Justin Fields would be no slouch if he “falls” to becoming the fifth quarterback off the board in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Ohio State product, once thought to be the clear-cut No. 2 QB prospect behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, has seen the meteoric rises of BYU’s Zach Wilson, Alabama’s Mac Jones and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance quickly change the script.
It’s not that Fields has suddenly become an inferior passer and athlete, it’s just those other QBs, between comfortable high floors and exciting high ceilings, have become more attractive to particular teams picking at the top of the draft — the Jaguars, Jets and 49ers.
The Falcons at No. 4 have Matt Ryan and don’t have an immediate need for a QB. The Bengals at No. 5 (Joe Burrow) and the Dolphins at No. 6 (Tua Tagovailoa) took first-round QBs in 2020. The Lions at No. 7 (Jared Goff) and Panthers at No. 8 (Sam Darnold) can’t be ruled out to take a QB, but they both just traded for young veterans.
That would line up the Broncos, looking for an upgrade from Drew Lock, at worst to land Fields at No. 9. But should Denver pass, Fields becomes a wild card to land anywhere in the first round. It’s difficult to expect a dramatic drop, however, with several teams who would jump on a falling Fields before the final dozen picks. Here are the four
14. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have been a forgotten team when it comes to the potential of stashing a first-round QB with 2022 more in mind. Kirk Cousins turned in a strong season, but he’s 33 and unsigned beyond next season. Minnesota can trade Cousins next offseason and recoup $35 million under the cap ahead of his free agency.
The team should look at offensive line, linebacker and cornerback if Fields is long gone, but if he’s there, his upside in their run-heavy offense featuring good receivers and a solid tight end situation would be an intriguing alternative. Keep in mind half the division is going through a QB change (Bears with Dalton, Lions with Goff) and the Packers have an option (Jordan Love) to think about it.
The Vikings may want to stay ahead of falling behind at QB and put their succession plan in place earlier than expected. This is the team that might prompt the Patriots to trade up to ensure getting a falling fields. For the Bears and Washington, they also need to worry about the Raiders at No. 17.
15. New England Patriots
The Patriots should be watching what happens carefully to see if they have a reasonable opportunity to land Fields to pair with bridge QB Cam Newton. The same goes should Jones or Lance be the one who slips.
New England could move up to No. 8 in a deal with Carolina, but a more comfortable scenario will be targeting Dallas at No. 11 or Philadelphia at No. 12. If the Patriots don’t move up, their best bet for a dual threat who fits with their new style of offense is Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond in a later round. Should opportunity knock with Fields, it would be tempting to answer.
19. Washington Football Team
Washington can be filed under the same category as Chicago, a mediocre playoff team from last year trying to rebuild its resume with better offense going forward. It is also paying a one-year bridge QB, Ryan Fitzpatrick, $10 million for 2021. With WFT picking again one spot ahead of Chicago in the second round at No. 51, it can also address the position there with Florida’s Kyle Trask or another passer.
Don’t be fooled by Washington getting burned by Ohio State product Dwayne Haskins in the middle of the 2019 draft. Fields is a different style of prospect and the Football Team can’t ignore the value at a position of near-future need. Like the Bears, getting Fields from a drop rather han a trade-up is more feasible.
20. Chicago Bears
The Bears can incorporate Fields well into their offense with Matt Nagy and Bill Lazor as Andy Dalton, on a one year-deal, is their bridge solution at best. They have a dose of aggressiveness to solve the position, at one time rumored in longshot trades for Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson. They need to think more ceiling than floor for QB, which gives Fields and Lance more appeal than Jones.
Chicago is in a tough spot for a trade up, having to leapfrog New England and Washington to get in position for Fields. It will be the team hoping most for a straight-up free fall.
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