Right now, we’re seeing the dying embers of a superb group of quarterbacks that includes the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Matt Ryan – all of whom are still performing very well – as well as a superstar class of young play-callers already dominating the league.
The breakouts of QBs like Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Josh Allen over the last few years, with three of those standing atop the quarterback rankings as of October 21, have given NFL fans somewhat of an unfairly skewed set of expectations for top-class young QBs. Coming into the season, Chicago Bears fans and many other football pundits had newly selected Justin Fields earmarked for quick success in the NFL.
The Bears decided to trade up for the highly-rated prospect on April 29, sending the 20th pick, a 2021 fifth-round, 2022 first-round, and 2022 fourth-round. A lot of capital was invested in the fleet-footed, modern QB, but as the halfway mark approached in the season, Fields had struggled a great deal. Luckily, although his efforts will be alarming to most and haven’t helped Chicago’s divisional prospects, a poor first season doesn’t spell doom.
High expectations quickly quashed for Fields
On September 26, the Justin Fields era at Soldier Field officially arrived, with the 11th overall pick getting the start in place of the injured Andy Dalton and then being given the starting role permanently. It’s been tough going, even though he has been able to flash some brilliance on occasion. Still, the nine sacks that he received in his starting debut looked to be a sign of things to come.
By his fourth start, and including his two cameo roles in the first couple of games, Fields had secured two wins, but had only thrown two touchdowns, hit a completion rate of 53.5 percent, and had only run for 102 yards. The statistics haven’t been great, but Fields’ read of the game has won over some of the harsher critics already. Plus, he’s already a star in Chicago, standing as the fourth-highest selling jersey from August 1 to September 9 – even with the NFL Shop selling the game jerseys for $119.99 each.
Still 3-3 in the NFC North, Fields’ obvious talent and gradual improvement has the Bears in good standing. Prior to the season, they were only expected to get six wins all season, and still stand 23rd overall in the power rankings after seven weeks. Still, the Bears are dark horse contenders for the NFC North as of October 21, at +1600 in the divisional outright NFL betting odds online, but unfortunately, the Green Bay Packers are the experts’ choice at -1000 with a 5-1 record. That said, a good run could put Chicago in Wild Card contention.
There’s still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding this Bears team under Matt Nagy, though, and Fields may even be considered a symptom of that. It’s clear that the script for this season was built for a stagnant quarterback in a stationary pocket, for Andy Dalton, and that this has been just handed to Fields. For the draft, the Ohio State shot-called was hailed for his leadership, movement, pocket passing, and ability to extend plays with his legs. The system around him isn’t emphasizing his strengths, which is why Chicago’s given a 15 percent shot of making it to the playoffs, but has an adjusted record expectation of 7-10 now.
All is not lost despite the first season struggles
In fairness to Fields, he’s not the only rookie QB to be struggling this season. In fact, he’s just one of many who appear to have been thrust into action too early and on weaker teams. Trey Lance was given a bit more time than most, but didn’t exactly get off to a phenomenal start after taking the place of Jimmy Garoppolo. Zach Wilson, Trevor Lawrence, Mac Jones, and Davis Mills also endured weak starts in terms of wins and production.
Regardless, not every top-class talent can enjoy a hot start. In fact, due to how the draft system works, one could say that the best talents aren’t expected to have good starts, what with them joining teams that should be among the worst in the league. NFL careers aren’t made in one season, and certainly not in a rookie season in most instances. We can see several would-be stars endure awful rookie runs before breaking out, such as Troy Aikman, John Elway, Terry Bradshaw, and Peyton Manning, as well as Eli Manning, Drew Bledsoe, and Randall Cunningham.
It’s not a great situation for a rookie QB in Chicago – and hasn’t been for quite some time – but Justin Fields shouldn’t be judged on his first season in the NFL. He certainly has the build, talent, and personality to become a star in the modern game but could do with more help from the coaching staff.