The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
One play defines Justin Fields' rookie season. The Bears lined up at the 49ers' 22-yard line running a Matt Nagy play call that brought ten 49ers to the line of scrimmage. At the snap, Arik Armstead sprints unblocked into the backfield off the right as Fields rolls blindly into him. Fields flips his head, spots Armstead, and cuts inside, where he makes four different 49ers defenders miss unblocked attempts on his change of direction. Hitting the edge on the left side, he breaks up the sideline picking up blocks from Jason Peters and Darnell Mooney; Fields outruns the defense to score and make the game 23-22 with 9:32 left. The Bears would miss the extra point and eventually lose the game 33-22. Still, that play illustrated concerns with Matt Nagy's playcalling, weakness along the offensive line, weapons that forced him to create for himself, and his ability to pull through.
Fields is no stranger to adversity, especially for the number three overall quarterback recruit since 2000 in 247's composite score. He traveled 29 minutes down the road to the University of Georgia. Still, after sitting his first year behind Jake Fromm and a famous incident with a university baseball player, he transferred to Ohio State. In his first year starting, his 3,273 passing yards were fourth in single-season school history, while his 41 touchdowns ranked third. The team blew through their regular season undefeated before a crushing defeat to Clemson and recruiting class rival and 247s number two overall quarterback Trevor Lawrence. Fields found himself in a leadership position across college football as he led the players' campaign to allow the Big Ten to resume play during 2020's uncertain times. Successful, Fields led another undefeated regular season, finally topping Lawrence in the playoff before losing the championship to Alabama in his final game.
Fields will enter the 2022 fantasy football season with adversity. Nagy is gone, and new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy must position Fields to succeed with the scheme as skill talent will downgrade. How will Getsy utilize Fields' talents? Can the team's skill players allow Fields to succeed? And more importantly, for our purposes, what is Fields' ceiling for the 2022 fantasy season?
The RPOs Have Arrived
Collegiate offensive elements dominate Getsy's past, from serving as wide receiver coach on P.J. Fleck's Western Michigan staff to offensive coordinator at Joe Moorhead's Mississippi St program. He has been a part of bringing these elements into the NFL game, as our Dave Kluge laid out on the impact these have had on Aaron Rodgers. These elements have proven to put defenses into conflict and create favorable conditions for the offense. They have ripped throughout the NFL game, especially as means to unlock athletic quarterbacks in offenses that look much closer to a college-level spread run attack.
And they are a cheat code in fantasy football.
The top of fantasy football quarterback rankings and the top of the run-pass option (RPO) pass percentage are almost mirrors. Patrick Mahomes II, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, and Jalen Hurts all run between 13.7% and 22% of their pass attempts via RPO plays. These quarterbacks also rely on play-action passes, a natural element with the chaos and eye candy created in the backfield. Every one of these players uses this motion on at least 22% of their pass attempts.
The team did not afford Fields these luxuries. Only 2.96% of Fields' pass attempts came off RPO; the only other quarterbacks with 200 pass attempts and less RPO action were Baker Mayfield, Kirk Cousins, and Tom Brady. Fields was also rarely afforded the benefit of play-action; only 18% of his attempts were in that scheme. A potential knee jerk to this may be that Fields struggled in these situations, but he created 6.23 yards per RPO opportunity, a shade behind Mahomes and Rodgers at 6.79 and 6.67, respectively. Boil it down to passing attempts, and Fields averaged 9.375 yards per attempt, much higher than his average of 6.93 yards. All numbers from ProFootballReference.com.
Getsy will almost surely bring elements of the Green Bay offense along with his creative scheme, putting Fields in a favorable position to succeed. Nagy forcing Fields to pay with one hand behind his back factors into his rookie year evaluation.
His Weapons Prevent Success
A familiar drumbeat is Fields lacks the weapons to produce as a top quarterback. One can easily debunk this narrative. First, it ignores the value of quarterbacks' rushing yards. For fantasy football purposes, Fields taking the rushing load upon his shoulders is a good thing. No one needs to be bored with the equation yet again; we all know rushing yards outweigh passing yards in fantasy points, but where this point often gets lost is how low the floor for rushing value sits.
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