Pat Caputo: Lions need to draft Justin Fields if he's there

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The assumption was Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields would not be available to the Lions in the 2021 NFL Draft.

The Lions won too many games. Fields was too good to last beyond the second overall pick.

But it’s become clear BYU QB Zach Wilson’s stock has risen rapidly while Fields’ has fallen just enough that he may be in play for the Lions.

Will the Lions, who currently stand seventh overall, bite?

The Lions will enter the off season with no coach, no general manager, no defense and just five draft picks.

The one thing Matthew Stafford’s supporters and detractors agree about is he has become like fancy tires on a broken-down jalopy. Dealing Stafford for much-needed draft capital and going into total rebuilding mode is the most viable option.

If Fields is there for the Lions, it would be intriguing and undoubtedly polarizing in this town. You know, just like last spring when since-dismissed GM Bob Quinn, under a misguided “win now” mandate from ownership, bypassed high-ceiling QBs Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa in favor of cornerback Jeff Okudah.

Fields is a spectacular talent. He possesses exceptional arm strength, and is a speedy, effective and tough runner. Fields certainly has proven to be a winner. He has made countless clutch plays. Fields has been college football’s top passer the past two years, according to profootballfocus.com.

Fields got off to a sensational start this season, completing more than 80 percent of his passes the first three games. He has gradually slid the last three, though, culminating with a decidedly unimpressive performance vs. Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.

The following questions have started to emerge:

Fields can run, but does have NFL-level pocket presence? He has a rocket arm, but can he put air underneath the deep ball with touch? Does Fields go through his progression of reads properly? Why does he sometimes force passes into coverage unnecessarily?

It does seem to be a bit much, remindful, albeit for different reasons, of the paralysis by analysis which Justin Herbert was subjected to last year.

It hasn’t helped Fields’ cause, either, that Dwayne Haskins flopped badly in Washington, and that there have been a string of high-profile OSU QBs not succeeding in the NFL.

It is, perhaps, a subconscious situation when it comes down to actual evaluation by NFL teams, but there was a similar terrain with Herbert and Oregon.

Fields, of course, still has a chance to flip the script. Friday, he goes head-to-head with presumptive first overall pick Trevor Lawrence in the College Football Playoff. Last year, Clemson beat Ohio State in this game. Fields threw for 320 yards, but with just one TD and two interceptions. He didn’t make plays with his legs like Lawerence did.

But ultimately, should it really matter that much if Fields doesn’t standout Friday? It might help him fall into the Lions’ lap.

Atlanta is in a similar spot as the Lions with Matt Ryan and likely selecting ahead of Detroit. Perhaps Philadelphia, and its precarious situation with Carson Wentz, will be, too.

The Lions’ hiring of Chris Spielman as a consultant will be a key in the evaluation of Fields. If there is anybody with access to detailed insight on the Ohio State QB it is Spielman.

I think it would be the right call to select Fields.

The past NFL track record for OSU QBs is of no concern. Ryan Day runs much more of an NFL-type offense than OSU did under Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel.

In terms of skill-set, Fields is on a different level. He may not have the feel of Patrick Mahomes, but who does?

I get it. The Lions’ defense is brutal. Literally, it is an empty mug. Stafford’s value is hardly defined on the trade market at this stage. He is an asset the franchise should not just give away. The return haul must be multiple draft picks, including a first-rounder.

If Stafford remains in Detroit, it likely would mean the Lions win just enough games they don’t get a shot at the two premier QBs coming out in the 2022 NFL Draft, North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Southern Cal’s Kedon Slovis.

This isn’t about drafting a QB. It’s about drafting the right QB. There are three really good ones in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Lions simply can’t afford to make the same mistake they made last year if Fields is there for the taking.