night.
You know what? During this anti-Fields movement during the pre-draft process, I feel like we need a reminder of what he did to Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers:
Good morning Jets fans here are all six TD passes from Justin Fields’ legendary performance against Clemson. pic.twitter.com/8O6Kw7NuJz
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) January 2, 2021
That was one of best, and gutsiest, college performances we’ve ever seen. And sure, there’s credit to be given to Day for scheming open some of those looks. But Fields didn’t become fixated on his first read that night, which is exactly what one could’ve hoped for after Indiana and Northwestern clearly feasted on that.
Oh, what about the throwing motion, you ask?
Come on. Fields isn’t Tim Tebow as a passer. Watch him uncork 1 deep ball and you’ll see the release is by no means slow developing. And that’s not based on that viral Pro Day throw, which was impressive but still without a pass rush and pads.
This, courtesy of Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson, is my favorite reply to that notion so far:
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) April 2, 2021
It’s entirely possible that all the anti-Fields takes are being fueled by teams that don’t want to fork over the high price needed to get into the top 4. Haskins could have a massively different impact on Fields’ draft stock than Deshaun Watson had on Lawrence’s.
What seems unlikely is that the Jets take Fields instead of Zach Wilson at No. 2. For whatever reason, the draft world is convinced that Wilson possesses more next-level traits than Fields, yet the former hasn’t started against a Power 5 team since Sept. 2019. In fact, none of Wilson’s 5 career starts against Power 5 competition were particularly good — he had 1 multi-TD pass game and 0 games with 300 passing yards — yet it’s Fields who continues to face heat for what he did against Top 25 Indiana and Northwestern. Bizarre.
Whatever the case, it might actually work out better for Fields not to wind up in New York. He could instead land with a team like Carolina, who has former LSU savior Joe Brady. Or perhaps Fields will somehow fall to New England and get to work with Josh McDaniels.
If and when that happens, the pieces will be perfectly in place for Fields to end the Ohio State NFL quarterback drought.