While recent NFL history has plenty of success stories when it comes to rookie quarterbacks, Bears fans should prepare themselves for the most likely scenario: rookie quarterbacks struggle.
The 2021 season is the perfect case study.
All of the rookie quarterbacks were tremendous in the preseason. Trevor Lawrence went 11-for-12 with two touchdowns in his last action and Zach Wilson finished 9-for-11 with two scores. Those two are currently the lowest-rated passers with at least 20 attempts in the regular season. If you drop the number of minimum attempts to 15, the four lowest-rated passers in the league are Fields (38.2), Wilson (56.1), Lawrence (57.1) and Davis Mills (58.1).
But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Fields had a dropped touchdown pass that went right threw Allen Robinson’s arms. Even with that completion on Sunday, his passer rating would’ve only been 71. Maybe better chemistry with Darnell Mooney could’ve led to a couple of more completions, but the interception and the fumble still happened and were nearly catastrophic.
In August, Sheil Kapadia of The Athletic did a story looking at rookie quarterbacks, wherein he determined that 24 of the 31 were below average. “The median rookie season was Mike Glennon,” Kapadia wrote.
In the last five years, there have been 17 teams that have had rookie quarterbacks play extensively. Only two of those teams finished inside the top 15 in terms of scoring and three were in the top half of the league in yardage. From 2016 to 2019, the worst offenses in the league were all quarterbacked by rookies.
None of this really means anything long-term, which is why sitting rookie quarterbacks is the preference of most of the world’s experts on the topic. We’ve seen rookie quarterbacks suck and become great; we’ve seen rookie quarterbacks start out well and then suck.
But suddenly the microscope is going to be on everybody else.
If the Bears are going to have success with Fields in 2021, it’s going to be because everyone around him is performing at their best. That hasn’t happened in Chicago since 2018.
Matt Nagy will be under the microscope, which isn’t totally fair. His offense was rolling with Andy Dalton and looked as competent as we’ve seen so far against a solid Bengals defense. The Bears had 136 yards on Dalton’s two drives and finished with 206. There was reason to believe that all Nagy needed was competent quarterback play. Now he’ll have a rookie. That said, teams are going to throw a ton of zone looks at the Bears and Nagy has to find a way to give Fields answers.
The Bears will need their offensive line to hold up, which will be no easy task against the Browns this week. They need to feature David Montgomery more than ever and they’ll need to play solid defense so Fields doesn’t suddenly have to carry the entire team.
The good news is that, with Fields, the Bears have as rare of a talent as the league has ever seen. There just hasn’t been another quarterbacks who can run a 4.4 on a bad day and put the ball pretty much wherever he wants. If ever there was a predictable exception to the rookie quarterback rule, it sure seems like Fields would be it.
Out of the seven quarterbacks Kapadia found to be above average, four are known for their ability to move. Two others certainly aren’t stiffs. We could see a repeat of Lamar Jackson in 2018 where he was far from polished as a passer, but his legs did enough damage to get the Ravens in the playoffs. Fields is certainly further along as a passer than Jackson was.
What Fields provides is promise. His physical skills certainly give us hope that he can be an exception and turn the franchise around immediately. While the odds of that happening may be small, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.