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Scheme, Usage Cloud This Call

If the Bears had drafted Mac Jones instead of Justin Fields, it's entirely unclear whether he could have performed any better to date considering the circumstances.

On April 29 Bears fans watched with joyous disbelief as a trade was announced in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, moving them from 20th overall to the Giants' spot at No. 11.

It had to be for Justin Fields, but the truth is at this point they could have also selected Mac Jones. He didn't get drafted until No. 15 by the New England Patriots.

Jones has played like a veteran. It must be asked, did the Bears make a mistake by taking Fields instead of Jones?

If a quarterback's rookie numbers are to be presumed indicative of his budding career then it would be easy to see why some believe the collaboration of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy messed up the pick.

Jones has by far the best statistics of all the rookie quarterbacks this season. His yards per pass attempt of 7.2 is decent even for a veteran. His 94.1 passer rating is better than that of many veterans, including Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, Ben Roethlisberger and Daniel Jones. He almost has a 2-1 ratio of TDs to interceptions with 13 TDs to seven interceptions. He has a 6-4 starting record. 

Jones even has run for 59 yards despite being slower than snails riding on turtles, if you listened to all the predraft hype about his 40 time.

Meanwhile, Fields struggled at times earlier to adapt his game to the pro style under Matt Nagy.

His 2-5 record as starter, four TDs to eight interceptions and 1,282 yards for nine games played never would earn him favor with the fantasy football crowd. He has fumbled eight times, although he recovered three of those back himself and a few more were covered by teammates.

Those are raw numbers. Situations are more relevant than numbers in this case.

Jones was brought into a Patriots offense well established and with an offensive line ranked in the top half of the league all year by Pro Football Focus, as well as the top 10 for much of it.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels made Jones the focus immediately. They didn't say this, but they never do say who the starter is. They don't even assign real jersey numbers to the quarterbacks at the start of Patriots practices. Still, no one seriously thought Cam Newton was going to start again after he had eight touchdown passes and 10 interceptions for a full season as the starter in 2020.

Jones has had backing from the league's sixth-ranked defense and the running game has been in the middle of the pack, currently rated 16th but 10th for rushing attempts.

Meanwhile, Fields leads the league in being sacked with 29, for a league-high 219 yards in losses. Some can be attributed to the offensive line, some to him for holding the ball too long and some to the offense as a whole for being in too many long down-and-distance situations.

Fields' 69.4 passer rating is nothing to be excited about, but it is better than Josh Allen's rating for his rookie season and it's been on the rise the past few weeks. The 6.9 yards per pass attempt by Fields is not especially good but definitely not a bad figure for a rookie.

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Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence has only a 6.0 average and Jets rookie Zach Wilson 6.5.

With 288 yards rushing, Fields easily leads all rookie quarterbacks.

Add in the fact Fields has played for a coaching staff which hasn't been able to elevate its offense out of the bottom third of the league over the last three years and it becomes entirely unclear that Jones would have necessarily been better.

What is certain is he would have been sacked plenty more times than Fields if he had played behind the Bears offensive line as constituted earlier this year, and in this offensive system instead of New England's. Even though he's faster than they gave him credit for, he's not that fast. Much of Fields' 288 yards rushing is the result of sheer panic.

As for the offensive system and coaching, Bears quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo made an interesting comment somewhat open to interpretation when he spoke Monday to reporters at Halas Hall. He was trying to explain how coaches have grown to know Fields' abilities better.

"I think when you have someone of Justin's skillset, I think you have to let him go a little bit and let him play," DeFilippo said. "I think you're seeing more comfort out of the player, as well. So we're just excited with his growth."

If Fields' skill set had been better understood initially, or if he'd been given the chance like Jones to come in and compete immediately so it could have been better understood, who knows where we'd be now? 

2021 Rookie QBs

QB, TeamStarting recordCompletions %TDs/INTsYards/Pass AttemptRating Passing Yds.

Mac Jones, Patriots

6-4

69%

13/7

7.2

94.1

2,333

Justin Fields, Bears

2-5

59.4%

4/8

6.9

69.4

1,282

Zach Wilson, Jets

1-5

57.5%

4/9

6.5

63.5

1,168

Trevor Lawrence, Jags

2-7

58%

8/9

6.0

72.1

1,983

Davis Mills, Texans

0-6

67%

7/8

6.5

80.2

1,357

Trey Lance, 49ers*

0-1

52%

3/1

7.4

88.4

354

*For only 111 plays

If Jones had been forced to play in this Bears offensive scheme and with this offense, there's little saying he'd have been more successful than Fields.

As a result, it's all but impossible to say the Bears should have drafted Jones instead.

It's a question answered more definitively several years into the league for both players.

What the Bears can hope is the rate of growth they've seen from Fields as they've "let him play" continues. If it does, he'll soon be operating at a high level like Jones.

Twitter: BearDigest@onFanNation