COLUMBUS, Ohio — Before Ohio State’s pro day on Tuesday, Justin Fields was considered a lock to go among the top 10 picks of the NFL draft.
He only helped himself with his workout at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Fields ran an unofficial time of 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash, the second-fastest time for a quarterback in 15 years, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Almost all of his throws to Ohio State receivers were right on target with plenty of zip, including a deep one to C.J. Saunders on a simulated rollout that drew oohs and ahs.
“It might have gone 75 yards,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.
Fields is a level-headed guy by nature. He didn’t get carried away with his performance. His 40 time was slower than he wanted.
“I think overall I had a solid day,” Fields said. “I think everybody knows my goal in that 40-yard dash was to at least be in the 4.3s. I’m kind of mad about that. But other than that, I threw pretty well. I had a few missed throws, but that happens. Every throw is not going to be perfect.”
With the draft a month away, a pecking order has started to form. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is expected to go to Urban Meyer’s Jacksonville Jaguars with the first pick. The New York Jets are widely expected to select BYU’s Zach Wilson.
After that, it’s murky. San Francisco traded up a few days ago to get the third pick. Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers coach, attended Alabama’s pro day on Tuesday, leading to speculation he’s more interested in Crimson Tide quarterback Mac Jones. But Shanahan said that Fields plans to have a second pro day and that he would attend that one.
Atlanta, Fields’ hometown team, at No. 4, and Carolina at No. 8 are also in the market for a quarterback.
It’s a rite of passage that quarterbacks are picked apart as the draft approaches for perceived flaws, and Fields has not escaped such criticism. The biggest directed at him centers on questions about whether Fields goes through his progressions as quickly as he’ll need to in the NFL.
Fields doesn’t put much stock in that criticism.
“There’s no issue because I know what I do on the field,” he said. “We have a lot of reads where the progressions are across the board, where I’m going from 1 to 2 to 3 to 4.”
The truth is, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson were clearly the Buckeyes’ best receivers last year, and Fields had faith that they would get open and make the catch.
“We have some of the best receivers in the country,” Fields said, “so if my first or second read is there, I’m not going to pass up that first or second read to get to my fourth or fifth reads (just) to prove I can pass my first or second read. I’m just not going to do that. That’s not going to put my team in the best position to win, and that’s just being selfish to show people that I can do it.”
Day said the question about Fields progressing through his reads is something he’s seen in the media, but not from NFL teams he has talked to. Day was a quarterbacks coach in the NFL for two years.
It’s clear he has little doubt Fields will be a success.
“When you look at the way he competes on the field, that speaks for itself,” Day said. “Not only his ability to throw the ball, but his size, ability to make plays. He's a winner. He's tough. Really smart. He picks things up really quickly so whatever they teach in terms of a scheme, he's going to pick that up very, very quickly.”
Referring to the injuries Fields played through against Michigan in 2019 and Clemson last year, Day said the quarterback’s toughness is unmatched by anyone he has coached.
“So when you combine the talent, the size, the arm strength, his competitiveness, his toughness, intelligence, he kind of checks all the boxes. If you were trying to design a quarterback, to me Justin fits that prototype. He hasn't played four or five years of college football so the good news is he's got a really, really high ceiling.”