Will the Steelers use QB Justin Fields as returner this season?

Justin Fields has a new home in 2024, getting traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in March. He could also have a new position, too.

The quarterback could serve as one of the Steelers’ kick returners under the NFL‘s new kickoff rules, according to Pittsburgh running back Jaylen Warren, who shared the idea during a live taping of teammate Cam Heyward‘s podcast.

“I think it’s pretty good,” Warren said of the new kickoff rules. “As soon as you touch the ball, that’s when everything starts to happen.

“Our special teams coordinator was talking about Justin Fields being back there. We’re like, ‘Hold up, hold up.’ We looked at him like, ‘Justin Fields is about to be back there?’ I don’t know. I think it’s cool.”

The NFL’s new kickoff rule is similar to the kickoff the XFL implemented in 2020, encouraging more returns after rule changes in recent years did the opposite. The kicker will still kickoff from their own 35-yard line, but the other players on the kicking team will line up with one foot on the receiving team’s 40-yard line. At least nine members of the receiving team will line up in the “setup zone,” which is placed between their own 30- and 35-yard lines. Only the kicker and returners can move before the ball is touched.

Fields certainly has the dynamism to potentially make interesting plays as a returner. He ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at Ohio State Pro Day in 2021, which would’ve been the fourth-quickest time for a quarterback at the combine. He’s used that speed to turn into one of the NFL’s most mobile quarterbacks and arguably one of its best all-around runners, as he’s rushed for 2,220 yards and 14 touchdowns in 40 career games. 

Will Fields or Russell Wilson start for the Steelers?

The Chicago Bears sparingly used Fields in special formations as he recorded 22 snaps out of the backfield or as a receiver during his three seasons with the team, per Pro Football Focus. 

There’s also some risk to using him as a returner. He’s currently slated to be their backup quarterback, but head coach Mike Tomlin insisted that there will be a competition between him and veteran Russell Wilson for the starting job. The Steelers would also owe the Bears a 2025 fourth-round pick instead of a 2025 sixth-round pick if he plays at least 51% of their snaps this season, something that could come into play if Fields returns kicks.

Additionally, there doesn’t seem to be too much of a need for Pittsburgh to use Fields as one of its kick returns. Shortly after the NFL made the rule change in March, the Steelers signed kick return extraordinaire Cordarrelle Patterson. The veteran has the mock kickoff return touchdowns in NFL history with nine.

Regardless of how the Steelers will use Fields, Warren has enjoyed his and Wilson’s presence so far.

“It’s a night-and-day difference with their leadership,” Warren said. “They bring a lot. They help out. They tell us how to run the route. They’re really on it when you don’t run it a certain way. They’re big on details, kind of what we preach, and it helps a lot.”

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