Projecting Fields' Year 2 stats with Dak, Allen as guides originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
It's June in Chicago which means the sun is shining, the river walk is packed, and it's time to be optimistic about the Bears' hopes for the 2022 season.
Optimism means we're talking about which players can make leaps in their development, whether the Bears can add one of the remaining big-name free agents, and, of course, how good Justin Fields will be in a critical second season.
Entering the 2021 NFL Draft, Fields drew comparisons to several quarterbacks, with the popular answers being Dak Prescott, Josh Allen, and Cam Newton.
Fields' stats weren't good during his rookie season, but I think it's fair to dismiss most of it based on the situation he found himself in and Matt Nagy's schematic stubbornness. The Bears parted ways with Nagy and handed the reins to head coach Matt Eberflus and general manager Ryan Poles. Eberflus hired Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator, and the Bears are transitioning to a wide-zone rushing attack that promises to get Fields on the move more and let him attack deep.
As we prepare for the 2022 season, I wanted to look at Prescott, Allen, and Newton's second campaign to see what might be fair to expect from Fields this fall.
We'll start with Prescott, the most-popular comp for Fields coming out of Ohio State. After a brilliant rookie season, Prescott saw his numbers dip a touch in Year 2. He completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 3,324 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions in 16 games.
It's important to note that Prescott had Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten as weapons, along with one of the best offensive lines in football. Fields will have Darnell Mooney, David Montgomery, and Cole Kmet as targets to go with a suspect line.
Fields has more athletic ability and arm talent than Prescott but won't have the skill players or line play that Prescott benefitted from in Dallas.
In his second season with the Bills, Allen was average, completing 58.8 percent of his passes for 3,089 yards, 20 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He also rushed for 510 yards and nine scores. John Brown and Cole Beasley were the Bills' leading receivers, while Frank Gore and Devin Singletary carried the load out of the backfield.
Buffalo's lack of skill position threats fits better with what Fields will be working with this fall than the embarrassment of riches placed around Prescott.
I believe Fields is a more polished passer now than Allen was at that point, but that's mainly projecting what I think will be a crisper Fields in a new system with sharpened mechanics.
As for Newton, the Auburn product's second season saw him complete 57.7 percent of his passes for 3,869 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. He rushed for 741 yards and eight touchdowns. Of course, Newton was throwing to Steve Smith Sr. and tight end Greg Olsen who combined for almost 2,000 yards. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart were a powerful tandem in the backfield.
Given how much the NFL has changed in the 10 years since Newton's second season, I think it's fair to focus on Prescott and Allen when trying to project Fields' stats in 2022.
So, if the comps are accurate, what should we expect to see from Fields this season?
Based on Allen and Prescott's second-year numbers and an expected improvement in Getsy's system, somewhere around 60-62 percent completion, 3,500 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions seems like a fair expectation. Sprinkle in a couple hundred yards on the ground, and that's the makings of a solid second season.
Last season in 12 games (10 starts), Fields threw for 1,870 yards, seven touchdowns, and 10 interceptions while completing 58.9 percent of his passes. With Fields getting the 17th game and having an offense tailored to his skill set (rollouts, bootlegs, deep throws), he should be able to post numbers that put him in the middle of the pack in terms of yards and touchdowns.
For comparison, Mac Jones ranked 14th in the NFL last season with 22 touchdown passes and 13th in the NFL in yards with 3,801. Fields elevating himself into the middle of the NFL quarterback pack is precisely the trajectory the Bears want to see this season.
The critical thing for Fields will be to see that completion percentage creep above 60 percent and to limit the turnovers. If he can do that, the Bears should enter the offseason with a firm belief that Fields can be their franchise quarterback.