While three other quarterbacks were selected with the first three picks in the 2021 NFL draft, Justin Fields had to wait until the 11th overall pick to hear his name called.
After the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Trevor Lawrence, the New York Jets selected Zach Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers selected Trey Lance, none of the next seven teams drafted quarterbacks. When the Chicago Bears traded up nine spots to acquire the 11th pick from the New York Giants, however, Fields’ phone quickly rang with a call from Bears coach Matt Nagy.
“Basically Coach Nagy called me up and just asked me if I was ready to be a Chicago Bear and I told him, of course,” Fields said on a call with Bears reporters shortly after being drafted.
Fields said he had “no idea” who would draft him going into Thursday night. But he wasn’t bothered by having to wait to hear his name called a little bit later than many expected.
“I'm the kind of guy that thinks everything happens for a reason, so I think this is God's plan for me to be a Bear,” Fields said. “So I'm more than excited and more than ready to get up there, for sure.”
Fields said his family was more nervous than he was as he waited to hear his name called.
“I've been in so many different situations in my life where I think I want something, I think I want to do this, but God has a different plan for me,” Fields said. “I put my full trust in God, and he's put me in a perfect place for me. Whatever his will is what's going to happen. Again, I'm excited to be a part of this organization and just ready to get to work.”
That said, Fields did allude to his one-year stint at Georgia, where he sat on the bench behind Jake Fromm before transferring to Ohio State, as evidence that he’ll respond to being passed over by the teams who drafted other quarterbacks the same way he did as a Buckeye, where he became one of the best quarterbacks in college football and went 20-2 as a starter, leading Ohio State to two Big Ten titles and back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances.
“I mean, I've gone through situations where I haven't been chosen, and I think the world has seen the outcome of that,” Fields said. “My goal now is not to worry about those teams. I mean, those teams have nothing to do with me. My goal is, if we play that team, to beat them. I'm not worried about the draft. The draft is over for me. For me personally, I'm ready to get to work.”
As he went through the NFL draft process over the past three months, Fields faced no shortage of scrutiny, as NFL teams reportedly not only questioned how his game would translate to the next level, but also his work ethic off the field. Fields tried to block that out as much as he could, though, and focus on continuing to improve as he prepared to play in the league.
“I know how much I want to be great. It just comes a point in time where you just have to cut all that criticism out,” Fields said. Of course it's good to listen to the criticism you get from people that are actually there to help you, so if it was from a coach or anything like that, of course I'm going to take that criticism. But I feel like there's a lot of criticism coming from outside voices that didn't really matter. I just did my best to kind of cut all that out and really just get to work.”
While some NFL teams chose to pass on Fields, the Bears traded their 2022 first-round pick and fourth-round pick as well as their fifth-round pick for the opportunity to draft him. And Fields believes playing in Chicago and being coached by Nagy – who, like Ryan Day, is also a former quarterback – will be a great fit for him.
“I think I fit perfectly. I think if he didn't think I fit well, he wouldn't have traded up,” Fields said. “Just talking to him, getting to know how he communicates with his quarterbacks and his learning style, that's going to make me a better quarterback. I think that that's going to make me a better quarterback, a better player. He's going to teach me a lot.”
“I've gone through situations where I haven't been chosen, and I think the world has seen the outcome of that.”– Justin Fields after being drafted 11th by the Bears
Fields expects playing in Soldier Field to be similar to playing in Ohio Stadium, too.
“I know Bears fans, they're very passionate about their football,” Fields said.
It’s been a while since the Chicago Bears have had a great quarterback; their last first-round pick at the position, 2017 No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky, performed well short of expectations, and he’s the only quarterback who’s even made a Pro Bowl for the Bears since Jim McMahon in 1985, when the Bears last won the Super Bowl.
Ohio State quarterbacks haven’t had much success in the NFL either. But Fields is confident he’s the guy who will be able to change both of those narratives.
“I think nobody kind of has the story that I have, so just everything inside of me, just wanting to be a great quarterback, wanting to be a franchise quarterback, and of course me dreaming for this moment my whole life; I think all those intangibles, my work ethic and all that together will, of course, be different for me,” Fields said.