Chicago Bears fans squealed in delight when the team traded up for Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields during the 2021 NFL Draft. Now, the loyal faithful’s noises of excitement could start providing serious headaches.
Andy Dalton’s knee injury could pave the way for Fields, 22, to make his first career start as soon as Week 3. However, Bears fans may want to temper their expectations ahead of the wunderkind rookie’s opportunity on the big stage.
Justin Fields’ time to start for the Chicago Bears is rapidly approaching
From the time the Bears drafted Fields in April, fans have called for head coach Matt Nagy to name him the starting quarterback. Forget Dalton, the three-time Pro Bowl selection who signed with the team in March, and forget Nick Foles, the former Super Bowl MVP who currently serves as the team’s third-string quarterback.
Nagy remained loyal to Dalton, however, and the Red Rifle started the Bears’ first two games. The fourth-year head coach at least worked Fields into a Week 1 loss to Matthew Stafford and the Los Angeles Rams, albeit as a change-of-pace quarterback rather than as a player who worked through sustained drives. The Ohio State product completed both of his passes for 10 yards and scored a 3-yard rushing touchdown on his lone carry.
Then came Week 2, when Dalton departed an eventual 20-17 victory over Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals with a knee injury. The rookie who wears No. 1 filled in as the QB1 and completed six of his 13 pass attempts for 60 yards and an interception. He also picked up 31 rushing yards on 10 carries.
If Dalton cannot go against Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns in Week 3, Nagy will almost certainly turn to Fields instead. That would also open the door for Foles, who the Bears rendered inactive for the first two games, to return to the backup quarterback role.
Recent history hasn’t been kind to rookie quarterbacks making their first starts
Bears fans understandably want Fields to win his first career start and dominate in the process. Unfortunately for them, recent NFL history shows that is unlikely to be the case.
According to The Athletic, rookie quarterbacks are 47-97 (.326) in their first career starts. That only goes for first-year players, so the likes of Drew Brees and Tom Brady, each of whom started their first game as a sophomore, aren’t included.
The trio of Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence, and Zach Wilson all accomplished the feat in Week 1 of the 2021 season. Burrow and Justin Herbert fell short in their initial starts a year ago.
How unkind has history been to rookie quarterbacks and their initial starts? The last signal-caller selected No. 1 overall to win his first start as a rookie was Michael Vick, who did so for the Atlanta Falcons on Nov. 11, 2001. Fields might not remember that game, seeing as he was only 2 years old.
Fields needs to follow in Patrick Mahomes and Robert Griffin III’s footsteps
Here’s the good news for Bears fans. Of the 144 quarterbacks who started a game in their rookie season, 37 of them won. You’re likely familiar with some notable names from that group.
- Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes completed 22 of 35 passes for 284 yards and an interception in a 27-24 victory over the Denver Broncos on Dec. 31, 2017.
- The Washington Football Team selected Baylor’s Robert Griffin III went second overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Several months later, he totaled 362 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns in a 40-32 upset victory over the New Orleans Saints.
- Matt Ryan opened his Atlanta Falcons career with his first career touchdown in a 34-21 win over the Detroit Lions on Sept. 7, 2008. Joe Flacco didn’t throw a touchdown, but he ran for one in the Baltimore Ravens’ 17-10 victory over the Bengals that day.
- Former Alabama teammates Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa led the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins to victories in their first career starts last season.
If we were Fields, we’d try to follow Mahomes and Ryan rather than mimic Russell and Weeden. Then again, that philosophy should probably apply to his career as a whole.