Denver Broncos are wrongfully singled out for passing on Justin Fields

Denver Broncos, 2021 offseason, Justin Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos, 2021 offseason, Justin Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

Leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, many people felt like the Denver Broncos would not be able to pass on Justin Fields if he actually fell to the 9th overall pick where George Paton was slated to make his first pick as general manager. Considering the importance of the quarterback position and the uncertainty for the Broncos at the position, I will admit that I was understanding and on board with the logic of taking Fields, a very talented prospect if he were available there.

If you are unsettled at the QB position and don’t love your in-house options, why would you not consider a player like Fields?

On the night of the 2021 NFL Draft, as Aaron Rodgers rumors began to completely take over everyone’s news feed, there were those who felt the Denver Broncos could not risk missing out on Fields and that they needed to trade whatever was necessary to move up to the fourth pick with the Atlanta Falcons to get him.

Only the Falcons weren’t trading out.

The top three picks in the draft were expected to be quarterbacks, and while everyone knew. that the top two picks would be Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, nobody really knew what the San Francisco 49ers would do with the third overall pick. There were a ton of Mac Jones rumors leading up to the draft, but the 49ers ultimately went with North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.

After Lance went off the board, Denver Broncos fans were in an absolute frenzy over the idea of possibly landing Aaron Rodgers, the remaining potential of drafting Justin Fields, and the potential threat of the team actually taking Mac Jones with the 9th overall pick.

The frenzy reached a boiling point with the Broncos on the clock and Justin Fields somehow still on the board. No one had traded up ahead of the Broncos to get him. No one ahead of the Broncos took him for themselves.

For a player who was the QB2 behind Trevor Lawrence for many NFL Draft fans, pundits, and analysts in this draft class, it was clear that there was a major disconnect between what Draft Twitter and football talking heads thought about Justin Fields and what NFL teams actually thought of him.

NFL teams get personnel decisions wrong all the time, there’s no question about it. But how could so many QB-needy teams be so unanimous on this one player?

People who had already formed their own opinions about Fields as a player were dug into their analysis, and rightfully so. It’s fair to form an opinion based on what you see from a guy, what your gut says about him, and how he passes the eye test for you. Fields is an impressive prospect physically, his production at Ohio State was outstanding, and he is seemingly the ideal fit for what the NFL is trending towards in terms of being a quarterback that can beat you with his arms or legs.

The Denver Broncos turned in their pick, and at this point, because an Aaron Rodgers trade had not been consummated as many seemed to think it might, there was a moment of mass outrage and pure shock when the team turned in a card for Pat Surtain II.

Surtain is arguably the best defensive player in the entire 2021 class, there’s no question about it. He’s looked like an NFL player since his first year on campus with the Alabama Crimson Tide, and he’s played so consistently well over the last three seasons that he’d become almost boring to NFL Draft fans.

The Broncos’ free agency splurge on the secondary made the selection of Surtain a bit of a head-scratcher, but what drew complete outrage from so many fans who don’t see the upside in Drew Lock is the fact that the team passed on Fields.

Since the Broncos passed on Fields, they have been pretty heavily singled out for being the team that passed on Fields. Of course, being in the middle of Broncos Country, you hear plenty of that kind of thing, but to start seeing opinions pour in from national media with scathing reviews for the Surtain pick based on the passing of Fields is hypocritical at best, ignorant at worst.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg. The Broncos have rather consistently been the team getting the most heat for passing on Fields as though Fields has already proven himself to be an up-and-coming star or elite player at the position.

I liked Fields coming out of Ohio State over both Zach Wilson and Trey Lance, to be clear. The Denver Broncos obviously did not, but they weren’t alone.

There’s nothing wrong with being upset that the Denver Broncos passed on Fields if you were really high on him, but for the Broncos to keep getting singled out like they were alone in this is frustrating.

Beginning with the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers at picks two and three overall, you hear very little criticism of those teams taking Zach Wilson and Trey Lance. Simply the act of taking a quarterback appears to have eliminated the possibility of those selections being looked down upon without the benefit of hindsight.

Should Fields end up being a star and either Wilson or Lance not live up to high expectations, I’m sure the Jets and 49ers will eventually hear it.

For now, however, everyone’s fine with their picks because they took quarterbacks. It’s the principle that matters there, apparently.

The Atlanta Falcons are the top team that deserves scrutiny for not taking Justin Fields, if that’s the game that’s being played. The Falcons hired a new head coach (Arthur Smith) and general manager (Terry Fontenot) and when a team hires a new head coach and GM, well you can almost bet the farm on a new quarterback following shortly thereafter.

The rookie coach/GM duo opted to stick with Matt Ryan, an aging veteran whose best days could very well be behind him. Not only did they stick with Ryan, but they traded his longtime top target Julio Jones in the months after the draft where they took tight end Kyle Pitts.

What are the Falcons doing? Are they rebuilding? They sent that signal when they traded Julio Jones, but by keeping Matt Ryan, they made it seem like they are still going to try to win now.

Taking Kyle Pitts was also a “win now” move, but it makes no sense to trade Jones if that’s what you’re trying to do.

Atlanta’s decision to keep Ryan, draft Pitts, and then trade Julio Jones all while passing on Justin Fields makes very little sense for a new regime that obviously didn’t think highly of Fields either.

The Miami Dolphins have Tua Tagovailoa, their top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Still, Tagovailoa wasn’t good enough for the Dolphins to really commit to him as a rookie and when he played, he struggled badly.

The Denver Broncos know as well as anyone, as Tagovailoa was benched in the Dolphins’ regular-season matchup in Denver.

There were plenty of talking heads who thought Miami could upgrade or make a change at the quarterback position, but they also passed on Fields to take Alabama wide receiver Jaylen Waddle.

The Dolphins are getting the benefit of the doubt despite many people having as low opinions of Tua Tagovailoa as they do Drew Lock at this point. Fields has been talked up as a prospect that could have been QB1 in many draft classes, and if that’s the case, why did the Dolphins not pull the same thing the Arizona Cardinals did in 2019 when they took Kyler Murray and traded Josh Rosen, their first-round pick the year prior?

The Philadelphia Eagles traded out of the top 10 picks completely well before the 2021 NFL Draft. With Jalen Hurts and Joe Flacco as their primary quarterback options and a roster that is clearly in the rebuild phase, why are the Eagles not being absolutely crushed for passing on a QB1-caliber player?

What about the Carolina Panthers, who traded for Sam Darnold? What has Darnold done in his first three NFL seasons to warrant being bought into over Justin Fields?

We’re going to completely ignore the fact that the Detroit Lions could have started out a new era with a new head coach and general manager as well by taking Fields and using Jared Goff as just a placeholder until Fields was ready?

Why is nobody talking about the fact that the New England Patriots — who established the perfect offensive scheme to highlight Fields as a passer and runner last season with Cam Newton — passing on the chance to trade up for Fields?

Bill Belichick stayed put and drafted Mac Jones instead of move assets for Justin Fields. He also let Tom Brady walk in free agency and Brady went out and won a title immediately with another team. Why is nobody criticizing these decisions, yet wants to jump all over George Paton and the Denver Broncos?

The Chicago Bears have a head coach and general manager brain trust living on borrowed time. Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace probably should have been fired after the 2020 season but the Bears somehow managed to scratch and claw their way into the postseason.

They wanted to trade for Russell Wilson but couldn’t, so they signed Andy Dalton and saw an opportunity to move up for Fields to potentially save their jobs.

What about the team that traded the pick to the Bears in the first place? Are we really buying that Daniel Jones is a better long-term option for the New York Giants than Justin Fields would be?

Why did the Washington Football Team not make the same trade the Chicago Bears made? They liked Jamin Davis better than Justin Fields?

As high as people are on Fields, they seem to be stuck on the fact that the Denver Broncos passed on him but fail to see the perfectly reasonable opportunities to criticize another seven or eight teams that deserve the same type of negative attention.

It’s completely valid to criticize the Denver Broncos for passing on Justin Fields if you love him as a prospect, and maybe it’s just that misery loves company, but people — especially national media and NFL pundits — should be doing the same exact thing for the Falcons, Dolphins, Eagles, Giants, Patriots, Panthers, Lions, and Washington Football Team.