If Justin Fields was nervous, he didn’t show it. If the Ohio State quarterback was using each team passing on him during Thursday night’s draft as motivation for his rookie season, he didn’t let on.
But it was clear, as he sat in the living room at his parents’ home in Kennesaw, Ga., that Fields was surprised he lasted long enough for the Bears to trade up and draft him.
“I mean I’ve gone through situations where I haven’t been chosen — and I think the world has seen the outcome of that,” he said. “But my goal now is not to worry about those teams. Those teams have nothing to do with me. My goal is to, you know, if we play that team, to beat them. So I’m not worried about the draft. The draft is over for me. For me personally, I’m ready to get to work.”
Bears general manager Ryan Pace paid dearly to find out the result. To get from No. 20 to No. 11, he sent the Giants his first-round picks both this year and next, plus a fourth-round pick in 2022 and a fifth-rounder in 2021.
In doing so, Pace bet his career on the 6-2, 227-pounder’s strong right arm. He knows better than most that a shock trade is no guarantee of success — Mitch Trubisky, the last quarterback for whom Pace traded up to draft, simply wasn’t good enough to last more than four years as the team’s next quarterback hope.
Now Fields holds that title. He’s the latest in a line of players since Sid Luckman — including Andy Dalton, whom the Bears gave a one-year, $10 million deal in March — that have, with rare exception, disappointed Bears fans.
Fields said he’s built to handle the pressure.
“Just the way I carry myself, just the way I care about the game, the grit I have, the determination I have to be great,” said Fields, who performed in front of Bears coach Matt Nagy at his pro day this month and befriended him during Zoom interviews. “I think nobody kind of has the story that I have.
“So just everything inside of me, just wanting to be a great quarterback, wanting to be a franchise quarterback. And just me dreaming for this moment my whole life. So I just think all of those intangibles, my work ethic. And all that together will, of course, be different for me.”
Fields stayed home to play at Georgia, appearing in 12 games as a freshman while backing up Jake Fromm. He received a waiver to transfer to Ohio State and play immediately, though, on the basis that a Bulldogs athlete had been overheard using a slur about him while cheering at a football game.
He starred immediately at Ohio State, throwing 40 touchdowns and three interceptions in his sophomore year. He was named second-team All-America and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
In eight games this year, he threw 22 touchdowns and six interceptions, repeating as the Big Ten’s best offensive player. He left school having lost two games ever as the starter — both in the playoffs.
Earlier this week, NFL Network reported that teams were made aware that Fields has been managing epilepsy throughout his career. His family members diagnosed with epilepsy grew out of it.
All five projected first-round passers were gone before the night’s midway point, but not in the order that most experts presumed. The Jaguars took Clemson star Trevor Lawrence first overall, as expected, followed by the Jets selecting BYU’s Zach Wilson.
The 49ers, who traded three first-round picks in March to secure the No. 3 spot, sent the first shock through the Cleveland crowd when they took North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance. He played just one Football Championship Subdivision game in 15 months and was never offered an FBS scholarship to play quarterback.
When the Giants were on the clock at No. 11, the Bears pounced. They got Giants general manager Dave Gettleman to trade back for the first time in his career, which spanned six drafts and 55 picks. During the offseason, Gettleman said he’d only move back for value — “I’m not getting fleeced,” he said — and the Bears provided just that.
For all the Bears gave up, Pace at least got to keep his second- and third-round picks this season, allowing him to attempt to fill a starting lineup with holes remaining from a cap-strapped free agency period.