Justin Fields Failed to Meet ‘Reliable Barometer’ for Bears Rookies

Justin Fields

Getty Bears quarterback Justin Fields has recently seen his leadership questioned.

It’s no secret Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields had a rookie season that fluctuated from incredibly promising to disappointing, but one thing that was never questioned was his ability to lead.

Until recently, that is.

In his May 24 column, longtime Bears analyst Dan Pompei of The Athletic examined Chicago’s current roster and which players he deemed both capable and ready to lead the team under new head coach Matt Eberflus, who has emphasized the importance of leadership. Noting Fields will likely be named one of the team’s captains “even if he has not yet earned the title with his play,” Pompei also thinks something may be “awry” with the 23-year-old QB’s leadership because Fields didn’t win the Piccolo Award as a rookie.

Per the team’s official website, the award, which honors former Bears running back Brian Piccolo, who died of cancer in 1970, is given annually to one veteran and one rookie who “best exemplify the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and sense of humor of Brian Piccolo.” Running back Khalil Herbert, who had 103 carries for 433 yards and two touchdowns in 2021, was Chicago’s rookie recipient of the award, while veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn took it home for the veterans.

Pompei dug into recent Bears history to back up why Fields not winning the award could ultimately matter quite a bit.

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Piccolo Award ‘Has Been a Fairly Reliable Barometer’ in Measuring Career Trajectories

Pompei looked at the previous winners of the prestigious off-field award over the last 25 years, and his findings were interesting, to say the least:

Winning a Piccolo Award — or not winning it — has been a fairly reliable barometer of how the career of a Bears first-round draft pick will play out. In the past 25 years, only four first-rounders have won the award as rookies — Brian Urlacher, Tommie Harris, Greg Olsen and Roquan Smith. Fields joined this group of first-rounders who were not given the award by their teammates: Walt Harris, Curtis Enis, Cade McNown, David Terrell, Marc Colombo, Michael Haynes, Rex Grossman, Cedric Benson, Chris Williams, Gabe Carimi, Shea McClellin, Kyle Long, Leonard Floyd, Kevin White and Mitch Trubisky.

It’s fair to point out that the 23-year-old signal-caller didn’t exactly have the best supporting cast around him in 2021, with former Bears head coach Matt Nagy getting loads of criticism for his failure to design a game plan that highlighted Fields’ strengths. Pompei also acknowledges we don’t know why players voted for the Piccolo Award the way they did.

“Fields’ defenders were quick to say the Piccolo Award voting meant nothing. But it clearly meant something,” Pompei added. “What it meant, however, is not clear. If there were good reasons for Fields not to be given the award, we don’t know what they are. The word is he’s somewhat reserved. There may have been a popularity element in the voting.”

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Fields Has to Earn Respect With His Play

Fields went 2-8 in his 10 starts last year, completing 58.9% of his passes for 1,870 yards, seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions, per Pro Football Reference.

He was under constant pressure, as the Bears allowed a league-high 58 sacks last year, some of which were his fault. Per Pro Football Focus’ 2022 QB Annual, the Bears gave up 128 pressures last season, and 15 of those were the fault of the young QB. He was also sacked nearly once every four times he dropped back to pass, and many are hoping the team’s new offensive coordinator, Luke Getsy, can build an offense that will help Fields eliminate errors while also helping him grow on the field — which will be key if he wants to cement his leadership.

“If Fields leads his teammates into end zones and postgame victory celebrations, they will follow. The rest won’t matter. But if he struggles to perform, Fields will not be a leader,” Pompei added.

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