CHICAGO (AP) – The Chicago Bears are banking on Justin Fields to develop in a way Mitchell Trubisky did not and give them the stability they are seeking at quarterback for years to come.
The Ohio State star insisted he is up to the task.
The Bears made it clear they are believers, moving up nine spots in a trade with the New York Giants to take Fields with the No. 11 pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night.
“I feel like I know myself, I know how much work I’ve put in the game,” he said. “I know how much I love the game. I know how much I want to be great. It just comes a point in time when you have to cut all that criticism out.”
The Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in each of his two seasons after transferring from Georgia, Fields threw for 5,373 yards, 63 touchdowns and nine interceptions for the Buckeyes.
He was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2019, when he threw for 3,273 yards and 41 touchdowns while running for 10 more scores after being granted a waiver that allowed him to play immediately. He was MVP of the Big Ten championship that year against Wisconsin before the Buckeyes lost to Clemson in the national semifinals.
Fields threw for 2,100 yards and 22 TDs last season while leading Ohio State to another conference title and an appearance in the national championship game. Fields struggled in the Big Ten championship game and bounced back in the national semis before losing the title game to Alabama.
He becomes the second quarterback drafted by Chicago since general manager Ryan Pace was hired in 2015. The Bears traded up a spot in 2017 to take Trubisky at No. 2 over Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Trubisky is now backing up Josh Allen in Buffalo after the Bears decided to let him go as a free agent.
The Bears sent the No. 20 pick and a fifth-rounder this year along with a first-rounder and fourth-rounder next year to the Giants. Chicago has one pick each remaining in this year’s second (52) and third (83) rounds as well as four in the sixth (204, 208, 221, 228).
The Bears took Fields after Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, Brigham Young’s Zach Wilson and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance all went off the board with the top three picks. Alabama’s Mac Jones was available but he wound up going to New England at No. 15.
The Bears were looking for a young quarterback after signing veteran Andy Dalton to a one-year contract last month. Pace said coach Matt Nagy spoke to Dalton on Thursday night and he remains the starter. The question is for how long.
“We just gotta let it play out,” Pace said. “One of the best feelings in the world would be, hey, we’re rolling, we’re playing really good football, we’re winning, and we’re looking over there and we’re seeing this guy that we all know, everyone in the building knows, that, hey, we got a guy. ... It’ll be a daily process, a daily evaluation. But we’re excited to let that play out.”
Though he and Nagy developed a relationship the past few months through Zoom calls and his pro day, Fields said he “had no hints” Chicago would take him. He said he found out when the coach called and asked if he was ready to be a Bear.
Fields also said he thinks he will fit “perfectly” in Nagy’s offense.
“If he didn’t think I fit well, he wouldn’t have traded up,” he said. “I think just talking to him, getting to know how he communicates with his quarterbacks and his learning style, I think that’s going to make me a better quarterback, a better player because he’s going to teach me a lot.”
The Bears made the playoffs for the second time in three years, though they went 8-8 in the regular season for the second year in a row, then lost at New Orleans in a wildcard game.
Chairman George McCaskey opted to stick with Pace and Nagy. And the heat was on them to get this pick right.
“I just think he’s coming into an awesome environment to develop at the right time,” Pace said.
Next up: The Bears still have issues to address on the offensive line and at receiver as well as on defense, particularly after letting former All-Pro cornerback Kyle Fuller go for salary cap reasons.