In Buffalo, they’re still celebrating the Jake Fromm pick

Around here, Jake Fromm getting drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the 22nd pick in the fifth round drew a mix of scorn, empathy, relief and even pity. But in Buffalo, N.Y., Fromm's selection was roundly applauded.

The Buffalo Bills had seven selections in last week’s NFL draft. But the cover photo underneath the 72-point headline accompanying the lead story in the Buffalo News’ sports section Sunday was of Georgia’s own Fromm.

The locals are loving it.

“From Buffalo’s standpoint, this is definitely seen as a gift that fell to them,” said Buffalo News columnist Vic Carucci, an upstate New Yorker who has covered pro football for four decades. “Even if they were thinking quarterback – and I don’t think they were – they were not thinking someone of that caliber. They clearly felt he would’ve been drafted higher. I don’t know what their grade on him was. But given the way they reacted, they probably had a Day 2 grade on him.”

“Day 2” would mean second or third round.

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Here’s the scenario Fromm will enter in Buffalo:

Josh Allen is the undisputed starter. He was drafted just two years ago out of Wyoming with the seventh overall pick and gained favor with both the franchise and the fan base by throwing for more 3,000 yards and leading the Bills to the playoffs last season. He’s 6-foot-5, mobile, has a cannon for an arm and is liable to do anything with the football, great and otherwise.

Allen’s backup is Matt Barkley, a seven-year pro out of USC. In a lot of ways, Barkley was Fromm seven years ago. Touted as a lead Heisman Trophy candidate entering his senior season, the Trojans instead lost five games, and Barkley hurt his shoulder and fell to the fourth round, where he was picked by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Barkley has played on seven teams in seven seasons and has a career 10-to-21 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He’s scheduled to make $2 million this season.

Meanwhile, it has become increasingly rare for NFL teams to carry three quarterbacks on their 53-man rosters. So, it’s entirely possible that, once Fromm arrives in Buffalo, it could be a showdown between him and Barkley.

“I think Matt’s the one guy who’s got to be nervous,” Carucci said. “He’s been a good-soldier kind of backup -- smart, good guy in the locker room and the quarterback room, very supportive of Allen. But his ceiling has been hit. We know his ceiling, and it’s not very high.”

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Fromm, the thought is, might have a very high ceiling. And, a relatively low price tag.

“I think it’s a steal,” said Bills fan John Byrwa of Winder. Byrwa, owner of J.B.’s Best Hot Sauce, is from Buffalo and listens to the flagship radio station WGR on his phone app every morning.

“I was fired up just because it was Fromm from Georgia. But everybody up there loves it. I think he’s going to have to beat out Barkley, but I think the Bills are pulling for him to beat out Barkley.”

It’s a similar situation to the one D.J. Shockley experienced when he was drafted by the Falcons in 2006. The Georgia star fell to the seventh round before the Falcons took him with the 226th selection. But Shockley made the team as the third-string quarterback over Bryan Randall and stuck with the Falcons for four years.

“But I also had a rookie minicamp and OTAs to prove myself in practice and learn the system before going to training camp,” Shockley said Wednesday. “Jake is at a disadvantage because he doesn’t have that right now. Obviously Barkley already knows the system, but Fromm could be cheaper, which could work well for him.”

Shockley’s career was trending well until a knee injury in 2007 interrupted his progress. Then Falcons drafted Matt Ryan in 2008, and Shockley was finally cut in 2010.

Carucci isn’t predicting the same future for Fromm. Of course, he can’t be sure what Fromm’s NFL future is, with the Bills or otherwise. But he thinks Fromm’s immediate future is quite bright.

“On the assumption we get any football, I think he’s making the roster no matter what,” Carucci said. “Now he’s doing that either as one of three quarterbacks, or he bumps Barkley right off the roster, and there’s just two guys. He’s a younger version of Barkley, and right now that’s the comp.”

Fromm himself has had little to say about the competition he faces other than to acknowledge that there’s going to be one. But, of course, he’s no stranger to that.

Fromm had to compete with a pair of 5-star recruits for Georgia’s starting job in Jacob Eason in 2017 and Justin Fields in 2018. Fromm won those competitions, regardless of how much people want to dissect the coaches’ decisions to that end. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs won 86 percent of their games over the past three seasons, with Fromm throwing 8,224 yards and 78 touchdowns and only 17 interceptions. In short, Fromm did nothing to warrant unseating.

This time around, Fromm is arriving with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

“My entire career I’ve always been the guy left out, the guy overseen, the guy that’s not tall enough, not strong enough, can’t do this, can’t do that,” Fromm said on a video conference call with reporters. “For me, it’s just showing up and working and competing and doing whatever I can to help the team win. I’m excited to do that again at this level.”

Fromm’s also aware of some of the criticism that is floating around about him leaving Georgia a year too early.

“I don’t have to listen to all the criticism and all the negative stuff,” Fromm said, “because, man, there’s a lot of it out there, there really is. … At the end of the day, excited to be part of the team, and I’m going in humble and hungry.”

The games and competitions Fromm won at Georgia aren’t going unnoticed in Buffalo. Bills general manager Brandon Beane learned about those and a whole lot more in an hour-long meeting he had with Fromm before the coronavirus pandemic shut down pre-draft operations.

No, the Bills weren’t intending to draft a quarterback. But when their fifth-round pick came around and they saw Fromm still sitting there, Beane simply couldn’t pass it up.

“I was taken aback because, for some reason, I thought (Fromm) was already off the board,” Carucci said. “I’m, like, holy crap, he’s still there! And the social-media reaction was universal, too, like this is stroke of genius here. …

“So, this is not a guy who’s coming in just to be an extra arm for training camp. I think he’s there to be an important part of this team.”