NCAA

Stephen A. Smith Misfired At Using the Race Card on 2021 NFL Draft Prospect Justin Fields

Former Ohio State Buckeyes star quarterback Justin Fields is the latest athlete dragged into a controversy involving ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith.

Fields, a top prospect in the 2021 NFL draft, has seen his stock fall in recent weeks. Draft analysts have expressed concern with flaws in Fields’ game, and he’s gone from the second-ranked quarterback — behind only Trevor Lawrence — to potentially the fourth or fifth.

So what did Smith, the controversial First Take host, have to say about Fields? Well, it’s something that Smith may soon regret, if only because of how factually inaccurate it is.

Stephen A. Smith used the race card when discussing Justin Fields

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Stephen A. Smith is all aboard the Justin Fields hype train, and he’s displeased that more teams aren’t joining him.

Smith tweeted out a clip from Stephen A’s World, his ESPN+ show, where he discussed the 2021 NFL draft prospects. Across nearly three minutes, Smith monologued about Fields, a projected first-round quarterback, and his recent fall on draft boards.

Several NFL draft analysts, including NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein, have listed Fields’ vision and pocket presence as negatives. Smith believes that Fields, who is Black, is dropping moreso because he is not a white quarterback.

“At the very least, it seems, as always, that when it comes to the Black quarterback, NFL folks always appear to find reasons to depreciate their value rather than embracing it. But where’s that same intensity when it comes to the white quarterbacks? … You know what they say. The more things change, the more they appear to stay the same.”

Neither ESPN nor Fields had addressed the video as of publication.

Smith’s logic doesn’t quite work when discussing Fields’ draft stock

ESPN star Stephen A. Smith (L) and former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. | Monica Schipper/WireImage via Getty Images; Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
ESPN star Stephen A. Smith (L) and former Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. | Monica Schipper/WireImage via Getty Images; Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

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Stephen A. Smith is correct in his assertion that Black quarterbacks, notably Lamar Jackson, have been extremely criticized in the draft process.

However, there are two major flaws with Smith’s commentary, the first relating to Lamar Jackson. Former Colts general manager Bill Polian, then at ESPN, famously suggested that Jackson should move to receiver in the NFL.

Polian made those comments on Golic & Wingo, a nationally syndicated radio show. There have been no prominent NFL voices, from draft analysts to former coaches or players, who have suggested that Fields switch positions.

Smith also linked Trey Lance, the North Dakota State quarterback, in with the group of quarterbacks who had climbed over Fields in the draft projections. Again, Smith is correct in where he grouped Lance, but his argument became invalid when he invoked race as the reason why Fields continues to fall.

Trey Lance’s father is Black, and his mother is white. That takes a great deal of power away from Smith’s theory that potentially inferior quarterback prospects are all surpassing Fields because of race.

Justin Fields will still be a high pick in the 2021 NFL draft

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The good news for Stephen A. Smith is that Justin Fields will almost certainly be a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

No one is quite sure where Fields will go, however. Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are almost assuredly going to the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets, respectively.

The San Francisco 49ers could select Fields with the third overall pick, but the 49ers have been linked more to Alabama’s Mac Jones in recent weeks. 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan attended Jones’ Pro Day in March.

Could the Atlanta Falcons draft Fields at No. 4? Fields would almost certainly begin his career as a backup barring a trade or injury involving Matt Ryan, and the Falcons might want to draft Ryan’s successor now. But, the Falcons could also select Trey Lance, who is more of a raw prospect, with the fourth overall pick and have him develop for a year or two behind Ryan.

Justin Fields will get his opportunity at some point, and Stephen A. Smith is right to bring up the quarterback’s fall. But invoking the race card doesn’t work here, not with everything that we know.

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