Depending on how you look at it, what’s in front of Justin Fields is either a daunting challenge or a fun opportunity: Can he chase down Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft?

No way, right? That has to be what you’re thinking. History says the team with the first pick will ultimately select the odds-on favorite. And Lawrence was anointed as the next truly impeccable quarterback prospect when he was the nation’s top overall recruit in 2018. For many, Lawrence evokes glorious scouting memories of Peyton Manning in 1998 and Andrew Luck in 2012, and neither eventual No. 1 choice was caught by their respective competitors, Ryan Leaf or Robert Griffin III.

Of course, the numerical spot in which Lawrence or Fields is picked won’t be directly tied to the amount of NFL success they experience. But there is prestige that comes with being the first player selected in the draft, and while both have other, more immediate goals in mind — like winning a national title — they want to join that exclusive fraternity, even if their agent and PR team advise them to say otherwise after the season concludes.

And now, early in November, I have a two-fold, summarized stance on these quarterbacks as top pick candidates in next April’s draft:

  • Lawrence is the real deal, a majestic thrower of the football with athleticism many scramble-happy quarterbacks don’t possess. 
  • Fields isn’t far behind him

Remember, Fields isn’t a stranger to being an alpha football player. In that high school class of 2018, he was the No. 2 overall recruit per 247 Sports. 

Lawrence has more experience and flashier high-profile games on his resume right now. His traits are a tick more impressive than Fields’ yet the two are quite a ways ahead of anyone else at the collegiate level when strictly considering physical capabilities. 

Through two games Fields has been nearly flawless. He’s completed 48 of 55 passes for 594 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. And he has made a variety of ridiculous throws down the field that have demonstrated his immense arm talent. Much like he did a season ago, when Fields went from University of Georgia transfer who couldn’t beat out Jake Fromm to Big Ten Player of the Year, the junior has been super smooth from inside the pocket and, unlike most quarterbacks, looks incredibly calm when improvising outside the planned structure of the play. 

In any other draft, Fields would be the slam dunk consensus top pick. Case closed. He just happened to be born the same year as a quarterback prodigy. And in a massive coincidence, these two rose to national prominence in high school 25 minutes away from each other in Georgia. 

Fields probably won’t overtake Lawrence to be the first pick in 2021. But a pathway exists, and its creation is fueled by momentum. Lawrence is currently on the COVID-19 list, and he’ll miss his team’s massive conference game against Notre Dame this weekend. He’ll likely return, and the Tigers should cruise to the College Football Playoff. And there, hopefully we’ll get another Clemson-Ohio State battle. If we do, and Fields outplays Lawrence in that contest — or any CFP game for that matter — the rumblings for a possible “upset” at No. 1 overall will start, especially after a dazzling Big Ten season from the Ohio State quarterback, which is extremely likely. Bowl-game bias is a helluva drug. 

Now, I will say this too. The Buckeyes offense — thanks to the scheme itself and perpetual advantages at the skill positions and in the trenches — has yielded many memorably productive quarterback seasons. And one 70% completion, 50-touchdown year in 2018 got Dwayne Haskins picked inside the top half of the first round. 

Fields is already a much more impressive prospect than Haskins, or any other quarterback who has stepped foot on campus in Columbus in a long time. And even if the fun opportunity is too much of a daunting challenge for him to ultimately overcome, Fields has shown he’s worthy of being the first pick after Lawrence in April. 


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