Ohio State football quarterback Justin Fields declares for NFL draft

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

Justin Fields, arguably the most talented quarterback in Ohio State history, announced on Monday he will enter this spring’s NFL draft, forgoing his remaining college eligibility during the last day for underclassmen to turn pro.

The decision had long been anticipated as he is expected to be one of the top selections in the draft behind Clemson star Trevor Lawrence, who is favored to be the No. 1 overall pick and has long been billed as the best passing prospect since Andrew Luck.

A recent mock draft by USA TODAY Sports projects Fields to be taken fourth overall by the Atlanta Falcons. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only one quarterback from Ohio State has been picked in the top-five.

"Growing up, my dream was to one day play the game that I love at the highest level," he wrote in a graphic shared on his Twitter account. "Now thanks to God's grace and mercy, along with the help of you all, I am in a position to turn that dream into reality."

Quarterback Justin Fields and coach Ryan Day were a potent team for Ohio State. Fields announced Monday he will enter the 2021 NFL draft. [Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch]

Earlier this month, Fields led the Buckeyes to the College Football Playoff championship game, their second-ever appearance in the final of the four-team postseason after he delivered a heroic effort in the Sugar Bowl.

Absorbing a bruising hit to his torso in the second quarter of the semifinal triumph, he went on to throw for career highs of 385 yards and six touchdowns, setting up the title game matchup with top-seeded Alabama.

In his two seasons in Columbus, Fields finished 20-2 as a starter, the second-highest winning percentage by a Buckeyes starting quarterback with at least 16 starts in his career. Only Rex Kern, who led Ohio State to a 25-2 stretch between 1968 and 1970, holds a better record.

Fields worked well with coach Ryan Day, a former offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach with the Buckeyes who took over for Urban Meyer in 2019 and oversaw his development.

The potential for the pairing was set in motion in December of 2018 when Fields put his name in the NCAA transfer portal following his freshman season at Georgia in which the former five-star recruit sat behind Jake Fromm.

Bracing for the departure of Dwayne Haskins Jr., a record-setting quarterback for the Buckeyes who would be picked in the first round of the NFL draft, Day convinced Fields to transfer to Ohio State the next month.

He was prolific as soon as he stepped onto the field as a sophomore at Ohio State and finished in third place in the voting for the Heisman Trophy by the end of the regular season.

His 181.4 passer efficiency rating in 2019 broke the single-season school record of 174.1 set by Haskins during the previous fall. A 70.2% completion percentage this past season was also a school record. 

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Through two seasons at Ohio State, he completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 5,373 yards with 63 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 867 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Only J.T. Barrett, who started between 2014-17, threw for more touchdowns in his career among the Buckeyes’ quarterbacks. Barrett holds a Big Ten record with 104.

In living up to the hype that followed him since he was a high school standout in suburban Atlanta, Fields spearhead much of the early success of Day’s coaching tenure in Columbus, and his departure leaves a prominent hole in the middle of the depth chart.

None of the quarterbacks who are in line to replace Fields next fall have attempted a pass in a game. Jack Miller and C.J. Stroud were both freshmen this season and saw little playing time as backups, while Kyle McCord arrives this month as an incoming freshman from Philadelphia.

Much of Fields’ legacy at Ohio State is also tied to his effort in lobbying for a season to be played this fall despite challenges imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

After the Big Ten became the first Power Five Conference to scrap its season in August, he posted an online petition that received hundreds of thousands of signatures and raised the public pressure on the league to revisit its decision.

Fields also appeared on morning TV shows to continue making his case. A month later, the season was back on.

“I have one of the bigger platforms on the team,” Fields said in an interview with The Dispatch in October, “so I could make the most impact.”

Without him, the Buckeyes might not have had a season or a national championship game appearance. 

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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