Injury Profile: Justin Fields

Jeff Mueller

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields is a very intriguing prospect in this upcoming draft class. Some have Fields as quarterback 1B to Trevor Lawrence’s 1A, and some have him lower as the QB4 or 5 of the class. He’s an incredible talent who displayed incredible accuracy at all levels of the field, and reportedly he has a very high IQ.

However, how should we perceive Fields in relation to injuries and this recent bombshell that he has dealt with epilepsy since childhood?

First, let’s look at his current value.

DLF Dynasty Startup ADP

Superflex startups have Fields going as QB14 in round three, right around pick 29. He is flying off the board typically before any tight ends are picked, after at least ten running backs are picked, and after the top five wide receivers are picked. Managers are likely deciding between drafting Fields and players like CeeDee Lamb, George Kittle, Travis Kelce, DJ Moore, and Miles Sanders.

1QB startups have Fields as QB12, roughly in round 11 or so, ahead of quarterbacks Jalen Hurts, Tua Tagovailoa, Trey Lance, and Ryan Tannehill.

The risk is relatively low in 1QB leagues, given Fields is being drafted ahead of the WR60 and RB40 range. The big question is whether Fields will be worth the risk being drafted in round three in superflex formats, and how much risk does he really hold?

Epilepsy

It recently became public knowledge that NFL teams have been informed by Fields that he has been managing epilepsy. An SI article by Ben Pickman revealed that Fields was diagnosed with epilepsy as a child, and that he has said his symptoms have lessened and become more infrequent over the years.

In fact, doctors have reportedly told Fields that he will likely outgrow the symptoms over time.

What is epilepsy and how does it affect a person?

According to Mayo Clinic, “epilepsy is a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness.”

In layman’s terms, in every person the brain sends electrical signals through the spinal cord and nerves in the body that tell the muscles how to activate. With epilepsy, these electrical signals occur abnormally and sometimes excessively in certain areas of the brain, causing an overload of signals being sent out. This can lead to seizures, which essentially means the muscles are rapidly tightening and relaxing or seize. These often occur without warning, which would without a doubt make it quite difficult to play a sport.

The good news is that the seizures can go away over time. According to NINDS, “a person is not considered to have epilepsy until he or she has had two or more unprovoked seizures separated by at least 24 hours.” Thus, at some point in time, Fields had to have suffered from episodes of seizures. However, majority of people who are diagnosed with epilepsy are able to control their seizure symptoms with medication, particularly those with mild cases. Also, in those mild cases, some have “out-grown” their seizure symptoms.

Fields stated that he regularly takes medication to help manage his epilepsy. Beryl Joffre (@FF_MedicineCabinet) is a pharmacist who has offered some fantastic insight within the fantasy community. In regards to Justin Fields, here is what he had to say:

“No anti-seizure medication is on the banned substance list. As such, players with epilepsy or other seizure disorders would be open to the full range of treatment options. This is important, as control is often a moving target requiring continual alteration of medication regimens.

“Dehydration can play a role in epilepsy. In addition to potentially being a trigger in itself, there are implications on medication surrounding dehydration as well. Some medications cause dehydration as a side effect that can be detrimental to maintaining a seizure-free state. Some medications do not function properly in a dehydrated state since they have more difficulty crossing the blood brain barrier, meaning they have trouble getting from your blood stream to inside your central nervous system and brain where they need to work.

“Sleep deprivation can also be a seizure trigger even for well controlled patients. There could be an adjustment period with the travel, practice, and event schedule associated with being an NFL star, but more than likely this would be managed appropriately in a player with a known issue.

“The most important factor remains historical context. If a player has competed at a high level for a long time and been well maintained and seizure-free, there is little reason for concern that this will not maintain in the NFL.

“I would likely not adjust my stance on a player with controlled epilepsy from a redraft or dynasty perspective, but I would take advantage of any manager that is concerned.”

In my injury searches, I found no history of Fields suffering seizures during gameplay in high school or college. As far as I could find, he did not miss any game time due to any symptoms of seizures, so one can assume that the medication has kept his symptoms under control allowing him to function at a very high level of play (not to mention in very big games).

One variable that we cannot predict is stated in the NINDS source above is head trauma or inflammation of the brain. What happens if Fields suffers a concussion? It is known that suffering a TBI can lead to developing epilepsy, however if someone is already dealing with epilepsy, the suffered concussion may trigger seizures and may lead to an alteration of their management via their current medication.

Obviously, if someone suffers a concussion, they will be ruled out of the game, but in this case with epilepsy, there is an unknown element of how long it could take for Fields to heal and return to the field.

Now, this touches on the inherent risk. I would argue that you should not assume that Fields will suffer a concussion. Concussion rates for quarterbacks are relatively low, even mobile quarterbacks. There is a very good chance that he will never even have to deal with this scenario. However, if you are a risk-averse person, this might be enough for you to opt to draft Trey Lance or Zach Wilson over Fields and avoid the risk altogether. He has no noted concussion history, and concussions are impossible to predict outside of having prior history of incidents (prior injury gives us best indicator for future injury).

I do not recommend fading Fields due to his epilepsy. Whether he is drafted at third overall by the San Francisco 49ers or if he falls, he is bound to be a top-ten draft pick selection and carries a tremendous ceiling due to his accuracy, arm talent, and rushing upside. He has shown that he can perform at a very high, elite level at Ohio State despite epilepsy, while also keeping his seizure symptoms under control with his medication (no cases/incidents noted in high school or college). Several big-name NFL players with epilepsy have also successfully played without complications, including Alan Faneca, Tiki Barber, Samari Rolle, and Jason Snelling.

Did Fields suffer any other injuries that should make you concerned?

Injuries in College

Noted injuries:

  • Sprained Left MCL (11/30/19), 0 games missed, limited mobility over next 2 games but still played
  • Leg Sprain (9/1/20), 0 games missed, unspecified which side, no limitations
  • Right Thumb Sprain (12/19/20), 0 games missed, taped it and kept playing, no limitations
  • Right Ribs/Oblique Strain (1/1/21), 0 games missed

We all witnessed just how tough Fields really is when he got walloped against Clemson, returned to the game, and went on to throw six touchdowns despite being in immense pain. He missed zero games due to injury and carries low concern for injury into the NFL. None of these prior injuries warrant concern.

Summary

So how do you feel about Justin Fields at this point? The epilepsy news is quite fresh for us all, so it is natural to be concerned and allow it to change your opinion of him as a prospect. We often collect new information and process it for risk in dynasty fantasy football.

However, consider the fact that Fields played three full collegiate seasons between UGA and OSU with no games missed (consider practice time on top of the in-season games played too), as well as no noted issues or incidents related to his epilepsy or seizures. He has had this diagnosis since his childhood, yet has played an elite level for years, often side by side in rankings with Trevor Lawrence.

I highly recommend not fading Fields, at least not due to any medical reasons. The one scenario where I’d understand fading him is if the landing spot is not as favorable as the other quarterback prospects.

jeff mueller
Injury Profile: Justin Fields