Georgia Bulldogs' NFL destinations

Re: Jake Fromm. What happened? And what now?

Regarding Jake Fromm, you have questions. Pretty sure he does, too. Today’s exercise: trying to find answers as to why a collegiate quarterback who went 35-7 as a starter in the Just Means More SEC saw 166 players drafted before him. 

Q: How much did Fromm’s NFL combine showing hurt? 

A: Tons. He came across as unathletic in Indianapolis, which is hard to believe. He was hitting home runs and striking out batters in the Little League World Series at age 13. He played summer baseball for an East Cobb travel team. He was a four-year starter and threw 116 touchdown passes for Houston County High in the state’s most difficult region. He started every game at Georgia except his first. He held the job despite the presence, in different years, of Jacob Eason and Justin Fields, both rated slightly higher as recruits. Eason and Fields wound up transferring. Fromm’s Georgia was 3-0 against Florida, 3-1 against Auburn, 2-0 against Notre Dame. Were he a stumblebum, wouldn’t it have showed by now? 

Q: Why did NFL execs put so much stock in the combine? 

A: Because it was their last live glimpse of Fromm, albeit in shorts and a T-shirt. Georgia’s Pro Day was canceled because of the pandemic. He wasn’t available for post-Indy in-person interviews with everything locked down, and he’d have aced those. It has been reported his Wonderlic score was 35. By way of comparison, Joe Burrow’s was 34. Tom Brady’s was 33. 

Q: Is his arm that bad? 

A: You’d never liken him to Aaron Rodgers (also a 35 Wonderlic, FYI), but there were those who derided Matt Ryan’s arm, and he has held an NFL starting job for 12 years. If you’re a pro team looking for a quarterback to throw nothing but “Go” routes, Fromm’s not your guy. But he finished fifth among collegians in passing efficiency in 2018; Burrow finished 65th. As a freshman and sophomore, Fromm made nearly every throw he was required to make. 

Q: What happened last year? 

A: His completion percentage dipped from 67.2 in 2018 to 60.8. He had five consecutive games — Missouri, Auburn, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech and LSU — in which he didn’t complete half his passes. Had you watched him as a freshman/sophomore, you’d barely have recognized him as a junior. That’s an unusual career arc. There were rumors, consistently refuted, of a tired arm. There were questions about the caliber of his receivers, a group Kirby Smart bemoaned after the SEC Championship game loss to LSU. (Note: George Pickens, UGA wideout, was the Sugar Bowl MVP.) There were doubts about the offensive line, which Smart conceded had underperformed, but which saw two of its members become Round 1 draftees. (Line coach Sam Pittman is now head coach at Arkansas.) Mostly there was the nagging belief that James Coley, in his first/last year as Georgia’s play-caller, was in over his head. (Coley now coaches tight ends at Texas A&M.) 

Q: Fields finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting and led Ohio State to the playoff. Didn’t Georgia pick the wrong guy? 

A: Off the strength of what Fields did for the Buckeyes, yes. If you’re saying he’d have done the same for Georgia – with Coley as OC, with untested receivers, against an SEC schedule — you’re assuming an awful lot. For Smart to have benched Fromm — who led the Bulldogs to the playoff in 2017 and nearly again the next year – for a sophomore who hadn’t played a significant college down was a risk this risk-averse coach would never take. The surprise in 2019 wasn’t that the gifted Fields looked so good; it was that the established Fromm looked inexplicably mediocre. 

Q: Did the week-by-week if not quarter-by-quarter comparisons with Fields affect Fromm? 

A: Smart said after the Florida game that Fromm used slights as a prod, which was the first indication he mightn’t be the Robo QB he seemed. It was striking how many of those we-picked-the-wrong-guy comments appeared to emanate from the “we” portion of the electorate. No, not every Bulldogs fan turned on Fromm – as we know, Twitter/Facebook can distort – but by November the people’s choice no longer was. 

Q: Why did that matter? 

A: Because Fromm, as a junior, had an out. He could leave a season’s eligibility on the table. The surprise greeting his decision to exit largely was a function of outsiders speculating he wouldn’t enter the draft off his worst college season, but the guess here — it’s just a guess — was that he’d had enough of college. Georgia didn’t announce the hiring of Todd Monken as offensive coordinator until a week after Fromm said his public goodbye, after which there was no immediate we-wish-him-well public statement from Smart. 

Q: In the cold light of hindsight, shouldn’t he have stayed for his senior season? 

A: If Fromm left because he didn’t want to be at Georgia anymore, then no. Once you’ve made the choice, there’s no turning back. His draft slide was shocking — though apparently not to Smart, who told NFL.com, “I thought all along he’d be a third- or fourth-round pick.” Smart also said of Georgia’s season: “It was a weird year; things happened in a strange way.” And it WAS a weird year: In August, ESPN rated Fromm the nation’s fifth-best college player; in December re-rankings, he didn’t make the top 50. I’ve been doing this a while, and I’m never seen anything like it. 

Q: Bottom line: Is he an NFL quarterback? 

A: Not long ago, I’d have said he absolutely is. Last season gave everyone pause. Still, it’s hard to imagine a guy who knows how to play and who has shown the ability to perform at a high level can’t find an NFL home. There’s no doubt he’s smart enough to handle a pro offense; at issue is whether Buffalo — whose offensive coordinator is Brian Daboll, the Alabama OC on the night Fromm almost led Georgia to the national championship — has such an offense. Smart on Fromm in July 2019: “He can play on Sundays. He’s what they look for — a quarterback who can change the protection, make decisions, distribute the ball. Yeah, he’s going to be a pro.” 

Nine months later, no NFL team thought Fromm was worth even a Round 4 pick. A lot of things had to go wrong for him to fall so far. The belief here is that he has it within him to make things go right again. The belief is that we’ll see William Jacob Fromm play on Sundays.

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About the Author

Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley
Mark Bradley is a sports columnist and blogger for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He has been with the AJC since 1984.
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