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Justin Fields of Dreams. Ohio State QB makes pitch at Pro Day

Broncos GM George Paton among coaches, executives in attendance
National Championship Football
Posted at 12:40 PM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-30 18:43:25-04

DENVER -- As a family we crossed the country last month, accompanying our oldest son on a drive from Colorado to Pennsylvania for his new job as a baseball video scout. It was long, but liberating. An excuse to leave the house through the comfort of the car. There were stops in Burlington, Colo., St. Louis -- that's where I reported on the Nolan Arenado trade in a remarkable coincidence -- Pittsburgh -- the Renaissance hotel features breathtaking views -- and Philadelphia -- love driving up Broad Street to the football and baseball stadiums.

We had some elasticity in our schedule allowing for pit stops at Arrowhead Stadium, Victory Field in Indianapolis, PNC Park, and, Ohio Stadium. It is impressive, reminding me of a blend of the Rose Bowl and Soldier Field. On a brief, refrigerated walk around campus, it is easy to see why Saturdays are so special in Columbus.

Which brings me back to Ohio. Broncos general manager George Patton arrived there Tuesday to watch Ohio State prospects, most notably quarterback Justin Fields.

Paton has not ruled out taking a quarterback in the first round. The Broncos hold the ninth pick. Fields does not figure to be available at that spot. It raises the question, will the Broncos consider moving up to select the Buckeyes star, knowing it would likely require surrendering two future first round picks and a second or third to get to fourth?

Would that be necessary? There's growing speculation that quarterbacks will go in the first four picks for the first time ever -- Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones and Justin Fields -- with a fifth going soon after.

Fields slipped off the radar slightly over the past few weeks as Lawrence, Trey Lance and Wilson -- the latter two were watched in person by Paton -- staged their Pro Days. Jones worked out again Tuesday, wanting to show more deep ball strikes as the industry believes the 49ers will select him third overall (Jones is not the athlete of the other top QBs, but he is considered a better athlete than their current starter Jimmy Garoppolo).

Justin Fields of Dreams. Ohio State QB makes pitch at Pro Day

For this exercise, I will assume San Francisco lands Jones based on my conversations with industry sources over the past three days.

Fields remains a wild card. He did not hurt himself on Tuesday. As expected, he became a blur in his 40-yard dash, clocking a 4.43 unofficial time. This is an elite athlete. And before you throw cold water on Ohio State QBs in the NFL -- the history is depressing, with Dwayne Haskins Jr. the latest to fall from grace with a thud -- Fields deserves the benefit of the doubt.

He's not a running quarterback. He's a passing quarterback who can run. He can attack all levels of the field on throws, beating you with his arm inside and outside the pocket, and can make plays off script with his legs.

Did he struggle against Indiana and Northwestern last season, pressing to make throws that were not there? Absolutely. Can he improve his anticipation, and will he have to show that in the NFL where quick decision making is a must? Yep. But he possesses the traits that should translate to pro success.

"I am a big believer in Justin Fields," Fox Sports college football analyst Joel Klatt said on FS1 on Monday. "I think that Justin Fields gets a bad rap. People say he doesn't get past his first read. Those people did not watch the Penn State game in which he eviscerated that defense with his second, third, and fourth man in his progression. They didn't watch the Clemson game where eviscerated that defense with the third, fourth and fifth man in the progression, looking off safeties, controlling the game and manipulating the pocket."

Fields showed his skills Tuesday in a 65-throw script designed by QBs coach John Beck, who also ran Wilson's workout. He had no problem unleashing the deep ball. He threw under center, turning his back to the defense, and mixed in play-action concepts, important as it is a staple in the pro game. He also threw in crowded space through manipulated drills.

His college coach Ryan Day reminded folks on NFL Network that his favorite thing about Fields was his "toughness," citing his return from injury against Michigan and Clemson.

Again, if you like Fields, you left this workout liking him more. If you have questions about his decision making and post-snap recognition, there was little Tuesday could provide to alleviate concerns when throwing against air.

What Fields showed is that he has multiple paths to threaten a defense -- his speed can create first downs on scrambles. He has a strong arm, can make all the throws, and might have arguably the highest ceiling in the QB class. He will be taken early in the NFL draft. The only question is by which team?

The Broncos have exercised patience with their quarterback room this offseason. The plan has to been to add competition for Drew Lock, with a hedge toward a veteran. There are shrinking options in that regard -- Nick Foles, Alex Smith, Teddy Bridgewater, Gardner Minshew. That could still transpire, but the draft remains a potential avenue to address the position.

Paton has promised to be nimble, to be in on every deal. An argument can be made for trading back, collecting picks, fortifying a roster a team that has not been above .500 since the third game of the 2018 season. But look at the AFC West, with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr, and it's equally fair to think the Broncos are not going anywhere until they improve dramatically at quarterback.