Justin Fields' rookie season came with adrenaline-inducing highs and frustrating lows. The Bears put the rookie quarterback behind the eight-ball thanks to a porous offensive line and the coaching staff's unwillingness to alter the game plan to fit what he does well.
The result: a 58.9 percent completion rate, 1,870 yards, seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and 12 fumbles.
But the deeper stats painted a different picture. I've broken down how Fields improved throughout the season and why that trend portends well for the second-year quarterback having a breakout season.
Fields' biggest issues in 2021 were ball security and his tendency to hold on to the ball, trying to hit the deep ball instead of taking easier, shorter throws for a positive gain.
The poor surface-level stats combined with a lackluster receiving corps, suspect offensive line, and those troubling tendencies undoubtedly contributed to ESPN's Mike Clay's 2022 projections. Clay's projections have Fields leading the NFL in interceptions this coming season at 16, with Baker Mayfield and Trevor Lawrence right behind him at 15.
Clay's numbers are based on his fantasy football model, so it's not an earth-shattering projection, nor does it mean anything in the grand scheme. It is, after all, only fantasy football.
However, it does give us another opportunity to look at Fields' 2021 season, the perception of him, and why the way people view him is often incorrect.
There's no doubt Fields needs to improve his ball security. However, most of his issues came from fumbles, not from putting the ball at risk through the air.
In fact, Fields was among the unluckiest quarterbacks in the NFL last season when it came to interception rate vs. turnover-worthy throws.
Per Pro Football Focus, Fields had the 10th best ranking in the NFL in turnover-worthy throws but ranked 31st in interception rate. That means Fields had many more interceptions than expected based on the throws graded by PFF.
That stat correlates with some of Fields' most-impressive numbers from last season.
Per PFF, Fields tied with Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson for second in the NFL in Big Time Throw Percentage at 6.1 percent last season. When Fields was "in rhythm," that number rose to 7.3. On throws beyond the line of scrimmage, Fields only registered a turnover-worthy play rate of 2.9 percent, which dropped to 1.1 percent when he was in rhythm.
The problem? Fields was only in rhythm on 47 percent of his throws, which ranked 28th in the NFL. A lot of the onus for that falls on the Bears' offensive line, which allowed Fields to face pressure on 42.8 percent of dropbacks. Fields also was under pressure in two-and-a-half seconds or less on 27 percent of his dropbacks.
The Bears didn't invest significantly in souping up their offensive line. However, they did bring in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, whose wide-zone offense promises to get Fields on the move and out of the pocket more than Matt Nagy did last season.
That should benefit Fields, who was PFF's highest-rated passer last season on throws outside the pocket. Fields also led the NFL in passer rating on designed rollouts, per SportsInfoSolutions.
That the Bears only rolled Fields out 19 times -- calling a designed rollout on 4.1 percent of all dropbacks -- illustrates how much Fields can grow in Year 2 with a quarterback-friendly scheme designed to lean on the running game and minimize the holes in the offensive line.
Rookie quarterbacks generally struggle with turning the ball over. Fields was no exception. But the analytics suggest Fields, with Getsy's help, can be much better in that area this fall, which should help him make the Year 2 leap the Bears want to see.