The NFL media can be ruthless when a young player doesn’t perform well as a rookie. Especially if he’s a 1st round pick and doubly so if he’s a quarterback. Justin Fields is finding that out the hard way. People have come at him from all angles over the past few months, questioning whether he has what it takes to play in the pros. No doubt most of this stems from his rough rookie season, where he threw ten interceptions, fumbled 12 times, and went 2-8 as a starter.
Lack of productivity leads to questioning of ability. That is how it works. However, Dan Pompei of The Athletic has covered the Bears for a long time. His concerns with the young quarterback come from a different direction—one of leadership. In a recent column, he wrote about how new leaders need to step up for the team as they begin rebuilding a flawed roster. While David Montgomery, Darnell Mooney, and Roquan Smith are obvious choices, he isn’t so sure about Fields.
His choice of evidence for this was…odd.
The Piccolo Award is given to those who best exemplify the courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication, and sense of humor of the late Brian Piccolo. It is an award voted on by the players themselves and is given to one rookie and one veteran. A tradition that began back in 1992. The award itself traces back to 1970, with several big names winning it over the years. Pompei believes Fields’ inability to claim the honor as a rookie is more troubling than people think.
Not much has been made of it, but the Piccolo Awards were announced last month. The rookie award went to Khalil Herbert, the sixth round running back who rushed for 433 yards, and not Fields, the 11th pick in the draft and projected franchise quarterback.
When a first-round pick doesn’t win the Piccolo Award, it may indicate that something is awry. Teammates vote on the award, and teammates see things in a newcomer that outsiders can’t.
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.
Concerns were raised about how the quarterback handled himself in the locker room. Nobody questions his work ethic. That is a senseless argument. Instead, there might be some issues about his voice not being strong enough to sway certain players because his personality isn’t known for being the most charismatic.
“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.”
It is worth mentioning Walter Payton never won the award. Neither did Otis Wilson or Wilber Marshall, among others. At the same time, guys like Rashaan Salaam, John Allred, Stephen Paea, and Shea McClellin all won it as rookies. So the barometer isn’t as accurate as Pompei would lead you to believe.
Justin Fields has lots of doubters to silence.
The reality is that these criticisms won’t go away until Fields starts putting together multiple weeks of solid play on the field. Despite the difficult circumstances, there were flashes in 2021, but the inconsistency was always a problem. That is typical of rookies. Moving forward, his job isn’t to light up the scoreboard every Sunday. Sure, that would be nice. His primary goal must be efficiency.
Complete more passes, cut down on the turnovers, and sustain more drives. Turn punts into field goals and field goals into touchdowns. Fans aren’t asking for miracles. They’re asking for improvement. There is room for optimism with a new offense under Luke Getsy that should lean into his strengths as a quarterback.
People can doubt. People can hope. Neither side is wrong.
Justin Fields is starting over. People won’t have the true measure of an NFL player until their third season. That is the popular saying. This is Year 2. That will be a great sign if the QB can overcome everything he had to deal with last season and still improve.