Bears trade up, draft Ohio State QB Justin Fields

The Bears moved up to No. 11 to take the Ohio State quarterback.

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An image of Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is displayed after he was chosen by the Bears with the 11th pick of the NFL Draft.

An image of Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is displayed after he was chosen by the Bears with the 11th pick of the NFL Draft.

Tony Dejak/AP

If Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields was nervous, he didn’t show it. If he was using each team passing on him Thursday night as motivation for his rookie season, he didn’t let on.

But it was clear, as he sat in the living room of his parents’ home in Kennesaw, Georgia, that Fields was surprised he lasted long enough for the Bears to trade up and draft him.

“I mean, I’ve gone through situations where I haven’t been chosen — and I think the world has seen the outcome of that,” said Fields, who will wear No. 1 on his jersey. “But my goal now is not to worry about those teams. Those teams have nothing to do with me. My goal is, if we play that team, to beat them. So I’m not worried about the draft. The draft is over for me. For me personally, I’m ready to get to work.”

General manager Ryan Pace paid dearly to find out the result. To get from No. 20 to No. 11, he sent the Giants his first-round picks this year and next, plus a fourth-round pick in 2022 and a fifth-rounder in 2021.

In doing so, Pace bet his career on the 6-2, 227-pounder’s strong right arm. He knows better than most that a shock trade is no guarantee of success — Mitch Trubisky, the last quarterback Pace traded up for in order to draft, simply wasn’t good enough to last more than four years as the team’s next quarterback hope.

Now Fields holds that title. He’s the latest in a line of players since Sid Luckman — including Andy Dalton, whom the Bears gave a one-year, $10 million contract to in March — that have, with rare exceptions, disappointed Bears fans. Pace said Thursday night that Dalton will begin the season as the starter and the team is “going to have a really good plan in place to develop” Fields.

He’ll play soon enough. When he does, Fields said he’s built to handle the pressure.

“Just the way I carry myself, just the way I care about the game, the grit I have, the determination I have to be great,” said Fields, who performed in front of Bears coach Matt Nagy at his pro day this month and befriended him during Zoom interviews. “I think nobody has the story that I have.

“So just everything inside of me, just wanting to be a great quarterback, wanting to be a franchise quarterback. And just me dreaming for this moment my whole life, all of those intangibles, my work ethic. And all that together will, of course, be different for me.”

Fields stayed home to play at Georgia, appearing in 12 games as a freshman while backing up Jake Fromm. He received a waiver to transfer to Ohio State and play immediately, though, on the basis that a Bulldogs athlete had been overheard using a slur about him while cheering at a football game. 

He starred immediately at Ohio State, throwing 41 touchdown passes and three interceptions his sophomore year. In eight games this past season, he threw 22 touchdown passes and six interceptions, repeating as the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year. He lost two games in college — both in the playoffs, and most recently the national championship in January.

Pace confirmed that Fields has been managing epilepsy. His family members diagnosed with epilepsy grew out of it, and he might, too. The Bears’ medical staff is well-positioned to help him, Pace said.

“We’ve dealt with something similar in the past with different players over the years,” he said. “And we’re completely fine with it.”

All five projected first-round passers were gone before the night’s midway point, but not in the order that most experts presumed. The Jaguars took Clemson star Trevor Lawrence first overall, as expected, followed by the Jets selecting BYU’s Zach Wilson. 

The 49ers, who traded three first-round picks in March to secure the No. 3 spot, sent the first shock through the Cleveland crowd when they took North Dakota State QB Trey Lance. He played only one Football Championship Subdivision game in 15 months and was never offered an FBS scholarship to play QB. 

When the Giants were on the clock at No. 11, the Bears pounced. Pace got Giants general manager Dave Gettleman, whom he’s known for 20 years, to trade back for the first time in a career that spanned eight drafts and 55 picks. During the offseason, Gettleman said he’d only move back for value — “I’m not getting fleeced,” he said — and the Bears provided just that.

For all the Bears gave up, Pace got to keep his second- and third-round picks, allowing him to attempt to fill a starting lineup with holes remaining from a cap-strapped free-agency period.

Pace said he went into the night with three potential plans: to move up and take a quarterback, to move up or down for “valuable positions” — presumably offensive line, receiver or cornerback — or to stay put.

“Luckily,” Pace said, “No. 1 happened.”

He hopes he filled the franchise’s biggest hole — to the surprise of the NFL, and Fields himself. 

“I had no idea to be honest with you,” Fields said. “I was confident in myself, I guess. Wherever I ended up, I was going to be in the right place for me.”

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