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QB KlassRoom

Quantifying Quarterbacks: Justin Fields

by Derrik Klassen
Updated On: February 10, 2021, 3:53 pm ET
Ohio State QB Justin Fields
Distance (Usage Rate)Left OutsideLeft MiddleRight MiddleRight OutsideTotal
20+ (16.07%)11/19 (6 TD, 1 INT)7/10 (4 TD, 2 INT)8/10 (3 TD)5/15 (2 TD, 1 INT)31/54 (15 TD, 4 INT)
16-20 (5.36%)4/63/31/25/7 (1 TD, 1 INT)13/18 (1 TD, 1 INT)
11-15 (15.48%)3/9 (1 TD)9/10 (1 TD)13/15 (3 TD, 1 INT)16/18 (2 TD, 1 INT)41/52 (7 TD, 2 INT)
6-10 (21.73%)20/24 (2 TD)6/6 (1 TD)13/16 (1 TD)20/27 (1 TD, 2 INT)59/73 (5 TD, 2 INT)
1-5 (25.30%)15/1612/1717/2126/31 (1 TD)70/85 (1 TD)
0 (13.39%)8/811/1211/1114/1444/45
Total61/82 (9 TD, 1 INT)48/58 (6 TD, 2 INT)63/75 (7 TD, 1 INT)86/112 (7 TD, 5 INT)258/327 (29 TD, 9 INT)

Games Charted: Michigan State (2019), Penn State (2019), Wisconsin (2019), Clemson (2019), all 2020 games

CHARTING EXTRAS

Blatant Drops: 18

Forced Adjustments: 20 (5.95%)

Contested Drops: 15

Passes Defended: 25

Explosive: 42 (12.50%)

Throwaways: 9


Justin Fields’ target area chart shows a passer who did not need throws gifted to him. Just 13.39% of his throws were at or behind the line of scrimmage, which would have been lower than every 2020 quarterback except for Joe Burrow

Fields substituted those free throws behind the line of scrimmage for standard quick game concepts from shotgun. In fact, Fields’ 21.73% target rate to the 6-10 yard area is higher than every 2020 QB, coming in about six percentage points higher than last year’s class average. Outs, curls, and slants — all of which are timing-based routes in the 6-10 yard area that want to be thrown right off the top of the drop back — are right in Fields’ wheelhouse as a sharp, accurate passer. 

While being a high-volume passer to that area is not necessarily sexy, it’s encouraging to see an offense give freedom to their QB to throw those concepts instead of the easier, lower-ceiling screens and RPOs (run-pass options), especially when Fields’ target rates to every section beyond 10 yards is right around average. He was not really skimping out on tougher throws; he was just throwing fewer of the easiest concepts in the playbook. 

The other number of note here is Fields’ blatant drop rate. At just over 5%, Fields dealt with blatant drops at about 2% of a higher clip than last year’s average. His 5.28% clip would have been worse than everyone in last year’s class besides Jacob Eason, whose receivers at Washington were notorious for the dropsies. To be clear, the Ohio State receiving corps was clearly better than Washington’s and got open far more often, but Fields was putting almost every throw on the money and was let down by his teammates a bit more often than the average QB.

 

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ACCURACY AND ENVIRONMENT

Adjusted Accuracy: 83.18%

Outside the Pocket Percentage: 22.62%

Adjusted Accuracy Outside the Pocket: 71.45%

Under Pressure Percentage: 21.73%

Adjusted Accuracy Under Pressure: 66.44%

Most Common Personnel Package: 11 personnel (49.40%)

Shotgun Percentage: 94.64%

Empty Formations Frequency: 9.23%

Play-Action / RPO Percentage: 34.52%

Play-Action Adjusted Accuracy: 83.71%

Designed Rollout Frequency: 13.69%

Let’s get right to it: Fields’ 83.18% adjusted accuracy is the best I have ever recorded since I started with the 2016 class. That’s only about six years of data, but it’s still an impressive feat given some of the QBs to come out during that period. For reference, Joe Burrow (78.43%), Dwayne Haskins (77.17%), Baker Mayfield (76.53%), and Kyler Murray (74.68%) made up the top four previously. Fields beating out three first-overall picks and another first-round pick ain’t too shabby. 

The accuracy checks out with the film, too. Fields’ ball placement is as thoughtful and precise as I’ve seen from any QB prospect ever. Though he may not fit a ball through a keyhole the way other elite QBs can, Fields consistently enables easy YAC, shields WRs from hits over the middle, and helps hide the ball from DBs with careful ball placement. As the numbers echo, Fields is as accurate as they come. 

In turn, Fields’ accuracy numbers in all situational splits is pretty stellar. Outside the pocket, play-action, under pressure — you name it, Fields was hitting those throws. Fields’ accuracy under pressure is the most interesting figure, though.

Just perusing scouting reports or the NFL Draft community or wherever, a common criticism of Fields is his malfunction versus pressure. While it’s true Fields opens himself up to more pressure than he should by holding onto the ball too long (as evidenced by his high pressure rate), Fields is still tough as nails when the pocket breaks down and does a fantastic job shedding tacklers. Fields is not afraid to stare down the barrel of a gun to get the ball off, nor is he incapable of taking off to look for (safe) plays outside the pocket. He’s going to take more sacks in the NFL than you’d like, but he’s got the toughness and arm talent to throw well under pressure. 

Another noteworthy piece of Fields’ profile is his percentage of plays from empty. While 9.23% is not out of this world, it’s still above average relative to last year’s class and would have slotted him in at third. Playing from empty is not some end-all, be-all answer sheet to how smart a QB is, but to me, an offense putting faith in their QB to operate from five-man protection with five players in the pattern immediately is a sign that said QB has a good idea as to what they are doing. Burrow led last year’s group at 16.72%, and it’s pretty fair to say Burrow was as sharp as QB prospects come. 

PASS RUSH

Avg. Number of Pass Rushers: 4.45

Three or Fewer Pass Rushers Frequency: 5.95%

Four Pass Rushers Frequency: 51.49%

Five Pass Rushers Frequency: 35.12%

Six or More Pass Rushers Frequency: 7.44%

If anything stands out for Fields, it’s how low his rate of three-man rushes was. At just 5.95%, Fields was hit with three-man rushes about one-third as often as the 2020 class average. While that could come down to a few things, part of it may just be that Big Ten teams do not prefer to play that way. Fields also had average-to-below average targets rates in the two shortest areas of the field, so defenses may have felt less inclined to flood those areas with defenders in drop-eight coverages. It could also be that teams did not want to waste chances at attacking Fields’ propensity to hold the ball, meaning they always wanted to at least rush the standard four. 

SITUATIONAL

3rd/4th Down Adjusted Accuracy: 75.95%

3rd/4th Down Conversion Rate: 60.81%

4th Quarter/Overtime Adjusted Accuracy: 81.75%

Red Zone Adjusted Accuracy: 70.77%

Fields was bonkers on 3rd/4th down. Sometimes quarterbacks will have middling accuracy while still converting often; or have very high accuracy with a middling conversion rate that doesn’t line up. Not Fields. Holding a nearly 76% adjusted accuracy rating while also converting about 61% of the time suggests Fields was constantly attacking the sticks, finding the right targets, and throwing accurate balls. Granted, he did throw three picks on 74 such attempts, which is quite high, but that’s the tradeoff for being a QB who rightfully attacks the sticks as often as Fields. 

As for the fourth quarter stuff, Fields, like most QBs at elite schools, kind of gets to cheat the system. It’s not that Fields never played tough situations late in the game or that he played poorly in them, it’s just that about half of Fields’ fourth quarter production is from games Ohio State already had wrapped up handily because, well, they are Ohio State. The same was true of Tua Tagovailoa last year. To be clear, Fields did still play well in close games, he just probably has a bit more fluff production here than others. Nothing to be worried about, just something to keep in mind compared to his peers. 

Lastly, Fields’ red zone production is about on par with everything else. Ohio State felt comfortable letting Fields throw any number of different concepts in the red zone and were not fixated on forcing the run game to finish off drives. Even with all the tight windows, Fields still hit on over 70% of his passes. Fields can get a bit reckless in the red zone and put the ball in danger, but it’s his same aggression that allows him to thread tight red zone windows that many other QBs would not even dare. It’s a risk-reward you live with when a QB is as good as Fields.

Derrik Klassen

Derrik Klassen is an NFL, NFL Draft and college football writer covering CFB and NFL Draft for NBC Sports EDGE. Derrik also covers the NFL for Football Outsiders. Find him on Twitter @QBKlass.