More hype formed around Justin Fields last week.
In an appearance on ESPN’s morning show “Get Up,” Mel Kiper Jr., the network’s prominent NFL draft analyst, predicted that Fields would compete with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence to be drafted No. 1 overall in 2021.
“It’s a two-horse race,” Kiper said.
After finishing his first season as Ohio State’s starting quarterback in December, Fields is widely considered to be one of the top prospects entering the next draft cycle.
In his first detailed look at the 2021 draft, Kiper ranked Fields as the third-best prospect in the class, two spots behind the heralded Lawrence, who is the early favorite to be picked first. Other analysts are similarly bullish on Fields.
The expectation that Fields will be a top draft pick next year is familiar fanfare for the quarterback.
“There’s been that kind of hype around him ever since he picked up a football,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said on a recent teleconference with reporters.
Publicity has certainly surrounded Fields for years, one of the reasons Day thinks Fields is prepared to navigate the next 11 months of swirling draft chatter.
As a high school quarterback in suburban Atlanta, he was featured on the Netflix reality series “QB1: Beyond The Lights,” went through a high-profile transfer from Georgia after his freshman season in 2018 and became a Heisman Trophy finalist when he debuted for the Buckeyes last season.
“Now it’ll be the NFL draft,” Day said. “That’s part of becoming a quarterback at Ohio State.”
NFL talent evaluators view Fields as a potential high first-round draft pick for the same reasons that college coaches flooded him with scholarship offers: Fields offers mobility in addition to his arm talent.
Along with his 41:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio for the Buckeyes as a sophomore, leading the Football Bowl Subdivision, he also ran for 10 touchdowns.
Day said he plans to wait until at least late this year before discussing Fields’ future. He will need to first decide whether to forgo his final season of eligibility in 2021 before turning pro.
“I think there’s a level of trust there,” said Day, a former offensive coordinator known for his development of quarterbacks. “Based on how it goes this season, we either say, ‘We’re ready to go, go get it, or maybe you need another year.’ I don’t think those discussions are for now.”
Day contended that quarterback prospects were well served by experience. He pointed out that Joe Burrow, who was the No. 1 overall pick of the Cincinnati Bengals last month, had benefited from five seasons in college, including three as a reserve at Ohio State before starting two seasons as a grad transfer at LSU, where he won the Heisman Trophy last fall and led the Tigers to a national championship.
Burrow, who turned 23 in December, had by then developed into an NFL-ready quarterback.
“He’s a grown man ready to roll, and I think that’s important,” Day said. “When guys go in there, there’s a body of work under their belt. They can kind of jump in and take off from there.”
Should the 2020 college football season be held as scheduled despite the coronavirus pandemic, it will be Fields’ second season starting in college. He was a backup while a freshman at Georgia.
Day said another productive season would help Fields in his progression toward the NFL. For now, the two are working apart. Since the shutdown, Fields has been back home in Kennesaw, Georgia, where he has trained with Ron Veal, a private quarterbacks coach he has worked with since middle school.
So Fields and Day wait for a season to begin that will shape his pro prospects and whether he can live up to some of the emerging pre-draft hype for 2021.
“Based on how the season goes, we’ll see,” Day said. “We’ll sit down with him and his family. A lot of things have to go right too. It’s easy to say that now. Hopefully, if that’s the case, it means they had a really good year. We’ll attack that stuff as it gets closer to next December and January.”