Trevor Lawrence is the clear and obvious top quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, the battle for the QB2 spot is up in the air. Justin Fields and Zach Wilson are the two top players vying for that spot. Wilson has interestingly been gaining ground on Fields in the national draft media recently. Has it been deserving? We will dive in soon. With so many differences and complexities to comparing prospects, there are so many different opinions among analysts. Fields and Wilson both have distinct strengths and weaknesses. So, without further ado, let’s delve into a deep comparison between the polarizing QB prospects.
Background and Statistics
Justin Fields is a 6-3, 228 pound QB from Ohio State. The transfer from Georgia started the past two seasons for the Buckeyes, and produced at an insane rate. Fields threw for 41 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions in 2019. He passed for 3273 yards on a 67% completion percentage throughout 14 starts that season. In 2020, Fields threw 22 touchdowns to 6 interceptions in 8 games. He had 2100 passing yards on a 70% completion percentage. Fields is extremely athletic as well, rushing for 867 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground during 2019-20. He also runs a 4.42 40-yard dash.
Zach Wilson is a 6-2, 210 pound QB from Brigham Young University. Wilson started at BYU for pretty much three full seasons, but did not perform well until 2020. In 2018, Wilson did not throw the ball much. He passed for just 1578 yards on a 65% completion percentage, to go along with 12 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. BYU opened up the playbook more for Wilson in 2019, and he mightily struggled. Wilson tossed 11 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 9 games. He passed for 2382 yards, but on just a 62% completion percentage. Wilson broke out in 2020 and put up great numbers. He passed for 33 touchdowns to 3 interceptions, with 3692 passing yards on a 73% completion percentage in 12 games. Wilson is mildly athletic, rushing for 421 yards and 13 scores over the past two seasons. Wilson runs a 4.84 40-yard dash.
Pros and Cons
Justin Fields and Zach Wilson both excel in some areas and struggle in others. Let’s get into the pros and cons for each.
- Absurd athleticism
- Elite arm strength
- Terrific accuracy
- Strong mechanics
- Smooth delivery and rhythm
- Toughness and leadership
- Proven against top competition and in clutch situations
- Pocket presence when facing pressure
Fields’ athleticism is incredible. The instant he enters the NFL, Fields will become the third-most athletic starting QB in the league behind only Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray. His 4.4 speed in a well built body is pretty much unheard-of for a quarterback. However, he is far from one-dimensional. Fields can make every throw, tossing for 63 touchdowns in 22 games at Ohio State. Below are some impressive throws from his 6 touchdown performance against Clemson in the College Football Playoff.
He is also extremely accurate and was the most accurate QB in college football in 2020, according to PFF.
Fields is a very good rhythm passer and has great mechanics. He has a great delivery. Fields also has fantastic footwork and works at a fast and effective pace. Here is a great video breakdown of Fields’ elite throwing mechanics.
Intangibles are often one of the most overlooked attributes for draft prospects. For quarterbacks, they are extremely important. It is certainly unquestioned how great of a leader Justin Fields is. He has gotten only rave reviews from coaches and players alike on his leadership and character. Fields has also displayed incredible toughness. After sustaining a considerable rib injury in the national semifinal against Clemson, Fields showed his true character. He put on a performance for the ages, tossing 6 touchdowns as Ohio State dismantled Clemson and their third ranked defense in the entire nation. It was an incredible display. That game against Clemson is part of another major plus on Fields’ résumé. Fields is proven against the best of the best competition in college football. He has been at his best against Power 5 opponents, who make up the majority of Ohio State’s schedule. He is a clutch player who has had huge performances against tough opponents in the biggest moments, like the game against Clemson. Fields has been an elite performer against complex defenses, which are at least somewhat close to resembling what he will see in the NFL. This is an important aspect as it will make his transition to the next level easier. He performed great in a huge sample size against the best of the best, while the same can not be said about Zach Wilson.
There truly aren’t many major concerns about Justin Fields. The one that keeps coming up is internal clock and pocket presence when under pressure. This has been overstated in my opinion. While it is a con for him, it is not extremely concerning. Fields struggled occasionally when going through his reads against pressure and he took a few bad sacks because of it. However, it is not something overly concerning as he had an elite 69% completion percentage when under pressure and he rarely forced throws. A good coaching staff should be easily able to clean up any processing issues that Fields has under pressure.
- Terrific arm talent
- Knack for the off-script, off-balance throws
- Impressive tight-window accuracy
- Sneaky mobility
- Size and injury concerns
- Reckless mechanics
- Only one good year as a starter
- Played extremely easy competition and rarely faced pressure
Zach Wilson has some extremely worrisome cons, but let’s start with the pros first. Wilson is an extremely talented passer. He has the arm talent to make jaw-dropping throws. He is known for his off-platform and off-script throws. He has immense arm talent, as shown in some highlights below.
As you can see in some of these throws, Wilson has very good accuracy in tight windows. Wilson is pinpoint in throwing the 50/50 ball. He also has some sneaky athleticism to him. While he is not close to the athlete that Fields, he is certainly no statue in the pocket. He can move around well and can really throw well on the move.
Now, to the cons. For all the tantalizing talent that Wilson has, he has major concerns entering the draft. Wilson is measly built for a potential NFL QB. He has a slight frame which is cause for concern considering the beating he is bound to take from much better athletes at the next level. Wilson also has gone under multiple shoulder and hand surgeries to his throwing arm. While he seems to be recovered by now, these are red flags that teams can’t ignore. In addition, Wilson’s mechanics are a little worrisome. While his knack for extending plays and playing hero ball is fascinating to watch, it has also created some bad habits for him. He got a bit lazy with his pocket footwork as he was so used to just playing with a reckless abandon. Wilson also often leans too much on his arm talent and throwing the ball at crazy arm angles. While this is impressive, it is not good for him to be throwing like this nearly every play. Wilson got reckless with his throwing mechanics when he started to play hero ball, which he did all the time in 2020. He got away with not having to focus on mechanics when playing practically backyard football last season, with rarely ever facing pressure. He will not be able to get away with these lackadaisical mechanics in the NFL and it is something he will need to work on.
There are also major concerns about the sample size of Wilson’s strong play and the level of competition. Zach Wilson truly only had one good year as a starting quarterback. While that season, 2020, was spectacular, he was really not good at all in his previous years as a starter. This is a real concern since it is unknown if he was just a one-year wonder flash in the pan. It is not an overwhelming concern, but not having a track record of success is something to be aware of. What is perhaps the most glaring concern for Wilson is the level of competition he played in college however. Wilson played an extremely weak schedule throughout his college career, and mightily struggled when he did face Power 5 opponents. As Mel Kiper Jr. put it, “He was great for one year against a cupcake schedule, playing pitch and catch against inferior opposition is the concern. When Coastal Carolina is the best team you play, that’s what you’re looking at.” Due to facing weak opponents, Wilson barely had to face any pressure coming after him. Wilson had just a 58% completion percentage when under pressure. Also, as stated above, BYU’s offensive line was the second best in all of college football last season, according to PFF. This was another cause to Wilson never really facing any real pressure. The competition concerns for Wilson are real and glaring.
Narratives and Historical Comparisons
The raging debate between Justin Fields and Zach Wilson has brought on some odd narratives and has also been very comparable to situations from previous recent drafts.
Some nonsense narratives have been floating around Justin Fields as the draft process rolls along. One of them is the fact that Fields should be avoided because previous Ohio State quarterbacks have not succeeded in the NFL. This makes absolutely no sense. Since 1990, only seven Ohio State QBs have been taken in the NFL Draft. Only one of these players was taken in the first two rounds of the draft. This means that only one previous Ohio State quarterback was expected to have any remote success at the next level. That one player was Dwayne Haskins, who was taken in 2019. And to think that the failure of Haskins in the NFL should have any impact on Fields’ draft stock at all is simply foolish. Haskins failed in the league primarily because of a poor work ethic. That is the complete opposite of Fields as he has been praised for his tireless work ethic. Haskins is also nowhere near the level of talent of Fields. Haskins is a slow, unathletic quarterback with poor accuracy on intermediate and deep throws. The point is that there has never been an Ohio State QB anything like Fields. Only one has even had any expectations, and he does not compare to Fields in the slightest. Also, there truly are no quarterback factory schools. Who were the successful Clemson QBs before Deshaun Watson? The Michigan ones before Tom Brady? The Texas Tech ones before Patrick Mahomes? People need to scout the player, not the logo on the helmet. This narrative needs to be put to bed.
Another narrative that has been flying around Fields is that he throws to his first read too often. First of all, Fields often throws to either his first or second read because that is what Ryan Day’s offense is based on. It is very similar to NFL offenses actually where quarterbacks are supposed to hit the open man on play action. Fields did this extremely well. Also, the “one-read QB” label has been thrown onto prospects many times before. Let’s look at an excerpt from a Deshaun Watson scouting report before the 2017 NFL Draft. “Limited vision to get through progressions. Relatively slow post-snap processing speed.” We know how good Deshaun Watson has turned out to be. So the one-read narrative being tossed around by analysts has been made a far bigger deal than it actually is.
We saw with concerns like these floating around Deshaun Watson, he fell all the way to the 12th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. It made little sense and looks even worse now. The 2nd overall pick in that same draft was Mitchell Trubisky. He turned out to be a bust. There are some obvious similarities between the Watson and Trubisky situation as there is between Justin Fields and Zach Wilson. Watson and Fields both had their stock fall as the draft approached for really no apparent reason. Trubisky and Wilson both each had only one good season as a starter. They somehow got the benefit of the doubt on track record issues and flew up draft boards. While Wilson is more talented than Trubisky, Wilson has even greater competition issues. While I am not saying this draft winds up like the 2017 one did, it screams of a similar situation.
Let’s take the 2020 NFL Draft for example as well. Justin Herbert was the 6th overall pick and third QB selected and wound up lighting the league on fire and winning Offensive Rookie of the Year. Somehow, analysts overlooked his clear talent and makeup. For example, Todd McShay ranked Herbert as his 4th best quarterback in last draft cycle. Fields is McShay’s QB4 this year. I don’t know how it keeps happening, but overlooking arm talent, accuracy, athleticism, and character makeup is not a good idea. It happened with Herbert and now is happening with Fields.
Justin Fields and Zach Wilson are both pretty unique prospects, but there are some player comparisons for both.
Fields Comparison: A bit more athletic version of Deshaun Watson or Dak Prescott
No, I am not saying Fields will automatically be as good as Watson or Prescott in the NFL. But his ability and play style is very resemblant of them. All of them stand at similar statures and are well-built. In fact, Watson, Prescott, and Fields are all either 6’2 or 6’3 and between 220-230 pounds. They all have solid arm strength and elite accuracy. While Watson and Prescott are both great athletes, Fields is even a bit more athletic. These are not pure projection comparisons, but Fields has the chance to be this caliber of quarterback with very similar tools to those of Watson and Prescott.
Wilson Comparison: Baker Mayfield with more pure arm talent
Comparisons to Wilson have ranged all the way from Patrick Mahomes to Johnny Manziel. People are comparing him to Mahomes just because of some throws at crazy arm angles, which makes little sense. He has also been called Manziel with the flash in the pan, backyard football comparisons. I think both of these are really unfair. One comparison I do like with Wilson is Baker Mayfield. Wilson and Mayfield are the exact same weight, with Wilson being an inch taller. They have nearly identical 40 times as well, right around 4.8. I think they have similar athleticism and traits. Mayfield has one of the strongest arms in the league, but Wilson from a pure arm talent standpoint exceeds him with his off-platform throw ability. Mayfield turned into a really good player in 2020, likely a fringe top 10 QB in the NFL. There is a long way to go before Wilson could pass Mayfield, but I see some clear similarities between their traits.
Justin Fields and Zach Wilson would both fit in many different NFL schemes. But, let’s look at the Jets who hold the #2 overall pick and will likely wind up with one of these two prospects. Wilson has been viewed as a perfect fit in the new Jets offensive system which will be a hybrid of the Kyle Shanahan offense. He really should not be viewed as this however. That system is QB-friendly, but it is based on play action and throws over the middle of the field. 60.4% of throws in Shanahan’s system since he took over as the head coach in San Francisco have been over the middle of the field. Wilson is more of a hero ball quarterback who likes to run around and attempt wild throws. He is also accurate in tight windows. These are good attributes, but there is not really a place for that in this offense. Wilson had a 75% completion percentage and a 108 passer rating over the middle of the field in college. Meanwhile, Fields had a 78% completion percentage and a 142 passer rating when targeting the middle of the field. Another part of the system is the opposing defenses biting on play action. Fields was extremely successful running play action at Ohio State. In addition, running play action with an extremely athletic QB with great running ability just adds another layer of nightmares for the defense. Wilson is somewhat mobile, but nowhere near the athlete that Fields is. Fields is also far more accurate on throws past the sticks, which is vital in this offense. While both will fit many different schemes, Justin Fields has the leg up in the Jets offense considering his mobility and the experience/success he had throwing over the middle of the field on play action at Ohio State.
Justin Fields and Zach Wilson both have the potential to be extremely good NFL quarterbacks. They both have some rare raw tools. Both should be successful in the right NFL system. However, I view Justin Fields as the clear superior prospect and rightful QB2 in the 2021 NFL Draft. Fields had tremendous success against elite competition in college, facing more NFL concepts. Wilson fed off an extremely weak schedule, with only one good year as a starter. This will make Wilson’s learning curve at the next level much steeper, and means that Fields has the much higher floor and less bust potential in the NFL. Generally, a prospect with the higher floor has the lower ceiling. This is not the case with Fields as his potential is outright tantalizing. His raw ability in passing the ball with elite accuracy and his generational athleticism give him remarkable potential. Wilson has great potential as well, but outside of his ability to make the impressive throw, Fields is superior in every aspect. This gives Fields the higher ceiling between the two prospects. Having both the higher floor and ceiling gives Fields the clear edge between them. Overall, Zach Wilson has more pure arm talent in terms of just off-platform and off-balance throws. He has that jaw-dropping pass ability. However, Fields is much more accurate, consistent, and athletic. He can also sling it like Wilson. Fields also does not have the competition, track record, mechanics, and injury concerns that Wilson has. Justin Fields is everything you want in an NFL QB in what he brings as a passer, runner, and with the intangibles like character, toughness, and leadership. He also has the size and the unteachable traits. While Zach Wilson can become a good NFL quarterback as well, it seems like fool’s gold to put him ahead of the entire package that Justin Fields brings to the table.
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