The great Justin Fields: What you need to know about 2018's most important recruit
One recruiting expert believes Justin Fields will compete for a national championship in college
Who is Justin Fields? And why should college football fans care?
There's a succinct answer as to why the quarterback from Kennesaw, Georgia, is the most important recruit for the 2018 class. It's a bold answer, make no mistake. It required 247Sports director of recruiting Barton Simmons to stick his neck out for an unproven football player. But it was an important answer.
"Why should people care?" Simmons began. "It's simple. He's going to win a national championship for some team. It's a matter of who's fortunate enough to get him."
Fields is -- to put it in the simplest yet most meaningful way -- the dude at the position for the upcoming class.
The race to land the five-star dual-threat is on and it features a handful of college football's blue-blood programs. It's been ramped up since the moment Fields announced he was decommitting from Penn State in early June, though it was technically on before then since verbal pledges are non-binding.
With the new early signing period and National Signing Day still a good half a year away, there's plenty of time for Fields to make a decision -- or two, if he so chooses. He's already done changed course once, after all.
In the meantime, the recruiting world will be focused on every Fields official visit, quote, and yes, tweet. With the help of Simmons and fellow 247Sports recruiting insider Steven Wiltfong, here's everything you need to know about the most fascinating college football prospect of the year and the competition to sign him.
What's his background?
Fields is a five-star prospect, which is the highest possible rating given out by recruiting services. He's considered the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback recruit, the No. 2 player in the state of Georgia, and the No. 3 overall player in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. He's listed at 6-foot-3 and 221 pounds but has been recorded running a 4.51 at camps.
Last year was his first season as a full-time starter at Harrison High School. During that campaign, he accumulated nearly 4,000 yards of offense and 38 touchdowns. Before that, he sat behind Lorenzo Nunez, who originally committed to South Carolina before transferring to Southeastern Louisiana.
So why am I just hearing about him now?
"He was a late bloomer," Wiltfong said. "He had to wait his turn in high school behind Nunez. He had an offense that changed with him under center. He had a good junior season but schools were locked in with other quarterbacks elsewhere."
Recruiting is an inexact science. Even with a skill set like Fields', someone who doesn't start until their junior or senior season can end up behind the recruiting 8-ball. Three-star players can add one or two stars quickly once the word gets out about them. "Penn State, Tennessee and Northwestern were ahead of the curve in recruiting him," Wiltfong said. Fields committed to Penn State in December of last year before decommitting in June. By then, more college coaches had a chance to review his film and his camp appearances were generating a ton of buzz.
"This offseason with the Elite 11, The Opening, these 7-on-7s ... they matter. He threw at Florida State's camp. He's been making the rounds. Every time people see him, he's terrific and he keeps getting better."
Once more programs knew about Fields, his decommitment from Penn State felt like a matter of time.
"When a kid is from the state of Georgia, in the heart of SEC country, and he's an early commitment to a place -- even as high profile as Penn State -- to go out of state seamlessly like that ... you knew Penn State was going to be in for a battle," Simmons said. "Everyone else in the country had their target. Keeping him was just too steep a hill for Penn State to climb."
What's all the hype about?
His junior film tape alone is excellent. Whenever a player accumulates in the neighborhood of 4,000 yards and 40 touchdowns, it's a big accomplishment. But his tape is only part of the story, and it's the less impressive part, if you can believe it. And for Simmons and Wiltfong, seeing was believing.
"As we've gotten to know him through 7-on-7s and camps, as we've gotten more acquainted with his body of his work, his stock has risen at every single event he's gone to. He's continued to assert himself into the national conversation with every event. It was just a product of getting a comfort level of who this kid is as a player," said Simmons.
"When you go back and look at his film in context of what you see now in person it opens your eyes to how special he is."
Namely, Fields' best quality is grasping new information, digesting it quickly and executing it flawlessly. That's tough to do in a new setting such as the Elite 11 with little-to-no previous chemistry with surrounding players.
"Some of these other guys let you down; his consistency isn't letting you down," Wiltfong said. "It's the biggest trait for the next level. He can slow the game down quicker than his peers. I think he scored on 71 percent of his drives while the rest of the QBs averaged like 29 percent."
"For me it was seeing him at the opening finals and seeing him digested the offense they gave him and he found incredible chemistry with his wide receivers. I've never seen a kid in that setting have that kind of control and that type of understanding of an offense," Simmons added. "When you put that in the context of he's not able to use his legs in that setting, that's so scary from a defensive perspective. It was the best QB performance I've ever seen in a non-padded event."
Speaking to multiple coaches who were at the Elite 11, Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated relayed that Fields was the most impressive quarterback at the camp over the past 6-8 years.
What type of offense will suit him best?
In short, any offense. He's that flexible. Plus, coaches will always adjust to the strengths of their playmakers, and Fields certainly is one -- and he's only scratching the surface of his potential.
"One of the big pluses, what makes him exciting, is that he's really athletic," Simmons said. "He can extend plays. He can beat you with his legs. He's a really good baseball player. In the spring, he's playing shortstop for his high school team. Those factors mean he has a lot of upside left. He's steadily creeping in on that upside. How quickly he's developed is exciting and an indicator."
There are a wide range of options for Fields from which to choose. He could go to Auburn and put up video game numbers running and throwing in Gus Malzahn's spread offense, or he could go to Florida State and learn under a more NFL-ready offense with Jimbo Fisher. Wherever he winds up, Fields' ability to process the playbook and terminology and transform it into results quickly is what makes him so valuable.
"Wherever he can play earliest is the situation that makes the most sense," Simmons said. "This is a three-year starter from Day 1. I've got to the point where I don't think he needs seasoning as a redshirt; he's ready to go right out of the packaging. I think he's one of the rare QBs who's ready for that burden right away."
"He fits anything because of his ability to run," Wiltfong added. "Who needs him the most? Florida, right? [Redshirt freshman] Feleipe Franks ... we'll see what he can do this year, but they don't have great depth."
That's where things could get tricky with Fields' recruitment. Georgia, Florida State and Florida -- three of the teams courting Fields -- have young quarterbacks who are either starting or expected to compete for the starting job. Fields could certainly push for a starting job wherever he lands, but it remains to be seen whether he'd want to compete and potentially wait his turn again, or start as a freshman on Day 1.
Where will Fields go, and when will he decide?
"No one really knows where he's going to go," Wiltfong said. "A lot of people are really starting to like Florida State for him. Obviously Georgia is in the thick of it. I don't think anyone can say for certain. His family has kept it locked.
"He has said that he'd like to decide in the summer and then heard him say he plans to take officials. He wants to continue to get to know the people on those campuses."
Fields has already taken several unofficial visits to Florida, Florida State, Georgia and Auburn over the past month.
"This is unique," Simmons said. "Rarely do we see a high profile QB uncommitted this late. Rarely do we see the No. 1 QB uncommitted this late. For him to be that guy, in this region, with these schools chasing him, it's as fervent as a recruiting scenario as we've seen in a long long time. Certainly, it's the most high-profile recruitment that we've seen in several years."
Has there everbeen a recruiting story this important?
There's a big name or two in every recruiting cycle, but Fields is the No. 1 uncommitted target this time around. Wiltfong likened Fields to running back Cam Akers' recruitment a year ago before he committed to Florida State. Simmons believes Fields' story is even bigger than former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
"It's different from Clowney. It's a quarterback vs. a defensive end, even though [Clowney] was a once-in-a-generation talent, he's still an end and they can stay uncommitted sometimes. Top quarterbacks don't always wait like that," Simmons said. "Plus, a lot of people thought Clowney would end up at South Carolina. And Fields really does have a lot of people guessing."
In the end, the team he selects will feel like its won the lottery. Nothing in recruiting is guaranteed, but the buzz surrounding Fields is universal. Now, he just has to prove everyone right.
So where will Justin Fields wind up? Sign up for insider access at 247Sports and follow the rest of his recruitment as well as the nation's top players as National Signing Day approaches.
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