While many people are still wondering how Justin Fields fell out of the top 10 picks of the 2021 NFL draft, the magnitude of what he’s accomplished by becoming the No. 11 overall pick in the draft shouldn’t be minimized.
At a school that hadn’t had a first-round quarterback draft pick in 37 years until Dwayne Haskins was selected with the No. 15 overall pick in 2019, Ohio State has now had two top-15 picks at quarterbacks in a three-year span.
In the draft’s common era, only two other schools have had two top-15 quarterback draft picks in such a short timeframe: Alabama, who had Mac Jones selected with the No. 15 overall pick this year after Tua Tagovailoa was the No. 5 overall pick last year, and Oklahoma, who had back-to-back No. 1 overall picks with Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray in 2018 and 2019.
Count on that being part of Ryan Day’s sales pitch as he looks to convince the next potential first-round picks to become Ohio State quarterbacks.
“It is exciting, I gotta tell you. It’s exciting to have two guys drafted here in the last three years,” Day said Friday. “I think it’s great for recruiting. I think it’s an exciting time to be a quarterback or receiver at Ohio State. And it’s fun. It’s just fun to be a part of this and continue to recruit these people and their families.”
Day certainly wasn’t surprised that Fields was an early first-round pick on Thursday night, as Day saw that moment coming before Fields even played a game at Ohio State – and he communicated that to Bears head coach Matt Nagy when Nagy started asking Day about Fields back when Fields was a sophomore in 2019.
“I recognized that early on that Justin Fields has that type of talent, and that’s exactly the word I used when he got here was generational talent,” Day said.
Day believes Nagy and Bears general manager Ryan Pace did an “unbelievable job” of “asking all the right questions” about Fields over the course of the draft process, and Day – who has known Nagy since he was the quarterback at New Hampshire and Nagy was the quarterback at Delaware, as they played against each other multiple times – believes Chicago will be a great fit for Fields.
“They have a great staff,” Day said. “So I’m excited for the city of Chicago to see Justin Fields, and this is gonna be a fun time to be a part of and watch from Columbus. But we’re all Bears fans now, and really happy for Matt and for Ryan.”
Of course, getting to the NFL is just the first step for Fields. Haskins’ experience with the Washington Football Team, where he lasted less than two seasons even though he was a top-15 pick, serves as a cautionary tale that being a top draft pick does not guarantee success. Day believes Fields understands that, though.
“It’s what you do with the opportunity now, and Justin knows that,” Day said. “So now, he’s gotta go about the business of putting in the work and building that reputation, the respect in that locker room, so he can go have a successful career. And that’s the idea.”
Fields may not be an immediate starter for the Bears, whose current plan is for Andy Dalton to be the starting quarterback this season. Asked Friday whether he thought he should start immediately in Chicago, Fields said he’d leave that decision up to the coaches.
“That’s not up to me,” Fields said. “My job is simply to perform the best I can perform and be the best quarterback I can be.”
Day believes Fields will be ready to start as a rookie if called upon, but he also trusts Nagy – who coached Patrick Mahomes as a rookie when he was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator before he became the Bears’ head coach – to develop Fields so he improves as he gains more experience.
“Do I think he can play right away? Sure. Do I think he’s gonna be a lot better in year three, four and five? Absolutely,” Day said. “And I think that that blueprint’s out there, and certainly Matt knows that better than anybody.”
In due time, Fields is confident he will make the Bears’ decision to trade up for him pay off and change the narratives that both Ohio State quarterbacks and Chicago Bears quarterbacks have struggled in the NFL.
“I expect myself to be a franchise quarterback and one day, hopefully, a top-five quarterback in this league,” Fields said. “So that’s what I’m gonna strive to do. I’m gonna work every day to reach my goal and reach new heights.”
Fields credits Day with playing a big role in preparing him for the opportunity he has now.
“He’s such a good coach, but he’s an even better person,” Fields said. “The things that he’s taught me in life and just the lessons he’s taught me is just priceless. So I’m just grateful for all of that, for sure.”