Why Justin Fields could be Falcons’ first-round pick

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Kelsey Conway

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Editor’s note: This is the first of 10 prospect profiles on players who could be the Falcons’ first-round pick.

The Falcons own the No. 4 pick in this year’s draft and what coach Arthur Smith and general manager Terry Fontenot will do with the pick remains one of the most intriguing questions heading into the 2021 NFL Draft.

One of the prospects Atlanta could select is quarterback Justin Fields, a player who created a lot of buzz following his pro day last week where Fontenot and Smith were both in attendance. If Fields, a Kennesaw, Ga. native, is the pick, that means Fontenot and Smith believe he’s the best player available on their board. The Falcons’ new general manager has said he’ll be implementing an approach of taking the best player available.

Fields was one of the most electric players to watch in college football over the last two seasons. His mobility, athleticism and arm strength at the quarterback position are traits that will likely set him up for success at the next level.

In two seasons as the starting quarterback at Ohio State, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound dual-threat quarterback threw 396 passes for 5,373 and 63 touchdowns. He also added 867 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground.

Fields began his collegiate career at Georgia in 2018 before transferring to Ohio State where he was voted Offensive Player of the Year two years in a row (2019-20). Fields also helped lead the Buckeyes to an appearance in the College Football Playoff National Championship game in 2020.

Why he fits with the Falcons

Smith will be implementing his wide-zone scheme in Atlanta in his first year as head coach where he will call plays on offense. Based off what we saw in the system he ran in Tennessee when he the offensive coordinator for two seasons, play-action will be a big part of the offense.

Fields excels in a play-action heavy offense as he went 57 of 77 on play-action passes for 907 yards and nine touchdowns with one interception last season.

If Fields were to be selected by Atlanta in the first round, he’d also get the luxury of sitting behind and learning from one of the NFL’s best play-action quarterbacks in Matt Ryan. When Ryan was the league’s MVP in 2016, he was playing in an offensive system centered around play-action with a balanced rushing attack. Expect Smith’s offense to resemble parts of what the Falcons ran in 2015-16.

Given Fields’ ability to make plays out of the pocket and his speed, Smith would be able to implement even more wrinkles to his offense. A main reason Smith was one of the most coveted coaches on the head coaching circuit this year was his work with the Titans’ rushing offense. Marrying Smith’s vision for the run game with a quarterback who can make plays on the ground would make a ton of sense. Fields clocked a 4.44 40-yard dash time during his pro day.

Expert analysis:

“Like Dak Prescott before him, Fields enters the league with dual-threat capabilities but is more of a pocket passer with the ability to extend plays or win with his legs when needed. He was up and down in 2020, but a bounce-back performance against Clemson — including an impressive second half after suffering an injury — said a lot about his toughness and leadership. He sees the field fairly well inside the Buckeyes’ quarterback-friendly offense but needs to become a full-field reader and prevent his eyes from becoming transfixed on primary targets. He sticks open throws with accuracy and velocity thanks to a sturdy platform and good drive mechanics. He’s also comfortable throwing into intermediate holes of a zone. A slower operation time and a lack of a twitchy trigger will require him to work with better anticipation and pressure recognition pre- and post-snap. He takes more sacks than coaches will be comfortable with but he also digs his way out of holes and creates explosive plays. Fields operates with a quiet confidence and has experience overcoming adversity. He should continue to improve and become a solid NFL starter within a couple of seasons.” – Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

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