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Tale of the Tape: Justin Fields vs. Trevor Lawrence

By Kirk Hollis | 8/3/23

One of the most difficult tasks in drafting a fantasy football team is trying to decide between two players you think have identical value. Knowing how to break a tie is important, as often a pick comes down to a dilemma between Player A and Player B. The purpose of this article is to not only identify pairs of players that are considered of nearly equal value in 2023, but also take a look at the process of solving those dilemmas.

Our first installment examines two quarterbacks entering into their third NFL season.

Justin Fields burst onto the fantasy scene in his second season after starting just ten games as a rookie. As a passer, Fields showed moderate improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 as his TD-INT ration increased and he completed passes at a slightly higher percentage. Running the ball, however, is where Fields excelled in a way that few quarterbacks ever have and that aspect propels him into the top eight in current ADP.

Trevor Lawrence, on the other hand, is a more traditional pocket passer who also turned his TD:INT ratio around dramatically in 2022 - in fact, more so than Fields. Lawrence also took a significant leap forward in accuracy and yards thrown. So, which QB is the one to target after the consensus top 5-6 are off the board? Let’s find out…

Justin Fields & Trevor Lawrence

The Strengths:

The strengths of Justin Fields as a fantasy quarterback are fairly obvious, but worth stating to create comparison. He can do serious damage on the ground (1143 rush yds last season) in addition to what he does in the air. To get a better perspective, it’s important to note that only two other NFL QBs have ever rushed for over 1,000 yards in a season (Michael Vick, Lamar Jackson). And before you say it was just a career year, consider that Vick never got to follow up on his 1,000-yard rushing season as he served a two–year suspension for misconduct while Lamar Jackson did follow up on his 1,000-yard year with a repeat performance. Jackson was also on pace to accomplish the feat each of the past two years until injuries cut both seasons short. It can be done. It has been done. And, with defenses having to respect Chicago’s passing attack this season, Fields should be able to produce in an elite fashion during the 2023 campaign. To be succinct, Fields is a fantasy weapon like very few others that have come before him.

Truly elite quarterbacks often make a significant jump in their second season and as Trevor Lawrence did last fall/winter. What makes the jump even more encouraging is that while Fields improved his completion rate by 1.5%, Lawrence’s rate increased 6.7%. That’s over four times the improvement that Fields demonstrated from Year 1 to Year 2. Both players will be playing for the same coaching staff as the previous year for the first time since they entered the league, but Lawrence is playing for a coach that has a track record of propelling QBs to new heights. Finally, the Jaguars acquired Calvin Ridley and were also able to re-sign TE Evan Engram, meaning their once razor-thin receiving corps has grown into a powerhouse rather quickly with Christian Kirk coming off his best year as a professional as well. In short, Lawrence’s performance curve appears to be accelerating more quickly than any other QB in the league… including Fields.

The Weaknesses:

Justin Fields completion percentage is hovering around 60%, which is only good for 31st in a league. Poor completion percentage correlates to many things, but yardage in particular is affected as QBs that don’t complete a high percentage of passes are involved in many more three and out drives. Add in the fact that Fields averaged less than 150 passing yards per game and that problem comes full circle. Under 150 yards is a paltry number by high school standards, much less the standards of the NFL. If Fields is going to become a consistent top 5-7 fantasy quarterback, there needs to be passing efficiency improvement - even if he continues to run wild on the ground.

Trevor Lawrence is almost wholly dependent on his arm for fantasy production. Don’t get me wrong, 17 yards rushing a game on average for a quarterback is hardly Dan Marino territory. But it doesn’t represent a great deal of value or upside in fantasy land. In addition, with Jacksonville having a much better team, there will be less playing from behind and thus a more balance in their run/pass ratio. Lawrence will undoubtedly still have a few big yardage games over the course of the 2023 season, but in his last three games of 2022, he averaged less than 200 passing yards while only throwing one touchdown. The Jaguars won all three games by a combined 48 points. Garbage points begone.

The Verdict:

We need to consider not just what these two quarterbacks did last season, but what they are prepared to do in the near future. There are new additions to the receiving corps that should help both have more success in the passing game, at least in theory. D.J. Moore is Chicago’s biggest offseason acquisition on the offensive side of the ball and projects more of a lead receiver than Darnell Mooney ever did. In addition, Chase Claypool got a full offseason to better understand his role in the offense and the return of Khalil Herbert means Fields will have an explosive safety valve he can trust when plays break down. It is almost irrational to think that the Bears want Fields running as much as he did last year, so improvement in the overall passing game is critical for him to hold value.

On the other side of the ledger, Trevor Lawrence will enjoy the services of not only his productive trio of Christian Kirk, Zay Jones, and Evan Engram, but also a player who was once a rising star in Calvin Ridley. No player is likely more difficult to project at the onset of the season than Ridley, but it’s hard to imagine his presence not being an asset. I trust Jacksonville’s coach more than I trust Chicago’s in terms of getting the most out of a quarterback and I trust Lawrence’s growth curve.

Game script is an interesting discussion point. The Jaguars appear poised to play from ahead or in close games more so than the Bears, which means that Fields could rack up a ton of fantasy points in the second half of games while Lawrence takes his foot off the pedal. Granted, Jacksonville is not an elite team just yet, so they’ll be playing from behind sometimes too, but in the end, game script differences are worthy of consideration.

The rushing prowess gives Fields the higher ceiling, but I also think his floor is much lower. So, this decision comes down to what kind of team you’ve assembled prior to your QB selection. If you’ve already invested in several high risk-reward players, Lawrence is the much safer selection. If your team lacks that risk-reward element, Fields might be just the guy to infuse into your squad. Whatever you decide, these two QBs will be fun to track as the 2023 season evolves.

Projected 2023 Statistics:

Justin Fields: 2,975 passing yards, 20 TDs; 1,015 rushing yards, 7 TDs
Trevor Lawrence: 4,300 passing yards, 27 TDs; 280 rushing yards, 3 TDs

Next up: Tale of the Tape - Wide Receivers

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