In one ESPN dispatch Saturday, Jake Fromm was hailed as Buffalo’s “backup quarterback of the future.” Faint expectations, indeed, for a player who spent three seasons at Georgia chasing off all exalted comers like they were waifs playing two-hand touch in his front yard.
“Bills backup” is hardly the definition of football glamor. It is the NFL version of “dinner theater understudy.” But it still does finish ahead of most other jobs. That it is any kind of job means all the more these days.
Now, whether that title ranks above “senior Georgia quarterback making one last run at a national championship if there is a season” is the real question hereabouts, isn’t it?
There will be plenty of Bulldogs people who will argue that Fromm made a grave mistake by leaving Georgia early. I won’t join that chorus. Mostly because I, like many of them, will be making far less than his projected $300,000 signing bonus, the guaranteed part of a $2.9 million, four-year deal (per Spotrac).
The redefining of Jake Fromm has been something stunning to behold. From consummate leader in college to forgotten soul who took one of the uglier plunges in the just-concluded NFL draft. “I thought my phone was broken,” he joked in his video news conference Saturday.
Earlier in the draft, Fromm tweeted a photo of him loading up on chicken wings back home in Warner Robins for the celebration to come. And now, the best that can be said is that he gets to work in the holy city of the wing. Next stop, Anchor Bar.
The NFL displayed a resounding lack of confidence in Fromm’s physical skill set by passing on him until Saturday’s fifth round, making him the 167th player taken. That was one day and a couple of rounds later than many predicted.
Seven other quarterbacks were selected in front of him, including one, Jacob Eason (122nd pick), he had supplanted at Georgia. And if Justin Fields had been eligible for this draft, he would have gone significantly earlier as well.
The most grievous insult: Florida International quarterback James Morgan went 45 picks ahead of Fromm. While in his final college game Fromm was throwing for 250 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a Sugar Bowl victory over Baylor, Morgan threw for a less-efficient 312 yards (one touchdown, two interceptions) in a Camellia Bowl loss to Arkansas State. Still, the Jets saw in Morgan an arm more capable of making NFL-quality throws, even if those throws were sometimes unspecific.
The devaluing of Fromm began in his junior season at Georgia, when he for the first time seemed to be bumping his head against a ceiling, when a 60.8 completion percentage was the lowest of his career, and when fans began looking enviously north to Ohio State and Fields and the one who left.
It picked up steam at the NFL combine, where the clock and the measuring tape were unkind to Fromm. He was slowest in the 40-yard dash among 13 quarterbacks at the combine. And was in the bottom one-third in jumping vertically and broadly. Agility tests did him no favor either. And much too much was made of his smallish hands.
This proven craftsman, so steady in his first start at Notre Dame, so cool against Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl, so achingly close to a national championship against Alabama, was being diminished right before our eyes.
Barring an injury, coming back to Georgia for his senior season could have only helped Fromm’s draft standing. But how much, really? Many of the same limitations would have followed him to the next combine. Starting the clock on his earning potential a year early as opposed to maybe moving up a round or two in the next draft is just about a financial push.
The real regret he’ll have to face is that a fabulous college quarterback has left one season of college ball unfulfilled. He won’t get to throw another pass to George Pickens, he of 175 yards receiving yards in that last Sugar Bowl. He’ll not get to bedevil Florida one more time. But he also doesn’t have to play behind a line that just had three of its members drafted ahead of him.
While it is Fromm’s MO to conquer every challenge presented to him, he’ll find a particularly daunting one in Buffalo. The Bills have a No. 7 overall pick from 2018 invested in Josh Allen, a superior athlete being fitted for the role of franchise quarterback on what is a promising team. His backup is Matt Barkley, formerly of USC, whose grip on that job is less secure today.
They are bound to value Fromm’s grasp of the position and all the other intangibles that made him a leader at Georgia. But it’s hard to imagine Buffalo ever regarding him anywhere near as highly as the greater Athens area.
Time now to bring up the examples of Tom Brady and Bart Starr (both 199th draft picks), Johnny Unitas (a 102nd pick) and Kurt Warner (undrafted).
It can happen that the NFL’s evaluation geniuses whiff.
But it just doesn’t happen so often that you can count on it. If it turns out that Buffalo just got itself a backup quarterback of the future, here’s hoping he wears the role happily and well and suffers only minimal frostbite on the sideline.
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