Could Justin Fields end up as the best QB from the 2021 NFL Draft? How disrespect fuels dominance

Forget about all the disappointing quarterbacks the Chicago Bears have endured over the decades. Don’t pay much credence to all the challenges facing this team this fall, either, including the NFC’s toughest strength of schedule and legitimate offensive line questions. The Bears have a rookie quarterback who could end up as the best signal-caller in this draft class someday. All he has to do is rely on that sizable chip that should be resting snugly on his right shoulder.

Anybody who’s been watching the NFL lately should understand one simple truth: Most of the best quarterbacks in this league have blossomed in the wake of disrespect.

Tom Brady didn’t get drafted until the sixth round, Aaron Rodgers had his draft daydream famously spoiled, and countless teams thought Russell Wilson was too tiny to have any major impact. Fields just spent the past few months hearing about his own flaws, which ultimately led to him falling to the Bears at the 11th overall pick. There likely isn’t much solace knowing Chicago traded up to get him after Fields dropped out of the top 10.

Fields comes into the league realizing this much: When he announced his decision to leave Ohio State early to enter the 2021 NFL Draft, many considered him to be the second-best quarterback in this class. He produced at an insanely high level against top competition and reportedly blew away an aptitude test that suggested he has a photographic memory. As Fields said during a video press conference after the Bears selected him, “When big moments present themselves, I feel like there’s just another thing that kicks inside me.

“Playing well on big stages, I think that’s definitely one of my strengths, for sure.”

The fourth quarterback off the board two weeks ago — Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson and Trey Lance were taken with the first three picks of the evening, then teams like Carolina and Denver chose to address other positions in the top 10 — Fields was smart enough to not spend his draft night lamenting those who passed on him. There will be plenty of time to use that chip to his advantage, plenty of time to punish those evaluators who oddly singled him out for excessive criticism during the pre-draft process. The beauty of what happened to Fields is that it made him well aware of what it’s going to take to succeed at the highest level of football. It would be a shock if he didn’t arrive at Chicago’s rookie minicamp this weekend hyper-focused to show the world what he’s really all about.

After all, Brady didn’t become the greatest quarterback of all time because he was blessed with talent nobody else could see except for New England head coach Bill Belichick, who passed on the Michigan product six times before selecting him with the 199th overall pick in 2000. It was because Brady toiled relentlessly at his craft, so much so that veterans would watch him in meetings and workouts during his rookie season and wonder what would happen if he ever became a starter. When Wilson showed up in Seattle as a third-round pick in 2012 — a draft class that included quarterbacks like Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler taken ahead of him — he was planning on competing with free-agent acquisition Matt Flynn for the job. Wilson earned the spot by the end of his first training camp, largely because his preparation and tireless work ethic garnered so much admiration.

Then there’s Rodgers. He’s dominating the offseason news cycle right now because of his ongoing feud with the Green Bay Packers’ front office, but his stubborn nature is easy to understand. His Hall of Fame career has been filled with slights, from being ignored by big-time programs coming out of high school … to a stint in junior college before starring at Cal … to falling to the 24th overall pick in the 2005 draft after being discussed as the top overall selection that year. In fact, most of the quarterbacks in last year’s postseason — a group that also included Buffalo’s Josh Allen, Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and recently retired New Orleans icon Drew Brees — seized on the benefit of disrespect.

These stories are brought up because all these men used insults to their advantage. Fields didn’t have to face the type of struggles some of those other quarterbacks encountered in their early years — he was a five-star quarterback coming out of high school — but he has worked for everything he’s gotten. Fields transferred from Georgia when it was clear that Jake Fromm was entrenched as the starter. He then led Ohio State to a 20-2 record during his tenure there, with his Buckeyes earning back-to-back College Football Playoff bids and a spot in last year’s national championship game.

You want to know everything you need to know about Fields? Just watch him in this past January’s 49-28 win over Clemson in the national semifinals. Not only did Fields complete 22 of 28 passes for 385 yards and six touchdowns, but he also thoroughly outplayed Lawrence, who’d been preordained as the top pick in this draft since his freshman year. Fields memorably took a vicious shot to his ribs from a Clemson linebacker early in that contest, but after missing just one snap, he continued his brilliance throughout the rest of a statement-making blowout of the Tigers.

The Bears have had their share of tough quarterbacks. What they haven’t had is a quarterback who can provide that grit and all the playmaking ability that Fields brings to the table. When a reporter asked Fields to describe himself on that aforementioned virtual presser, the 22-year-old said he’s a versatile QB who creates plays with his arm and legs, makes smart decisions and is willing to do whatever it takes to win. Fields added that he fits perfectly with what Chicago head coach Matt Nagy wants to do with this offense.

Of course, this is the part where we have to get into what Nagy hasn’t done with this offense, as well as what general manager Ryan Pace hasn’t accomplished with the quarterback position. The Bears had hoped that Mitchell Trubisky could blossom into a consistent leader. They brought in Nick Foles to give this team a boost last year and then signed Andy Dalton earlier this offseason as a stopgap. This is a brain trust that has disappointed every time it’s bet on a quarterback and, if not for two postseason appearances in the last three years, the coach and GM might not have their jobs today.

Simply put, the Bears had to go get Fields. Pace blew it when he drafted Trubisky second overall in 2017 — while infamously passing on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson — and Nagy’s calling card as a quarterback whisperer has been negated by his inability to get much out of either Trubisky or Foles. The Bears need a player who can make something special happen when plans implode. They need somebody who can make Chicago believe that winning can happen even when the defense has a bad day.

The Bears appear to have such a player now, along with an obvious game plan. Nagy has talked about giving Fields time to acclimate to the league as Dalton leads the team early. It’s a move Nagy remembers from his days as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, when Mahomes spent his rookie season sitting behind Alex Smith.

“We know what we have sitting in front of us,” Nagy said during NFL Network’s schedule release coverage Wednesday night. “And we know we need to have a successful entry plan.”

It’s important to note that Chicago’s troubled history at quarterback means nothing now. Kansas City went three decades before landing a homegrown superstar in Mahomes, while Cleveland took nearly as long before Baker Mayfield settled into the position and matured this past season. Yes, the Bears have had their share of comical issues at the position. Those problems could be solved by a player who should be highly motivated to prove one thing:

How you finish means a hell of a lot more than you how start.

Follow Jeffri Chadiha on Twitter.

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