PHOENIX -- Chris Simms was critical of Justin Fields entering the 2021 NFL Draft. The NBC Sports analyst had Fields ranked as the No. 6 passer in the class, citing concerns about Fields' ability to be able to win from the pocket at the NFL level.
Simms has seen growth from the Bears' young quarterback. The implementation of more quarterback-designed runs revealed Fields to be one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL. Fields still has work to do as a passer, but the Bears exited the 2022 season happy with the growth Fields showed and ready to move forward with him as their franchise quarterback.
But with the Bears owning the No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, some have wondered if Bears general manager Ryan Poles might look to trade Fields and draft a quarterback of his choosing.
Simms thinks that line of thinking is, well, ludicrous.
“This is the funniest part of the business. I’m an idiot for telling people for two years that he’s not that great of a thrower, and now we want to get rid of him, and no one says sorry to me, like, what the f—k?" Simms told NBC Sports Chicago at Super Bowl LVII's Radio Row. "I think I’m a believer in elite traits. He has an elite trait. Yeah, we have work to do in the passing game and all of that, but when you have somebody – I would argue, with the ball in their hands, who is a better player than Justin Fields? He’s top five in the league with the ball in his hands in space. So, from that standpoint, you can build off that. You don’t have to run him 20 times a game or 15 times a game, but the threat is there. You run him seven, eight times, but the threat is there another 10, 15 times. It’s going to open up the rest of the offense.
"That’s where I would say no. We don’t know what Bryce Young is going to be. He’s small and he would scare me. He’s a good player, don’t get me wrong. C.J. Stroud is good but doesn’t blow me away. You have a Greek God at quarterback in Justin Fields and a guy who is something special and I would not trade that.”
Early on in the season, Simms got the feeling that the Bears' staff didn't fully trust Fields to run their offense. He pounded the table for offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and head coach Matt Eberflus to look to what the Baltimore Ravens have done with Lamar Jackson and add some wrinkles to help Fields build confidence.
That finally happened in the Bears' Week 7 blowout win over the New England Patriots. Chicago broke out a comprehensive menu of quarterback-designed runs, and the Patriots had no way to combat something they hadn't game-planned to stop.
That formula worked for the next few games as the Bears averaged 31 points per game from Week 7 through Week 10. But teams started to catch on to the Bears' quarterback run game, and Chicago lacked an effective counter in the passing game.
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The criticism of Fields' ability as a passer are fair. He only broke the 200-yard mark twice and had five games where he completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes. The lack of talent surrounding Fields played a role in his struggles in the passing game. Simms sees the warts but has now seen enough to believe Fields can keep building and become a guy who can win with his arm and legs.
“It’s funny when I try to bring up these concerns when he came out of the draft, everyone told me I’m an idiot. Now everyone is telling me about the concerns, and I’m like, ‘I know,'" Simms told NBC Sports Chicago. "I never thought he was the most purely natural thrower in the world. I never thought that. I never thought it was Mahomes or Josh Allen. But nonetheless, he’s a good thrower, a good athlete. He has fixed his mechanics to a degree. There’s still some work to be done.
"The next learning curve is going to be just playing within the pocket and learning how to play reading the field. As a guy like that, they don’t always have to do that and that’s fine. In high school, college, it was like, ‘Well, the first guy’s not open. I’m going to run because it always works. I get 30 yards when I run.’ Here’s the next phase of this. Playing that pocket football. I don’t think he’s there yet. I think they are on the right track. Get some weapons, continue with the run game, and with what he’s doing, I think you can slowly build it to a spot where you say, ‘Damn, he’s dangerous in the pass game.’ He might never be Patrick Mahomes, but it can be good enough where you go we can win and we’re deep in the playoffs and look what we’re doing.”
Poles and the Bears are set to enter a transformational offseason armed with around $100 million in salary cap and the No. 1 pick in the draft.
The feeling around the league is that the Bears also have a young, ascending quarterback in Fields. The talk of trading him is coming from those outside league circles.
The consensus in Arizona, where the NFL world has gathered to watch the Chiefs and Eagles duel on Sunday for the Lombardi Trophy, is that Fields is the guy in Chicago.
"I mean that dude is an absolute beast," Rob Gronkowski told NBC Sports Chicago. "There is no doubt about that. ... I definitely think he's a franchise quarterback."
“I think absolutely the Bears should stick with Justin Fields," Michael Vick echoed Tuesday during FOX's Super Bowl media availability in Phoenix. "Good quarterbacks are hard to find. You got a guy who just ran for 1,000 yards. ... I think they are a step ahead of the curve right now. They just got to make Justin a better passer and get an offense around him that can really help him take it to the next level.”