Sam Crnic looks at Justin Fields‘ 2019 film to project his outlook for the remainder of the 2020 season and the 2021 NFL draft.
As Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields blazes through the 2020 college football season while on his way to becoming a top-two pick in the 2021 NFL draft, it’s worth taking a look at his 2019 film to gauge his progress up to this point. What were the strengths that he needed to build upon, and what were the weaknesses that he needed to clean up?
Let’s dive into the foundation that Fields set for himself in his first season as a Buckeye.
Justin Fields’ 2019 season recap
Long gone is the era of pocket passers, where only those who can go off-script prevail. Looking at some of the game’s youngest stars at quarterback – Kyler Murray, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson – all of them complement the run game just as efficiently as they complement the passing game.
Looking back at Fields’ 2019 season, efficiency is the theme. After transferring from Georgia, Fields was voted the Big Ten’s offensive player and quarterback of the year as a 20-year-old true sophomore. He threw for 43 touchdowns and only three interceptions, becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist along the way. Throwing for 3,273 yards as well, it only took Justin 354 pass attempts (25.3 per game) to put together one of the best statistical seasons for an Ohio State quarterback. His average of 9.2 yards per attempt ranked fifth among Power 5 quarterbacks.
In terms of passer rating, Fields’ mark of 181.4 ranked third in the nation behind future NFL draftees Joe Burrow and Jalen Hurts, while it stands as the best single-season number in Ohio State history (a record he may break again this year). In addition, Fields became the first quarterback since the 2000 season to throw for more than 40 touchdowns and three or fewer interceptions.
As efficient of a passer as Fields is, his ability to open up the run game on zone reads was one of the many reasons Ohio State made it back to the College Football Playoff. Fields ran for 10 touchdowns to bring his total to 51 touchdowns on the season.
Using Ohio State’s All-22 coaches film from 2019, we will dig into the many positive aspects of Fields’ game, but also the areas of weakness where he had to improve coming into 2020. This is not a complete scouting report of Justin; I’ll be digging deeper into his 2020 film as the 2021 NFL draft approaches. Today, we will be focusing on his 2019 sophomore season.
While Fields wasn’t yet the most refined at reading coverages at the college level, his 2019 season was filled with an exceptional amount of anticipatory throws.
In the first play, Justin reads zone and exposes it based on the route combination.
Without any pre-snap motion from the offense, Fields makes the assumption that Clemson is showing and playing a one-high safety look with either man or zone coverage. Off the snap, Fields sees zone and immediately looks towards the slot receiver near the bottom of the screen. The one-high safety seen before the snap drops down to play the middle hook zone with another defensive back dropping back from the line of scrimmage to play the deep middle.
Once the wide receiver breaks inside following his stem, Fields bullets a pass between the middle hook and deep middle zone to where only the receiver can catch it. As the video shows, Fields releases this ball before the receiver can even pass the middle zone safety; a great example of Fields’ usage of anticipation. In addition, the throw is low enough, so the pass-catcher isn’t blown up by the deep middle defensive back. At the NFL level, receivers take note of which quarterbacks can do that for their teammates.
In the next clip, Fields releases the ball even before his teammate turns his back, trusting the wide receiver to gain enough separation following his break: