Ohio State’s Justin Fields continues to be the most scrutinized quarterback in the 2021 NFL Draft class.
Fields’ work ethic was questioned in March, which prompted a strong rebuttal from Ohio State coach Ryan Day. The notion that Fields is a “one-read quarterback” was dissected. This week, Fields revealed that he is managing epilepsy — a neurological disorder which can cause seizures.
None of those factors prevented Fields from being one of the best quarterbacks in college football the last two seasons. He passed for 5,373 yards, 63 TDs and nine interceptions and rushed for 817 yards and 15 TDs in leading the Buckeyes to back-to-back CFP appearances.
It likely won’t impact his NFL Draft status too much either. Sporting News’ latest mock draft has the Broncos trading up to get Fields with the No. 4 pick. The Falcons and 49ers also are logical landing spots within the top-10 picks.
From there, Fields can achieve a breakthrough that would benefit Day and the Buckeyes at both levels. Ohio State has not produced too many quarterbacks who have had prolonged success at the NFL level.
A total of 15 quarterbacks have been selected in the common draft era starting with Rex Kern in 1971. Terrelle Pryor was a NFL supplemental draft pick in 2011.
Six of those quarterbacks never took a snap in a regular-season game. Rex Kern, the quarterback of the 1968 national championship team, switched to defensive back. Here is a look at the quarterbacks from Ohio State and their career numbers in the NFL:
Ohio State QBs in the NFL
*Denotes undrafted free agent
**Denotes supplemental draft pick
Schlichter and Haskins are the bookend first-round picks, and both struggled with those high expectations. Tupa played punter for most of his career. Krenzel and Jones won national championships, and Smith won the Heisman Trophy, but they combined for 13 starts in the NFL.
Tomczak, who was an undrafted free agent, had the most success. Graham is the only other quarterback with more than 20 starts at the NFL level.
Knowing that track record, it’s OK to take a closer look at Haskins, who started in Urban Meyer’s final season with Day at offensive coordinator, and Fields, who is Day’s first starter as a head coach.
Haskins, who was released by Washington last season and picked up by Pittsburgh, faced this same criticism after a banner season at Ohio State in 2018 in which he finished with 4,831 yards, 50 TDs and eight interceptions. Haskins still has time to revive his career, but that flop in Washington has led to some unfair residual questions about Fields, too.
When will an Ohio State quarterback have prolonged success in the NFL?
Ohio State also can loosely claim Joe Burrow – but he emerged as a standout quarterback at LSU before becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft with the Bengals. Fields is the one that can change that stigma about Buckeyes quarterbacks in the NFL, however, and it can have an impact at both levels.
If Fields has success, then that will benefit Day, who is entering his third year at Ohio State with a three-way quarterback race among C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller and five-star freshman Kyle McCord.
Another five-star freshman – Quinn Ewers – is committed to the class of 2022. Fields could be the launchpad for a QB-to-the-NFL pipeline like what Lincoln Riley has developed at Oklahoma with Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts and next-man-up Spencer Rattler. Clemson and Alabama have first-round quarterbacks in this draft, too, with Trevor Lawrence and Mac Jones, respectively.
That is the real development worth watching. Which college football powerhouse can produce the best NFL quarterbacks in the future?
That is the question Fields can answer over the next few years.
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