Ironically, the last quarterback selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft is the only rookie who not only has his team set up to earn a playoff berth, but also has his team situated atop their division. That man is Mac Jones, one of the most polarizing prospects on this year’s draft board. So did the Bears get the pick wrong by going with Justin Fields with the No. 11 overall pick instead of the man from Alabama?
Jones has easily been the most reliable rookie among his classmates this season. In fact, he’s been one of the most reliable QBs, regardless of experience, as he’s one of only three quarterbacks to complete over 70% of his passes, alongside Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa. Furthermore, Jones has maintained a respectable 2:1 TD:INT ratio, which is no easy task for a rookie. He’s made accurate throws and he’s made them on time, and he’s done enough to help the Patriots become the No. 10 scoring team in the league.
But none of this is unexpected. The word on Jones was that he was easily the most NFL-ready, the question was, does he have a high enough ceiling to become a true superstar at quarterback? That question remains unanswered.
On the other hand, Fields has had much more of an up-and-down start to his season. Statistically, his numbers are much worse than Jones’. Part of that is because Jones has played much more than Fields, and because the Patriots have a better supporting cast around their rookie than the Bears. But Fields has also made more “rookie” mistakes in his limited time. He’s squeezed balls into tight windows, stared down receivers and acted indecisively at times, which have led to some ugly turnovers. As a ball carrier, he’s fumbled more than Jones too. That’s not to say Jones has been perfect, because he’s made some embarrassing mistakes too. Trying to throw the ball at Jonnu Smith’s feet for an incompletion, while Smith was two yards behind him, comes to mind as one of the most glaring “rookie” mistakes. But overall Fields has been more careless with the football than Jones.
None of this is unexpected, either. As a more-dynamic quarterback, the thought was Fields would make more mistakes early in his career, as he figures out what he can and can’t get away with in the NFL. With those mistakes have come some jaw-dropping highlights too. Fields’ incredible 22-yard touchdown scramble, on 4th-and-2, down seven points in the fourth quarter, was something that Jones will likely only accomplish in his wildest dreams. Same goes for the pinpoint-perfect deep balls that Fields has laid on receivers while on the run. Sure, Fields is a little rougher around the edges, but his potential for greatness is off the charts.
Saying the Bears got the pick wrong at this stage in both players' careers is ridiculous. Even after next season, it will probably be too soon to tell whether either man will be a legit franchise QB, or a bust. Hell, it may turn out that Trey Lance, who’s hardly played at all this season, turns out to be the best of the bunch. But one thing that’s for sure, is both the Patriots and Bears have exciting young quarterbacks to develop over the coming years.