Bears QB Justin Fields’ speed has fast-tracked him to stardom

“He’s faster than everybody thought,” Michael Vick said of Fields.

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Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears

Bears quarterback Justin Fields breaks a tackle on his 55-yard touchdown run against the Packers on Sunday.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

When he played, no one regularly clocked Michael Vick’s speed using GPS, the way quarterbacks are measured today. Maybe that’s a good thing, Vick joked.

“I was quicker than I was fast,” Vick, a Fox Sports analyst, said this week.

He’s being humble. The all-time rushing leader among quarterbacks also held the NFL’s single-game, regular-season record — until Bears quarterback Justin Fields ran for 178 yards on Nov. 6 against the Dolphins.

Then a star with the Falcons, Vick had 173 rushing yards in a 2002 overtime win against the Vikings that ended with his 46-yard touchdown run. Maybe, Vick said, he’d want to know how fast he ran in that game.

“The anxiety,” he said, “is getting caught from behind.”

It didn’t happen often. And it’s not happening this year with Fields, either.

“He’s faster than everybody thought,” Vick said. “He never had to showcase those skills at Ohio State.”

Technology allows Fields to prove just how rare those skills are. In 2015 — Vick’s last season — the NFL began embedding monitors in shoulder pads at every venue in the league. Teams receive postgame reports with tracking data and measure distances run during practices.

NFL Next Gen Stats has made measuring speed so ubiquitous that Fields was told Sunday, after he said he felt slow, that he reached 20.15 mph on a 55-yard touchdown run against the Packers. Fields responded wryly that he needed to reach 21 or 21.5 mph next time.

“I got to do some extra sprints or something,” he said.

What he has done this season is special enough:

• Fields has hit top speed more often than any ballcarrier, be it a running back, receiver, quarterback or tight end. He has more runs of 20-plus mph this season than any player in a season since 2018, per NFL Next Gen Stats and Zebra Technologies.

• He’s the fastest quarterback. Fields posted the fastest run of any quarterback this season when he hit 21.23 mph on a 41-yard run against the Cowboys that was shortened to eight yards by tight end Cole Kmet’s holding penalty. That run made him the 15th-fastest ballcarrier on any play this season. No quarterback has had a run finish a season in the top 20 since Next Gen Stats began publishing regular-season speed figures in 2017.

• He has hit fourth gear more often than anyone else. Fields has reached 15 mph 70 times on 128 carries. That’s tops among all rushers. Packers running back Aaron Jones is second with 52. Fields trails only one player in percentage of runs over 15 mph. Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray has reached that mark on 74.2% of his runs, while Fields has done so 54.7% of the time.

• Fields has made the most out of the least. He leads the NFL with 438 rushing yards over expected, a stat that measures gains contrasted against the GPS location and speed of blockers and defenders. Browns running back Nick Chubb is second with 328 yards. Fields is the only player with three of the league’s top 20 RYOE plays this season.

Technology makes it easy to fetishize Fields’ speed. Still, his runs require subtlety. On his 55-yarder Sunday, Fields planted his foot to escape blitzing cornerback Keisean Nixon before taking off up the right seam, where he was untouched.

“It takes a special person to not get touched running up the middle,” Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson said.

Johnson admits to being “spoiled” by watching Fields run. In training camp, defenders call out when they’re close to the quarterback, whom they cannot hit, and declare it a tackle.

“Then, when you go out there on a Sunday, you’re like, ‘No, they’re not tackling that dude,’ ” Johnson said. “I definitely wouldn’t want to face a quarterback like him with that ability in the air and on the ground. He definitely does some amazing things.

“It’s something we enjoy. And I feel like it’s starting, almost, to become an expectation for him to make those all-star plays.”

Quarterbacks are running more often than at any point since at least 1981, per Football Outsiders. Not counting kneeldowns, quarterbacks have averaged about 3.6 carries per game and 5.9 yards per carry this year.

Fields, meanwhile, is averaging 9.8 carries per game and 7.1 yards per carry.

“When he tucks the ball, you can see a switch flip — he’s a running back now,” said former Bears safety Brock Vereen, an analyst for CBS Sports Network’s “That Other Pregame Show.” “He’s reading his offensive line like a running back. He actually becomes a running back.

“As a defender, it’s terrifying.”

Vereen considers Fields part of a “gigantic wave of running quarterbacks” whose comfort carrying the ball comes from their wide-open college offenses. Even Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow ran for 767 yards over his two years at LSU.

The wave led Vick to joke his records are being toppled more frequently than the other former players he works with at Fox. Two weeks ago, Eagles cornerback Jalen Hurts broke Vick’s franchise record by running for 157 yards against the Packers.

“I’m glad to be in that lineage, and for them to be joining us,” Vick said.

Fields reminds Vick of former Panthers star Cam Newton — the second-leading quarterback rusher of all time — more than himself. Both are long-striding, physical, fast runners. Newton has two inches and 20 pounds on the 6-3, 228-pound Fields. Fields, though, is three inches and 20 pounds bigger than Vick in his prime.

The next step, Vick said, is for Fields to excel in the passing game. When the season began, Vick considered that a week-to-week proposition. He since has admired Fields’ poise in the pocket and thinks no quarterback is ever fully settled in the first year of any scheme.

“That should come more next year when he gets more comfortable in the offense,” Vick said. “I see a guy that you can build around.”

And one whom others can’t catch.

“At some point,” Vick said, “you start to realize, ‘I have talents — and running the football is one of them.’ ”

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