There’s a whole lotta hand-wringing going on over slights uttered about Justin Fields’ work ethic last week by ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky.
The charges Orlovsky lobbed during an appearance on The Pat McAfee Show were -- in context -- benign. Orlovsky said he "heard" the Ohio State quarterback was a "Last one in, first to leave ..." kind of guy and not in possession of a "maniacal work ethic."
Peter King has a breakdown of the comments, Fields’ reaction, Ohio State coach Ryan Day’s reaction and some finger-wagging for Orlovsky.
Here’s the thing. Fields is going to be just fine. Every single team with a need at quarterback and a shot at Fields is going to do all the legwork to determine whether Fields is their kind of quarterback and their kind of guy.
Hell, some teams may find Fields does indeed work with efficiency and doesn’t need to spend the kind of fake-hustle, window-dressing hours that NFL coaches and scouts swoon over. Nobody is raising a red flag in their draft room based on what Dan Orlovsky said.
The larger conversation here is how easily played we are every single year. Bombs and bouquets are lobbed from mid-February until the end of April every year at the top NFL Draft prospects. And the clear-and-obvious agenda behind any team-sourced information is to make sure the rest of the league stays the hell away from the guy you like. Period. End of story.
And that’s why, just as we should take slight criticism of Fields with a grain of salt, the coronation of Mac Jones deserves just as much skepticism.
When college teams were playing most every week, Jones was looked at as a nice offensive caretaker. He was the lucky jockey up on the thoroughbred that is the Alabama offense. Would you have swapped the skill position players of the Crimson Tide -- Devonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Najee Harris -- with Jakobi Meyers, Damiere Byrd and Damien Harris and not think twice? Yes. Yes, you would have. And plenty of other NFL teams would have done the same.
But now, after three months in which no games were played, Jones has gone from being regarded as the fifth-best quarterback prospect to the third, second or -- I s--- you not -- the top quarterback prospect. He’s gone from mid-to-late first-rounder to top-five pick.
Is all of that propaganda aimed at pumping up Jones so a player like Fields drops? No. But the agenda of every single expert analyst has to be vetted and weighed.
Here’s former NFL head coach June Jones on Mac Jones in late February. (No relation I presume, but given the appraisal I can’t be sure.)
“I would rate Mac Jones first. ... Nobody will have rated him in this position but off games I have studied I believe that five years down the road this will prove to be the case,” June Jones said. “He is best in this class, his accuracy is superior to anybody I have watched. He can move well enough in the pocket even though he is not really a runner. He can move and make plays with his arm. Very, very good on deep balls. [I] believe he will get drafted in the middle to late first round.”
Jones has Clemson’s Lawrence as his third-rated quarterback. Would I be sharing June Jones’ words, which I found through a Google search of “Jones vs. Lawrence,” had he said Lawrence was better? No. So June Jones gets buzz for his unconventional opinion.
When former Alabama quarterback and current SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy pumps up Jones, you can’t help but think a little school pride enters into it.
“Based on the performance in the 2020 season, he is by far and away the better option between him and Justin Fields based on the performance during the season," McElroy said. "But there are many talent evaluators over the last several months that have stated, ‘Well, Justin Fields has ridiculous upside. Yeah, completely agree with that ...' "
By far? Come on.
And what recommends Jones? Here’s Gene Chizik describing Jones as basically the polar opposite of what Orlovsky said Fields supposedly is.
"To be honest with you, I think his stock has clearly risen since the end of the football season," Chizik said. "One of the things that people love is the fact that this guy is a gym rat. He’s a football guy that studies the game. One of the things that sets him apart from the other players -- he’s even said it himself -- is his football acumen. Loving to get in there and grind and study the game and the cerebral part of the game, learning offenses and learning formations and things of that nature, really have set him apart.
"You can look at the black and white stats. When you complete over 77 percent completion percentage on your passes, that’s really incredible.”
They aren’t lying to artificially inflate Jones. They believe it. They’re sharing their positive reviews. But there’s no real check to balance that. Because the reality is -- relative to the NFL -- most of us are college football casuals. We don’t see enough live games in the fall. So to get up to speed most of us watch YouTube highlights. Breaking news: guys look good on highlights.
Meanwhile, we don’t know whether the corner Jones and Waddle are lighting up on those highlights is even any good. Or if the defensive scheme is trash. There’s no consistency to the competition these guys face so everything is a projection.
We need people to take us by the hand and lead us to information. Which brings us to Orlovsky. He doesn’t want to get on with McAfee and be a bland, shrugging, information-free guest. So he offers what he’s "heard" about Fields. The info kind of went off like a grenade in his hand but I doubt he set out that day to harpoon Fields’ draft prospects.
The odds that someone talking to Orlovsky -- and he said he spoke to two teams about Fields -- was trying to do that? Unless it was a team that has no interest in quarterbacks in this draft, the odds are pretty good that there’s an agenda there.
It’s how it’s done. Unless it isn’t.
Take this example: in 2018, Ringer analyst and former Patriots executive Michael Lombardi reported just before the draft that several teams had concerns about Sony Michel being “bone-on-bone” in his knee. That was a verifiable fact. The Patriots drafted Michel anyway around the spot most predicted he’d go.
Meanwhile, Michel’s been dogged by knee issues through his first three years. But he was instrumental in helping deliver a Super Bowl in 2018 for New England.
Was Lombardi doing the Patriots a solid and helping ensure teams thought twice about Michel’s medicals? Or was he doing the job The Ringer pays him to do: provide information? When the information is verifiable -- a medical report, an arrest, etc. -- it’s easier to discount ulterior motives.
When there’s a nebulous criticism about time management? You have to wonder what the motivation is.