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A Good, Bad and Ugly Rookie Season

Analysis: Justin Fields was all over the place when it came to throwing the ball as a rookie, and it's here where Luke Getsy needs to start molding a quarterback and not a thrower.

Using every form of measurement imaginable except possibly inseam and ear hole size, the various web-based NFL quarterback power rankings determined Justin Fields rates somewhere in the bottom third of the game's starting quarterbacks.

Whether it was Greg Rosenthal of NFL Network ranking him 28th out of 62 quarterbacks who were judged, Pro Football Focus making him 26th using its "Bayesian QB rankings," Mike Tannenbaum of ESPN putting him at 21st or Pro Football Network tabbing him an abysmal 31st, Fields didn't really make the kind of statistical rookie impact fantasy football lovers would have liked. Disappointing fantasy players isn't the worst thing anyone can do in life but so many of these ratings made are created with this in mind so at least know from whence these people come.

PFF made Fields the quarterback for their All-Jameis Winston Team, their rookies with Jekyll-and-Hyde complexes. This is creative, if nothing else.

It would all be cause for concern if much of it was based on simple cut-and-dried numbers, what actually transpired, and not some subjective, judgmental metric.

One example of this garbage is how Fields ranked 15th out of 45 rookie quarterback starters in the last 12 seasons at turnover-worthy plays.

One man's turnover-worthy play is another man's lucky break, is another man's anguish because he failed to make a play on the ball.

Too much judgment involved in anything turns it into garbage, like the ice skating in the Winter Olympics or diving/gymnastics in the warm Olympics.

It was ESPN's Kevin Seifert who during the late 2021 season put Fields in the company of Jimmy Clausen, Blaine Gabbert, Josh Rosen and Zach Wilson in an article because of his very low ESPN-generated pseudo-stat of QBR. He conveniently left off Jared Goff, who rated worse as a rookie than all of those quarterbacks except Clausen and quarterbacked his team in the Super Bowl within three seasons.

It didn't take a lot of contrived, subjective metrics to determine Fields failed to live up to what many hoped as a rookie.

Anyone who watched his games could see it. The 2-8 record by the Bears in his starts said a lot, as well.

Fields was inconsistent, entirely all over the place like a bee, butterfly or moth trying to figure out where to land. 

Look at who he had leading him, though.

There were moments of brilliance and many moments of disaster, but far too many instances where Fields simply failed to make a play that needed to be made to help move the chains, whether it was on first down, second down or third down. He always seemed focused on bigger strikes but struggled to know when it was best simply to live for another play.

A successful quarterback's career is not made of Patrick Mahomes style blind, miracle, side-armed throws. Even Mahomes' success is not based on this, although he makes those side-armed throws look awfully good.

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Rather, it is all about making the necessary plays to move the chains, and then producing occasional brilliance in the face of adversity.

Fields' season wasn't brilliant. It truly was the good, the bad and the ugly.

The same was said for Josh Allen after 2018, but last month he played a game for the ages. So there is hope for Bears fans.

Here is Fields' season in a nutshell.

The Good

  • Highlight pass plays on the move like the 8-yard TD rolling left to Jesse James against San Francisco or the 16-yard spot-on TD pass to Darnell Mooney rolling left against Pittsburgh.
  • Highlight runs like the 22-yard TD scramble against San Francisco.
  • Effective scrambling much of the season. In fact, with his 72 runs for 420 yards, Fields averaged 5.8 yards per rush. That was far better than Lamar Jackson did (4.7) as a rookie.

The Bad

  • The same highlight pass plays like those just described. Not that they were bad in and of themselves. They were brilliant. There just weren't enough of them and that is bad. Seven touchdown passes in 10 starts and 12 games isn't getting the job done, even for rookies. Sure, many of the spectacular plays he made were things other quarterbacks could never do, but he also made too many mistakes other quarterbacks would never make. Hence, the Jameis Winston tag.
  • Eight straight defeats by the Bears in his last eight starts. Some people don't like using wins as a quarterback stat. I'll take a quarterback who stinks at all the contrived stats in the world as long as he has an .800 winning percentage and his team is playing in the Super Bowl. Wins mean something. Sure, it's reflective of the team as a whole, but this is the greatest team sport and the quarterback is part of the team. Any quarterback would rather be known as a winner than just another arm. Tom Brady led the NFL in passing touchdowns five times in his ridiculously long career and won seven Super Bowls. Not once did he win the Super Bowl in a season when he led the NFL in passing touchdowns. Which of those do you think mean more to him, the Super Bowl wins or the years when he led the NFL in passing TDs?
  • A passer rating of 73.2 is nothing to write home about. Sure, it's better than rookies Zach Wilson (69.7) and Trevor Lawrence (71.9) this year or the horrendous 67.9 Josh Allen posted as a rookie, but not as good as Mitchell Trubisky (77.5) or Dwayne Haskins (76.1) or Sam Darnold (77.6). There's this guy who posted a 71.1 passer rating as a rookie. His last name is Manning and he's in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Passer rating is an objective stat based on a formula determined by someone decades ago with nothing better to do at the time. It's often reflective of what everyone can tell with the naked eye—that a guy isn't playing well.  But yeah, Fields' rating was bad.
  • Holding the ball too long. NFL Next Gen stats says Fields averaged 2.91 seconds to get rid of the ball. Only Jalen Hurts, Winston, Russell Wilson, Taylor Heinicke, Lamar Jackson and Teddy Bridgewater took longer. Is this the end of the world? Does he need to get rid of it faster? Yes and no. It would help cut down the fumbles and the 3.3 sacks he took per game. And, yeah, Aaron Rodgers, Brady and Joe Burrow are in the top 10 at getting rid of it quickly. But then again, Andy Dalton was sixth fastest getting rid of it and he took 18 sacks in only six starts. Ben Roethlisberger, Tyler Huntley, Tua Tagaovailoa and Davis Mills were in the top 10, too, and no one was putting them in a Pro Bowl last year.

And the Ugly

  • The fumbles. Fields fumbled it 12 times, not the most in the league, only fourth overall, but the most among rookies. Next most was Lawrence with nine and he started 17 games while Fields started 10. The 12 fumbles was more than anyone in the league had fumbled in the previous season. Fields recovered five fumbles but even those can be drive killers, particularly when they came on a sack. Protect the football. It's a simple thing that wins games, or at the very least keeps teams from losing them. Learning to throw the ball away might help alleviate the strip-sack issue.
  • The interceptions. Fields threw 10 interceptions in 270 passes. His interception percentage of 3.7% was the worst of this draft class for anyone with at least four starts. In fact, it was the worst of any rookie passer the last three years provided they started at least four games. It doesn't need to be the end of the world. In 2017, Deshaun Watson was even worse at 3.8% interceptions but he kind of made up for this by putting it in the end zone. Fields will find some of his interceptions are easier to forget if he puts it in the end zone more often. 

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