Being a quarterback in the NFL is one of the most arduous tasks in sports. Being a young quarterback in the NFL only increases that level of difficulty. Being a young quarterback in the NFL with a team that hasn't seriously invested in your success yet is damn near impossible.
This the hole that Justin Fields finds himself in as he enters the second year of his tenure with the Chicago Bears. Fields, the 11th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, showed legitimate flashes of greatness during his rookie. Flashes that reasonably should have Bears fans excited about his potential to become not only their franchise quarterback, but one of the very best quarterbacks in franchise history (extremely low bar).
The numbers for Fields' rookie year weren't anything impressive. According to Pro Football Reference, Fields ranked 22nd in yards per attempt (6.9) and 31st in net yards per attempt (5.3). According to Ben Baldwin of The Athletic, Fields ranked 30th in expected points added per play (-0.126) and 25th in completion percentage over expectation (-2.0).
From a statistical perspective, there's some work to do before he can be considered a "hit" of a draft pick, but that would be woefully incomplete painting of Fields' rookie year.
Turn on the tape. There's a lot of reason to be excited by the talent that the Bears have at quarterback. The easiest place to start, and a reason why Fields might be able to have success with the deck stacked against him, is his athleticism. Fields showed routinely that he can be a source of yards with his legs when things around him broke down.
Fields had some strong moments in the Bears' Monday night game against the Steelers last season. That Steelers defense wasn't quite as strong as their units in the recent past, but it's still a defense that has a lot of quality players to make life tough on a rookie quarterback.
Rookie quarterbacks are supposed to get fans and analysts excited with big time flashes that capture the hope and dreams of being playoff-relevant for the next decade. Fields showed that last season. The next step for Fields and the Bears is turning the flashes into sustainable levels of play.
A new coaching staff is the first step. Rookie head coach Matt Eberflus hired Packers quarterbacks coach Luke Getsy to run the Bears offense for the upcoming seasons. If Getsy is going to scale back the passing game (which may not be a bad idea considering Fields averaged 9.7 air yards per attempt, second in the league to Russell Wilson) like he did for Aaron Rodgers, the Bears might be able to find more easy completions than they did during 2021 under Matt Nagy.
As far as fixing his own mistakes that can make him a better quarterback, the onus is on Fields and the coaching staff to try and correct their flaws. However, the biggest problem is the players that the Bears have supporting Fields in their quest to improve upon his rookie season.
While the new Bears front office undoubtedly had an underwhelming offseason, it should be pointed out that they didn't have a whole of assets to provide Fields with help. This was also a roster that needed a whole lot of improvements after being somewhat stripped down at the start of the offseason. Spending two second round picks on defensive backs was not the worst strategy considering they did legitimately need to boost their secondary, but it did leave them in a situation where they couldn't use one of their few premium picks in ways to help Justin Fields.
The Bears did use a third round pick on Tennessee wide receiver and return specialist Velus Jones, but that's not really enough to bolster what is likely the worst group of receivers in the league. There are couple talented players on offense like tight end Cole Kmet and running backs David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert.
That's not going to be enough. The Bears tried to plug holes along the offensive line with four picks on the third day of the draft, but those picks shouldn't be counted on to turn into quality starters just yet. Cody Whitehair is a solid starter along the offensive line, but offensive line play is about the sum of parts more than each individual player. And the sum of the Bears offensive line is about as bad as it can get right now.
Velus Jones is joining a group of wide receivers that also features Darnell Mooney, Equanimeous St. Brown and Byron Pringle. Mooney had the first 1,000 yard season of his career last season, but he profiles as a solid number two or number three option for a legitimate NFL passing game. Pringle and St. Brown have combined for 1,440 receiving yards in their career.
Not exactly the most promising situation for Fields and a Bears coaching staff looking to get off to a hot start.
Can Fields overcome the obstacles set in front of him? That's the million dollar question for the Bears. There's no need in sugarcoating it: this is going to be an immense challenge for the second year quarterback. He didn't benefit from an offseason of skill position additions like Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson did. He's not walking into a playoff-ready team like Mac Jones did and Trey Lance is this year. Fields is about to have to get it out of the mud.
His physical attributes give him a floor to be a productive quarterback and he should benefit a bit from being able to build on his rookie season. Still, the surrounding talent and rookie coaching staff will likely be hurdles that he has to clear, along with his own shortcomings that he needs to work on.
The area that causes a little concern is Fields potentially developing poor habits due to the calamities that will be happening around his feet and down the field. Let's just hope something like That Browns Game From Last Season never happens to Fields again.
It's likely that Fields' second year will somewhat mirror his first one. Plays that get people excited, plays that cause concern and plays left on the field due to the problems around him. This year might end up being a wash for Fields, but perhaps the Bears are planning on loading up in 2023 when they have more cap space and draft picks to use on a legitimate offensive supporting cast.
Bears fans, you're in it for the long game. At least they're building with a quarterback that has shown the ability to be Atlas for the Bears offense when needed. Statistically, it probably won't be a great season for Fields, but his ability to look comfortable and in command of the offense in the midst of chaos will be important to track.
There's about to be a whole lot of chaos.