Matt Waldman’s RSP Film Room takes a deep dive into Justin Field’s 2020 tape and sees a lot of parallels between Fields and Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
Note: The 15-minute analysis at the end of this article is not on my YouTube Channel or Twitter.
Mainstream quarterback analysis is so superficial. Think I’m wrong? Most fans will have a visceral reaction to the idea that Justin Fields and Josh Allen are comparable players.
You probably did when you read the title of this analysis and opted to click on it. Trust me, many fans probably saw this title and decided not to click because the title seemed so wrongheaded to them that they went elsewhere.
Justin Fields may not look like Allen in all the various ways you could compare them, but the essence of where Allen was at the point Fields is right now is the same.
Both are big, strong, and swift runners who have the skill to navigate the pocket and earn chunks of yards with their legs. Neither knew when not to be the hero and it lead to cringe-worthy TV.
They thought their arms could slice the nanosphere between their receiver and a defensive back, their legs could make that one extra move and the world would open up for them, or that they were accurate enough to deliver the ball at an angle that would blue-screen a Madden game if you tried it at home while your video game passer was fading away from the grasp of multiple defenders.
Yet with both, there were moments on their college tape where you saw the potential for a beautiful future. Incremental navigation of compressed pockets while processing multiple reads, and delivering pinpoint-accurate targets that display an understanding of leverage and timing.
Allen needed time to figure out when the Superman act was ill-advised and how to prepare ahead like Lex Luthor. The Bills supported this development plan well, letting Allen be a one-read-wonder who tucked and ran as a rookie in situations that would be a throw to a second- or third-read two years later. Buffalo took a few years to build an offense with levels of crossing routes that supported how Allen best plays the game.
Fields may not need Allen’s offense (although it would be a good match), but he will need a similar support system that lets him get acclimated to the speed of the game while slowly transitioning from his style of one-man-gang, hero-ball to a refined decision-maker with star-caliber physical tools.
The report that Fields made alarmingly few reads beyond his first in the Ohio State offense is inaccurate when talking about the number of reads tracked. However, the spirit of the critique has some truth.
Fields can go 2-3 quarters at a time without making more than one read. So do a lot of college quarterbacks in offenses that use RPOs and misdirection schemes to leverage the legs of their passers.
Baker Mayfield played in a Lincoln Riley offense at Oklahoma where the “first read” with a lot of his plays was really window dressing—an embedded look-off by design—to set up the “second read” that was truly the primary option on the play.
The truer statement about Fields is, that like many of the smartest NFL quarterbacks in the game, he has a slow processor in situations where only the fastest processor will do. A lot of people conflate processing with intelligence. When they heard that some NFL scouts believe Fields has a slow processor, they believe it’s a hit-job directed at the young quarterback.
Some have even labeled it a racially-tinged, assassination attempt of the player’s draft capital.
Fields has more than enough intelligence to be an NFL quarterback. The problem is that most people don’t understand what processing means for quarterbacking.
Processing the field encompasses identifying and acting in a timely manner. It’s a product of intelligence, familiarity, intuition, and confidence. Alex Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick are two of the most intelligent quarterbacks in football if you judge this characteristic in the limited manner of the academics of football.
The Wonderlic, whiteboarding, and play-call verbiage recall are all culturally-biased, football academic exercises where the young men who had the resources to learn to take tests well perform better than those that didn’t. Although Smith and Fitzpatrick epitomize what the product of soccer moms and golf dads’ resources can provide to develop the academic smarts for any endeavor, neither has proven to possess a top-flight processor as a quarterback.
If you want to learn more about processing speed and what’s required, read this article.
Fields has similar issues as Smith and Fitzpatrick. From what I see every year, 18-25 of the NFL starters at the position do. The best quarterbacks in the league have quick enough processors to make the 3-5 plays every week that their peers only make on occasion, if ever.
It’s those 3-5 plays that are the difference in most games. Teams know that they need to build their schemes and talent around these 18-25 quarterbacks in ways that reduce or eliminate the need for their passers to encounter these situations.
Opposing defenses want to force these quarterbacks into these 3-5 situations. The best quarterbacks are the ones that can get painted into a corner schematically and they’re forced to make these plays that occur 3-5 times during a game. Win even 1-2 of them during a contest, and you’re in the game.
It’s that tight of a margin for error in the NFL. It’s why the news media is predictably cyclical about quarterbacking. For a span of years, you’ll hear about a shortage of quality passers. Then, after a 2-3 period where a handful of rookies show promise for their first 8-16 games and the top veteran options are still in their prime, they’ll quiet down for a year or two until they discover that most of those young talents also have difficulty with those 3-5 plays as their offenses scramble to try to reduce the frequency of these moments occurring on a weekly basis.
Fields is a bonafide NFL quarterback prospect with a high ceiling. In an ideal world, Fields would have stayed in college for another year. As you’ll see below, Fields has the physical and technical skills of a top prospect but his conceptual and intuitive grasp of the position requires more maturation. In other words, he’s a lot like most top quarterback prospects of the past 10 years in this respect, just with a big arm and dynamic legs.
For the most in-depth analysis of offensive skill players available (QB, RB, WR, and TE), download the 2021 Rookie Scouting Portfolio for $21.95.
Matt’s new RSP Dynasty Rankings and Two-Year Projections Package is available for $24.95
If you’re a fantasy owner and interested in purchasing past publications for $9.95 each, the 2012-2020 RSPs also have a Post-Draft Add-on that’s included at no additional charge.
Best yet, a percentage of each sale is set aside for a year-end donation to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse.