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Browns Breakdowns: What Tony Fields II brings to the linebackers

Fields built his best college season yet in 2020 after maximizing his speed and instincts to make big plays

Tony Fields II checks off many of the boxes the Browns have looked for when making additions to their linebackers room.

Speed? Yep, Fields was clocked at 4.63 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Tackling? He led West Virginia in tackles last season. Instincts? His tape suggests they're ready for the NFL level.

That was one of the biggest takeaways Dane Brugler, senior draft analyst for The Athletic, saw when breaking down Fields' 2020 season, which was his strongest year at the college level and helped him become a fifth-round draft pick for the Browns.

"He's not the biggest guy, but he flies all over the field," Brugler said in a "Browns Breakdowns" video with Nathan Zegura. "He's a smart player. What stands out more than anything is the instincts."

Fields, who transferred to West Virginia in 2020 after three seasons in Arizona, proved his size won't stop him from being a consistent tackler. At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, he's slightly smaller than the average linebacker but still delivered plenty of solo tackles and found ways to evade blockers.

Speed was one of the biggest reasons why Fields could make those plays. He doesn't slow his body when he attempts a tackle, and if a blocker is in his way from reaching the quarterback or chasing a runner down the sideline, he's nimble enough to work around them and finish the play.

"This is how you do it," Brugler said. "You want to have that quickness to avoid the blocks and make the play, and then to finish. You want linebackers that are finishers, and there's no doubt about it — Tony Fields is a finisher."

That speed also provided a boost whenever Fields was in pass coverage. He recorded two interceptions and seven passes defensed in his final two college seasons because of his quick lateral movements and ability to read the quarterback's eyes. It's difficult for linebackers to swat or catch the football when they're so close to the line of scrimmage, but Fields found ways to do it by perfecting his positioning and instincts solely by watching the quarterback's head.

Those skills make Fields ripe to play both inside and outside linebacker positions. They'll also translate well to special teams, where Fields could be asked to handle the bulk of his duties as a rookie.

"He has range. He has speed. He's very active in coverage as well," Brugler said. "He has that change in direction. Special teams, that's where he'll be initially with the athleticism he offers. He's going to be able to get down the field in punt and kickoff coverage."

But Fields certainly still will be among the candidates for a spot near the top of linebackers depth chart. The room will hold one of the biggest competitions of training camp and feature opportunities for at least two starting jobs to pair along with Anthony Walker, who became one of the top leaders of the defense after he signed with the Browns this offseason. Seven other players will be in the competition, including Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Mack Wilson, Sione Takitaki and Jacob Phillips, all young guys who will be given plenty of reps to earn a shot as a starter.

Fields will be in the running, too. Even though he's a rookie, his skills match what the Browns need at the position to make the rest of the defense click.

"It's not going to surprise anybody if he's able to get onto the field on defensive snaps and show what he can do because he can stay on the field in any situation," Brugler said. "When you can play in space and show you can blitz and have those instincts, that's what really plays at the next level, and I think those instincts are what sets him apart from linebacker rookies."