Ryan Day, who was 2021 NFL Draft prospect Justin Fields' head coach at Ohio State, was asked earlier this week to describe the ideal offense for Fields in the NFL. His answer certainly sounds like it has a lot of parallels to what Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers employ.
"I think, early on, an offense that is — run, play-action, get him on the move," Day told Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks on NFL Network Thursday (h/t Matt Howe for 247 Sports). "He's really good out of the pocket, controlled passing game. And then as time goes on and he starts to feel more and more comfortable in the pocket with the third-down and red-zone, drop-back passing concepts, he'll continue to just build. And the more reps he gets at that, the better. But like any time you have a young quarterback, I think things where he's on the move and athletic and you give him the ability to make plays outside of the pocket is going to be exciting to watch.
"The other thing, part of his game is when you study him in the red zone — he's really good down there. And so, if we can find ways — we always felt that we could find a way to get the thing into the red zone, that he was really good down there. And so, I think any kind of offense that is going to be able to put him in those types of situations — he's going to do well early on. And this is a guy who hasn't played a whole lot of football, when you look at the grand body of work that he's had. And I think the potential's through the roof."
Even before taking over as 49ers head coach in 2017, Shanahan relied heavily on pre-snap motion to execute his offenses. A Shanahan-led offense never has finished lower than third in the NFL in motion rate since 2014.
The 49ers also attempted the ninth-most play-action passes in 2020, and that was with three quarterbacks who aren't even close to the same level of athletic talent that Fields offers. Especially if the 49ers' running game can return to being among the league's best attacks as it was in 2019, play-action likely will be a focal point of Shanahan's offense in 2021.
Fields will bring a dual-threat dimension to whatever offense he winds up being drafted to later this month, something Shanahan hasn't had at QB since his time with Washington and Robert Griffin III.
Unfounded questions about Fields' work ethic and pro readiness have dropped his draft stock in recent weeks, but that all is based on speculation.
Shanahan was able to build an offense around Jimmy Garoppolo that averaged 29.9 points per game in the QB's only fully healthy season, a season that ended in a Super Bowl appearance. No disrespect to Garoppolo, but he was a second-round draft pick who played his college football at the FCS level.
Fields was ranked above presumed No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence coming out of high school, and twice finished top 10 in voting for the Heisman Trophy at Ohio State. His talent level can't be questioned.
If Fields ends up being the 49ers' choice at No. 3, Shanahan would have significantly more options and schemes to mold around him than he would with Mac Jones, who reports continue to indicate is the 49ers' preference.
Day helped manufacture an offense suited to Fields' strengths at the college level with the Buckeyes, and he has had a better look at the young QB's development than just about any other coach in America.
The offense he believes would be ideal for Fields sounds similar to what Shanahan emphasizes in the 49ers' scheme, meaning these two could be a tremendous match in the NFL.