Justin Fields was dealt a bad hand during his rookie season. Matt Nagy refused to tweak his offense to accentuate Fields' strengths, and the young signal-caller struggled as a result.
As a result, the Bears' young quarterback struggled, completing just 58.9 percent of his passes for 1,870 yards, seven touchdowns, and 10 interceptions while piloting an offense built for Andy Dalton. While Fields' numbers were subpar, the Ohio State product did have moments where he flashed his star potential, including back-to-back impressive performances against the San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The 2022 season will be critical for Fields' development as an NFL quarterback. With new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy installing a wide-zone offense this offseason, there's reason to believe a big jump could be coming from Fields.
Per Sports Info Solutions (h/t Doug Farrar), Fields had the NFL's highest passer rating (138.5) on designed rollouts last season. The Bears called just 19 of them.
According to SIS, Fields had a 73.7 percent completion rate on rollouts, with 93.8 percent of those passed labeled as "catchable" and 81.3 percent being on target.
Here's a comparison of the top five quarterbacks in passer rating on rollouts with a minimum of 19 attempts.
1. Justin Fields (19 att) – 138.5 rating, 73.7 comp, 93.8 catchable, 81.3 on target, 10.5 TD percentage
2. Dak Prescott (47 att) – 126.1, 74.5 comp, 87.2 catchable, 72.3 on target, 12.8 TD
3. Joe Burrow (26 att) – 122.1, 65.4 comp, 80.0 catchable. 72.0 on target, 11.5 TD
4. Josh Allen (29 att) – 121.9, 58.6 comp, 80.8 catchable, 73.1 on target, 10.3 TD
5. Kirk Cousins (54 att) – 118.1, 70.4 comp, 87.8 catchable, 81.6 on target, 5.6 TD
It's a small sample size, but it shows how effective Fields can be when he's not asked to run a straight pocket-passing offense behind a shaky offensive line and limited receiving options. Get Fields moving, and he becomes the dynamic signal-caller we saw at Ohio State.
While we haven't seen much of Getsy's offense during the offseason program, tight end Cole Kmet gave us a glimpse at what the offense might look like, and it sounds like Fields will be utilizing his legs a lot more than he did last season under Nagy's watch.
"I don't want to get too much in detail with it, but Justin's on the move a lot, and I think he does well with that," Kmet said during OTAs. "That's been exciting to see, and you see the types of throws he can make with his legs and on the run and off-schedule. Like I said, no pads right now, but you see that type of stuff, and it gets exciting."
Letting Fields use his athleticism to create easier throws is something everyone was screaming for last season as the young quarterback was getting battered behind a bad offensive line.
Getsy's offense promises to be some mix of the LaFleur-Kubiak branch of the Shanahan tree, using the wide-zone rushing attack to set up bootlegs, rollouts, and deep shots. The more the Bears let Justin Fields be Justin Fields, the better the chance he will blossom into a star.
After spending his first NFL season trying to swim upstream, new head coach Matt Eberflus and Getsy are putting Fields in a position to succeed by letting him attack defenses with the best weapons in his arsenal.
That has led to a change in Fields as he heads toward Year 2.
"Man, he's confident," Kmet said. "He's confident coming in, so it's been fun to be out there with him. Confident in the huddle, in his calls, things like that. Taking initiative with everybody, and that's been a lot of fun to be a part of.
"You just feel him in the huddle. He's not just repeating the play, he's telling you the play, and there's a difference in that. That gives me confidence as a player out in the field. He's talking to each guy. It's not just a repeat-a-play, he's telling us a play, which is a difference."
Quarterback success in the NFL is largely dependent on their early-career situation.
Fields had little chance for success in Nagy's operation. But, now running a system that should highlight his strengths, there's reason to believe Fields can take off this fall.