Hoge's 10 Bears Things: The unlikely ‘steal' of Justin Fields


April 29, 2021 will be a day remembered forever in Bears history – and hopefully for good reasons. Against all odds, the Bears landed Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields in the NFL Draft and the sequence of events that played out over the last few months to make that happen is incredible. The post-draft “10 Bears Things” is always my favorite of the year and after four days of phone calls and text messages, the 2021 version is here for you.

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The hype wasn’t just smoke. Many teams thought five quarterbacks would be off the board in the first 10 picks. The fact that two were still available at No. 11, where the Bears traded up, was surprising not only to those watching the NFL Draft at home, but also those that were in the draft rooms and making phone calls across the league.

Here’s how it played out:

Everyone knew that Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson were the first two picks, but the draft started with the 49ers at No. 3. Was the pick going to be Trey Lance or Mac Jones? When the 49ers selected Lance, there was a belief inside Halas Hall that Jones – who the Bears also liked -- might fall into a range where a trade-up would be possible. But at that point, the thought of landing Justin Fields was still a dream.

Then the Falcons took Florida tight end Kyle Pitts at No. 4. It wasn’t a surprising pick, but it eliminated the possibility of another quarterback-needy team trading up. The next three picks went as expected, with Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and Penei Sewell coming off the board, but the lack of trades was still somewhat surprising.

This is where things really turned the Bears’ way. Carolina was on the clock at No. 8 and this was the start of an area where trading up for a quarterback was more reasonable – and Fields was still on the board. But no one knew the Panthers were locked in on South Carolina cornerback Jaycee Horn and this may have been the key pick that put Fields in a Bears uniform. Many around the league thought the Broncos would take a quarterback at No. 9, but suddenly Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain – a top five overall prospect on some teams’ draft boards – was there to add to Vic Fangio’s defense. Had the Panthers taken Surtain instead, there’s a strong belief the Broncos would have taken a quarterback. It was a big break for the Bears.

Now Dallas was on the clock at No. 10. And hearts were beating heavily at Halas Hall. Bears general manager Ryan Pace had worked out the parameters of a deal earlier that morning with Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, who typically doesn’t like to trade back. The Giants had the No. 11 pick, which meant the Bears were just one pick away from landing Fields if they could complete the trade.

And then the Eagles traded up to No. 10. This was the tensest of moments, because there was a worry Philadelphia was moving up for a quarterback. All bets were off with Fields and Jones falling this far.

But Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith was also falling and he was the perfect wide receiver to pair with quarterback Jalen Hurts. Deep breaths.

With the Giants officially on the clock at No. 11, Pace picked up the phone and called Gettleman. The Bears were not the only team calling the Giants and they knew quarterback-needy teams like Washington and the Patriots were lurking. The Bears had the worst pick among those teams at No. 20, so Pace’s offer had to be good. As it turned out, the rival Vikings were also calling to move up, although a league source believes Minnesota would have taken Northwestern left tackle Rashawn Slater with the No. 11 pick, not Fields. Still, ESPN reported Monday that the Vikings were fixated on Fields if he fell to them at No. 14. The Raiders were also a dark horse team to select a quarterback.

But Pace had the best offer, sending the No. 20 overall pick, next year’s first round pick, a 2021 fifth round pick and 2022 fourth round pick to New York.

And just like that, Justin Fields was a Bear. Many around the league were stunned. They couldn’t believe Fields fell that far. With so much quarterback demand this year, and a healthy supply in the draft, how the Panthers and Broncos pass on him and why did no one else trade up before the Bears did?

“They just saved their jobs,” a source from an AFC team texted minutes after the pick was made.

Days later, there’s still a sense of disbelief around the league and, most likely, inside Halas Hall too. The Bears got Justin Fields.


That was just draft night. Going back months, a lot of things had to go the Bears way -- or, really, not go their way -- to end up in a situation where they were trading up for Fields.

If the Bears had been more confident in landing one of the top quarterbacks in the draft, they likely wouldn’t have spent so much time earlier in the offseason targeting several veteran options via trade. Matthew Stafford was more than a rumor. The Bears were very interested, but it was tough to compete with the Rams when Stafford was dining in Cabo with Sean McVay. They did their due diligence on Carson Wentz before deciding not to submit an offer. And there was a time when Derek Carr seemed like both a realistic option and a great fit, but the Raiders were either asking for too much or changed their minds because he’s still in Las Vegas.

And, of course, there was Russell Wilson. Three first round picks and at least one player. That was the real cost and one the Bears were willing to pay, but the Seahawks didn’t pull the trigger.

Imagine if Seattle had taken two of those picks and traded up for Fields. They’d have their future quarterback, two first round picks in 2023 (they traded their 2022 first round pick for Jamal Adams), the player(s) they received from the Bears, and Russell Wilson off their books. I’m not completely convinced that’s a better situation, but it’s not a bad situation.

Instead, Fields is a Bear and it only cost them two first round picks and a couple mid-round picks. Granted, Wilson is a future Hall-of-Fame quarterback and much more of a sure thing than Fields. But he’s also nearly 11 years older than Fields and comes with a massive contract that probably would’ve been extended and stressed the Bears’ salary cap for years to come.

So it begs the question: Had Pace and Nagy known in mid-March that Fields could realistically be a Bear by April 29, would they have backed out of the Wilson trade talks or at least offered less? The guess here is yes.

Crazy enough, Fields compares his game to Wilson:

“I would say these past couple years I’ve kind of turned more to a Russell Wilson-type quarterback. I’ve watched a lot of film on him. I’ve watched a lot of highlights on him, so I think the things that we can do on the field with both of those quarterbacks, I think we have a lot of similarities between extending plays with our legs and also having the arm talent.”

The similarities aren’t hard to see.


In an unprecedented draft season with no NFL Combine and as little face-to-face time as possible, talent evaluators and coaches leaned on personal relationships more than ever before. Little did we know that one of those valuable relationships in the Justin Fields evaluation was the connection between Nagy and Ohio State head coach Ryan Day. That relationship formed when both coaches were quarterbacks at the college level in the late 1990s. Nagy was at Delaware and Day was at New Hampshire, where Chip Kelly was his offensive coordinator. The two have kept the relationship going during their climb up the coaching ranks and that led to a conversation over a year ago about Ohio State’s 2020 draft prospects. In that conversation, they talked about Fields, even though he wasn’t eligible for the draft yet, and Day called the quarterback “a generational talent.”

“It just stuck with me – ‘generational player’ -- and when you hear that, those are strong words, but you understand the respect that (Day) has for him and what that means,” Nagy said.

Day provided his side of the conversation too:

“That’s exactly the word I used when he got here was ‘generational talent’ and I would share those things with Matt when we would talk and he’d come visit. He would ask questions about a lot of our guys but, in particular, about Justin. I can’t even remember all the details of it because it was so much conversation. Just asked about his work ethic, who he is, his ability on the field, decision-making, I mean all of the above.”

And Fields wasn’t the only pick that was made with some trustworthy, inside information. Earlier this offseason, the Bears hired Anthony Hibbert to their strength and conditioning staff. Hibbert spent the last six years at Oklahoma State where he worked with second-round pick Teven Jenkins, who is an immediate candidate to start at left tackle this fall (more on that topic later).


There are several very smart quarterback analysts who were really high on Justin Fields before the NFL Draft. One of those voices I respect is Nate Tice, who was a quarterback at Wisconsin and now works for The Athletic. His father, of course, is former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice.

Nate Tice joined The Hoge & Jahns Podcast earlier this month and expressed his strong feelings about Fields:

"I have him closer to Trevor Lawrence than to the other guys. I think Fields in any other draft should be the 1-1 pick -- I think we're overthinking that. I think we're just trying to find a blemish with him. He's another guy that has been in the spotlight, but also just the complete package of athleticism, size, and he's extremely smart, he's smarter than a lot of people give him credit for."

Tice specifically addressed the criticism that Fields doesn't get through his reads quickly enough:

"We had the first backlash, 'Oh, he doesn't read anything,' and now the cool kids are all saying, 'No, he reads everything.' Of course, the truth is somewhere in the middle. But everything he is asked to do, he does in a calm -- like, he just plays with confidence and a calmness ... He progresses completely fine. That's all hogwash, all those knocks on that, dumb threads. I've watched at least four games on this guy and every time he has to progress, he does. Sometimes guys shortcut reads and I think that maybe that's what they're hung up on."

Ohio State's offense is part of the equation too, and Tice see similarities between the Buckeyes' system and what his dad ran in Minnesota.

"Everything is so down the field. It's really a lot like my dad's old teams with the Vikings, which was touchdown-to-checkdown and that's what Ohio State's offense is. It's a lot of at-you. It's aggressive, aggressive, aggressive. And guess what? He's super accurate, and he does everything perfect, exactly how it's coached and on time and then it's like, OK, and there's room to grow because he's young and big.

“And that's what so funny, like you don't really realize that he's also a 4.45 athlete on top of all that at 228 pounds. I really, really like him. I think Fields is truly a franchise guy and can handle it and is just going to step right in and just do a lot of good things. The aggressiveness is something that we can take for granted with quarterbacks. Aggressive and keeping the eyes down the field and I think that's a huge compliment that people are knocking him on.”


Another scouting voice I highly respect is former NFL quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan, who ranked Justin Fields No. 1 this year – even higher than Trevor Lawrence.

O’Sullivan spent 11 years in the league and even had a cup of coffee with the Bears in 2007. He is now a high school coach in San Diego, but also runs an extremely informative YouTube channel called “The QB School.” He has a large library of breakdowns on all the quarterbacks in this year’s draft, including seven on Justin Fields. When he was done breaking down all the film, he landed on Fields as his No. 1 quarterback.  

“I think (Lawrence) is also very good, but Justin Fields for my money, if I was making that type of investment, I think he has the highest ceiling. I think he’s a really good player now,” O’Sullivan said in his QB rankings video. “For me, the separator was head-to-heads, the toughness, the ability to bounce back. I love the curve of the improvement of what he’s able to do. He’s a freak athlete, crazy fast, and stresses a defense better than anybody else in the draft.”

I highly recommend watching all seven videos on Fields, as O’Sullivan does a great job of objectively breaking down the tape (and teaching concepts) while letting you form your own opinions about what you’re seeing. Those videos became a piece of the puzzle for me, but I also had extensive notes on all the quarterbacks going back to Lawrence’s freshman year at Clemson. With that in mind, here is a compilation of all my notes on Fields from a total of 11 games, some of which came from watching O’Sullivan’s videos, other tapes, and the two games I saw live from the sidelines against Northwestern:

2019 vs Nebraska

Appears to be skipping reads … Incredible scrambling ability that NFL defenses will have to always account for … When on the move, he does a really good job of adjusting body and resetting feet to throw … Crazy basketball shot across body to the middle of the field (dangerous, but a dime)

2019 at Northwestern (Ryan Pace in attendance)

Quickly passed in-person eye test … Calm and poised running the offense … Took what Northwestern defense gave him … Beautiful fadeaway throw to Olave on the sideline for a TD … Tight-window laser to J.K. Dobbins up seam for TD … 52-3 rout

2019 vs Penn State

Didn’t get through read and missed open tight end, forcing the ball downfield … Not afraid to sit in the pocket and take a hit … Really good anticipation and accuracy on the run … Missed MLB blitz and didn’t throw hot crosser … Multiple ball security issues

2019 at Michigan (Ryan Pace in attendance)

Full-field read on all-go that resulted in TD to Chris Olave … Really impressive sidearm flick off-platform under pressure … Anticipation throw to the field … Beautiful touch on deep ball … Aggravated sprained MCL suffered against Penn State, but delivered 30-yard TD after coming back into the game … That toughness impressed Pace

2019 vs Wisconsin (Big Ten Championship)

Played with brace on left knee … Showed willingness to throw it away after going through progressions… Overthrew Olave on post that should’ve been TD … Took three sacks early in the game, but some were scheme issues (no checkdowns) … Big fumble after refusing to accept play was over … Looked very ordinary in first half with constant pressure … Bought time and scrambled to left, throwing 50-yard floater to Olave off-script, which helped flipped momentum and started 27-0 run for the comeback win … Huge third down miss to the TE in the flat that stalled a drive and resulted in a FG … Went through progressions and delivered strike on go-ahead TD … Doesn’t run too early … Flushed out to left, was patient, allowing K.J. Hill to get open for TD

2019 vs Clemson (Fiesta Bowl)

Played with brace on left knee … Tight window throws … Easy throws to the field … Wide open short wheel to Dobbins was just slightly overthrown and led to drop (could have been caught) … Ridiculous ball placement to Mack down sideline … Won’t be brought down by arm tackles … Too greedy on hole-shot and picked off by Isaiah Simmons … Miscommunication with Olave on final play led to easy interception in end zone

2020 vs Indiana

More tight window throws with touch over linebackers and DBs … Drop mechanics are sound with cleats in the ground … Ugly interception on dagger concept – late to the seam (open early), but then didn’t throw the wide open dig and went back to the seam and was picked off … More lasers to the field (can easily throw Cover 2 hole shots at NFL level) … Pressure at his feet never bothers him … Another interception on a wide-open dagger concept and very concerning that he threw the ball up for grabs while getting sacked – have to know when the play is over!

2020 at Michigan State

This tape shows the full bag of clubs with a variety of different throws … Very accurate on a throw against the grain to the left … Incredible effort play, sprinting 65 yards downfield to land a block after handing the ball off on a zone-read (borderline block-in-the-back though and was probably unnecessary) … Beautiful blind spin vs a backside rusher that came free and a flick throw to front pylon

2020 vs Northwestern (Big Ten Championship)

Struggled with reads as Northwestern’s secondary did a good job of creating confusion … Foul ball on deep pass down the right sideline … Terrible ball on swing lateral that should have been a turnover … Really good back shoulder ball to the field to Garrett Wilson … Interception -- victimized by All-American safety Brandon Joseph on slightly underthrown fade in end zone (really good one-handed INT) … Battled through thumb injury suffered in first half… Didn’t have Olave … Wasn’t asked to throw much in second half with injury as Buckeyes were having success on ground … Lowered boom on safety before running out of bounds on scramble (big collision right in front me and showed toughness)

2020 vs Clemson (Sugar Bowl)

Deadly in red zone with multiple tight-window TD throws … Airmailed what should have been a 54-yard touchdown … Clearly in pain, but delivered strike on the run to the front pylon just a few plays after taking brutal hit to ribs … Insane 1-2-3 read and DIME to Olave for 56-yard TD with slight shift/reset in the pocket to get the throw off

2020 vs Alabama (National Championship)

Playing hurt after barely practicing following shot in Clemson game … 1-2-3 read and finds the deep hook (NFL read) … Beautiful throw up the seam to the tight end … Really does a nice job moving and climbing in pocket to create throwing angles – the resets are great! …. Rare bad miss to the corner of the end zone … Really good anticipation and accuracy on slot fade to end zone for TD

A few thoughts after re-watching these games

One thing I was wrong about in my pre-draft write-up on Fields is that I said he's a better thrower within the structure of the offense and not as good improvising. I think I was comparing him too much to Zach Wilson, who was the best quarterback in the draft when it comes to making off-platform throws outside the structure of the offense. There are plenty examples of Fields extending plays with his athleticism, buying time and either picking up yards with his legs or waiting for a receiver to get open before completing the pass. He can definitely improvise. That said, there are also examples of him not accepting when a play is over and either forcing a pass or fumbling the ball. You love the toughness and determination, but the ball security can definitely improve.

Meanwhile, three things from my pre-draft notes that were confirmed in my re-watch: 

1. Fields is accurate to all three levels. Some of the throws are just ridiculous.

2. When it comes to the reads, he does have a tendency to hang on the first read a little too long and then will sometimes skip the second read. This is not uncommon for college quarterbacks, but will be part of developmental process with Nagy and the Bears' coaching staff. 

3. The release doesn't bother me at all. Is it a little long? Well, it's a long arm. It's still twitchy and it snaps forward like Henry Rowengartner in "Rookie of the Year." The release is plenty quick in my opinion. 


I first wrote about the 2017 Kansas City Chiefs blueprint in March and why it made a lot of sense for the Bears with the signing of Andy Dalton. But getting the Alex Smith piece of the puzzle was much easier than getting the Patrick Mahomes piece.

And yet, here the Bears are with Justin Fields. It’s still hard to believe.

So will Fields really sit for all but one game in his rookie season? (Mahomes started in Week 17 when the Chiefs sat their starters before the playoffs.)

Here’s the answer: It comes down to wins. If the Bears are winning with Andy Dalton, then Dalton will probably continue to play. If not, it will be hard to resist the temptation to go to Fields.

As noted in that piece in March, Smith had a great season in 2017. He suddenly became a downfield passing threat, tying Drew Brees and Russell Wilson for a league-leading 32 completions of 20+ air yards. And the Chiefs were winning enough games – finishing 10-6 while winning the AFC West. There was almost zero pressure to play Mahomes.

The Chiefs also had Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt. Can the Bears stay competitive with Dalton? Sure. But expecting the same offensive output is probably unfair.

That said, the Bears hope Nagy can get similar results with Dalton this fall – and he’ll have solid weapons with Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, David Montgomery and an improving Cole Kmet. It really is in everyone’s best interest to see Dalton have success and win games while Fields can develop at the proper rate and force the issue on his own.

But that’s the other side of the equation. Having played at Ohio State in enormous games against programs like Clemson and Alabama, Fields’ development could happen relatively quickly.

“When that game ticks up in the NFL, I'd be shocked if he doesn't pick it up really, really fast and make those adjustments,” Day said. “Why? Because he can. He's really intelligent. He's really athletic. And really competitive. He'll get that really, really fast and they'll train him in those areas, but when he was with us, the decision-making and all that stuff was excellent.”

As good as Mahomes is, he was extremely raw as a quarterback when he got to Kansas City. Nagy told the story over the weekend of Mahomes’ first time in the huddle:

“He started screaming the plays and the defense could hear him on the other side because he had never called a play call in a huddle before. Those are the little things we all think we can get up and do that these kids haven’t done, getting a snap from under center, doing different things there. So those small little processes take time.”

Fields will have similar adjustments as he also got calls/checks from the sideline and operated exclusively out of the shotgun, but he’s more prepared to start early, in my opinion. He’s a polished pocket passer who played at an extremely high level at a big-time program in big-time games. And while that Texas Tech air-raid system is now literally in the NFL with Kliff Kingbury coaching the Cardinals, there are plenty of concepts from Ryan Day’s offense at Ohio State that translate to what Matt Nagy does with the Bears. It really should not take long for Fields to get up to speed in the Bears’ system.

So while the 2017 Chiefs blueprint is a good one, that doesn’t mean it will play out the same way in Chicago. Still, that’s the best-case scenario and the scenario the Bears are shooting for.

“When the time is right, I promise you every single person will know, including Justin, when it’s the right time and that’s naturally how it happens,” Nagy said.


With the Bears releasing longtime left tackle Charles Leno Jr. Monday, it’s quite apparent they view Jenkins – drafted No. 39 overall – as the team’s next left tackle. In fact, he could be starting there come Week 1.

That might be concerning considering he made 74 percent of his starts at right tackle at Oklahoma State, but it should be known that there were 490 snaps at left tackle to evaluate on tape. In fact, he was supposed to be the starting left tackle for the entirety of the 2020 season. He spent all of training camp at left tackle and started the opener against Tulsa on the left side. Unfortunately, the right tackle got hurt in that game and the young backup the Cowboys had was more comfortable on the left side so it necessitated a move back to the right side for Jenkins.

At Oklahoma State’s pro day, Jenkins worked on pass sets from both sides of the line and the Bears obviously liked what they saw, coupled with the 490 snaps of film from the left side. It’s a gamble and a projection, but Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was adamant Saturday that Jenkins is just “scratching the surface” of his potential so perhaps a move to left tackle in the NFL will pay off.


It would be accurate to say that some teams were scared off by Larry Borom’s weight. He played at 350 pounds at Missouri last season, yet still appeared light on his feet. The Bears were impressed though when he showed up at his pro day at 322 pounds.

The obvious question then became: was this just a prospect getting in shape for his pre-draft workout or a legitimate lifestyle change?

Clearly, the Bears view it as the latter. But his weight and conditioning will have to be monitored closely for the athletic and powerful offensive lineman, just as it was for nose tackle Eddie Goldman his first couple of seasons.

The expectation is that Borom will compete with Germain Ifedi at right tackle this year with a move inside to guard being a promising fallback plan if tackle doesn’t work out.


The Bears placed an emphasis on special teams with the selections of Virginia Tech running back Khalil Herbert (No. 217) and North Carolina wide receiver Dazz Newsome (No. 221). Both have return ability, and both are expected to contribute in multiple ways on special teams. Herbert was given the honor of wearing the No. 25 jersey once in 2020, which is handed out weekly by Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente to the team’s special teams player of the week. He earned that honor after setting a Virginia Tech record with 357 all-purpose yards against Duke. Herbert is known for being especially effective on outside zone runs as a running back, which will fit the Bears’ scheme.

As for Oregon cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. (No. 228), the Bears really like his ball skills and he could be in the mix to compete for the starting nickelback spot. Third-year cornerback Duke Shelley took over that job for veteran Buster Skrine late last season, but that’s the one spot on the defense that will likely be an open competition in training camp this summer.

Finally, BYU’s Khyiris Tonga (No. 250) fills an underrated need as a backup to nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who opted out of last season. The Bears had veteran John Jenkins there in 2020, but he is no longer on the roster. Tonga is an older prospect who turns 25 in July, but he should be a quick rotational contributor even if his ceiling is limited.


It will be fascinating to look back on April 29, 2021 in a few years. The fallout at the quarterback position across the NFC North could be huge.

For one, it was the day we learned that Aaron Rodgers really does want out of Green Bay. He’s not messing around. And then, amazingly, the Packers drafted another cornerback in the first round. Bold decision. What happens with Rodgers (and Deshaun Watson) will be the biggest story in the NFL the rest of the offseason. If he actually leaves the division, you could argue that Justin Fields immediately becomes the most talented quarterback in the NFC North.

Meanwhile, the Vikings wanted Fields – just not as badly as the Bears. And they didn’t land their other highly coveted target – Northwestern left tackle Rashawn Slater – either. I’ll say this though, Vikings GM Rick Spielman did well to trade back and still land Virginia Tech left tackle Christian Darrisaw. I liked the Vikings’ draft and I love that they got Texas A&M quarterback Kellen Mond in the third round. I had a late first round/early second round grade on him. Minnesota’s offense is a good fit for Mond and he’ll be a good spot developing behind Kirk Cousins for a year or two. Still, the fact that the Vikings wanted Field and he instead ended up with the Bears – that’s got to be tough to swallow in Minnesota.

And then there’s the Lions. They could have had Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa last year and they passed. They could have had Justin Fields or Mac Jones this year and they passed. Instead, they have Jared Goff – a downgrade from Matthew Stafford. Penei Sewell will be a great left tackle for many years to come, but when are the Lions going regret passing on so many quarterbacks?

Again, it will be fascinating to look back on all of this in three years.

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