Jake Fromm’s spot as one of the all-time great Georgia quarterbacks is secure.
In three years, Fromm threw for 78 touchdowns – second only behind Aaron Murray (121) in program history. Fromm’s 8,224 passing yards ranks fourth. He’s also fourth in completions (621) and fifth in passing attempts (982).
Perhaps most important: Georgia went 36-7 in three years with Fromm at quarterback, winning the Southeastern Conference’s East Division every time.
“He’s as good from the neck up as anyone in this class, probably better," Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, told ESPN before the draft. "His eyes are as good or better than anyone in this class. He’s won a ton of games. He’s been durable.”
So, how does a player with those kinds of numbers and that kind of resume in the crucible that is the SEC slip to the fifth round? It’s what happened after the games ended that made Fromm available to the Bills at No. 167.
That’s when physical measures are closely scrutinized, or some would say, overanalyzed. Take, for example, everyone’s favorite measure from the NFL Scouting Combine – quarterback hand size. Fromm’s measured 8 7/8 inches, 1/8 inch off the desired minimum of 9 inches.
They “are the same hands that went to three SEC championships, a Rose Bowl, a National Championship and some Sugar Bowls,” Fromm said. “I’ve played plenty of football and have done well so far.”
A good response, to be sure, but perhaps not enough to eliminate all doubt.
Fromm's time in the 40-yard dash – 5.01 seconds – was the slowest of the 13 quarterbacks who ran at the combine. That planted more doubt.
Truth be told, Fromm’s hand size and 40 time probably won’t be the key determining factors in whether he will become a successful NFL quarterback. Arm strength, however, could be.
Fromm has been heavily scrutinized in that area since the end of the college season. His performance at the combine reportedly left some teams unimpressed with his ability to make all the throws necessary at the next level.
“You look at Jake Fromm, size and arm, not impressive,” ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. said during the television broadcast last month.
Fromm didn’t go to Indianapolis expecting to become the talk of the combine for his speed.
“I’m not the tallest and I’m not the fastest,” he said before working out. “I know that I’m not going to go out and run any 4.2s. I’m trying to hone in and give the best that I can. I want to be a quick as possible and I want to throw the ball around as good as I can.”
Even with his lackluster combine results, Fromm was still expected to be drafted in the first few rounds. When the third day of the draft began and he was still on the board in the fourth round, it was hard to ignore. By the time the fifth round was underway, it became one of the draft’s big stories.
“That combine performance is crushing Fromm right now,” one AFC assistant coach texted Bruce Feldman, a college football reporter for Fox Sports, as the draft dragged on.
Arm strength questions
As analysts weighed in on Fromm’s slide, David Morris could only shake his head. Morris has been training Fromm since the quarterback was 15.
“His arm strength is really good,” said Morris, who runs the QB Country quarterback developmental program. “It was overblown in the process. He can make every throw over and over again. You see that in his game film. Arm strength is not an issue at all. We train a dozen NFL quarterbacks, and his arm is as good as any of them. I never quite bought that (knock against Fromm’s arm strength), but at the same time, we're trying to get stronger. We want to be able to fit it in small windows. There is some wind up there in Buffalo that is a challenge. We want to be ready for that.”
The scouting service Ourlads tracks velocity at the combine. Fromm was clocked at 53 mph throwing to both his right and left, which ranked in the bottom half of those who threw. For comparison, the fastest thrower since records started to be kept in 2008 is Josh Allen, the current Bills’ starter, who hit 62 mph.
Average is considered to be 54 mph, so Fromm is close.
“I think I have the arm strength and the ability to make every single throw I need to,” Fromm said.
Fromm tries to model his game after Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who slipped to the second round coming out of college, with arm talent being one of main reasons.
"I think Jake Fromm reminds me a lot of Drew Brees,” Nagy told Sports Illustrated during the pre-draft process. “That sounds like crazy talk, but you're not comparing him to the Drew Brees who's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. You're comparing him to a guy that fell to the second round for a reason. You're comparing him to the guy that the Chargers gave up on for Philip Rivers."
Fromm’s numbers dropped from his sophomore to junior season. His completion percentage dipped by nearly seven points (67.4 to 60.8), he threw six fewer touchdowns (30 to 24) and attempted 78 fewer passes (385 to 307).
While he’d never say it, there were legitimate concerns about Georgia’s offense in 2019. The problems started when Jim Chaney left as the offensive coordinator after the 2018 season. He was replaced by James Coley for the 2019 season. The Bulldogs’ average points per game dropped from 37.9 to 30.8 per game.
Injuries at wide receiver affected the offense as a whole and Fromm specifically. The most impactful of those was to Lawrence Cager. Fromm’s completion percentage when the senior receiver was on the field was 71%.
“It happens when you get injuries; you get guys in the game that haven’t played in a while, or it’s their first chance and they are a little nervous and they take their routes a little deeper than where they should be,” Coley said before the Sugar Bowl. “It ends up looking like the guy (Fromm) was not playing as good as he was a year ago.”
Fromm ended his college career on a strong note, throwing for 250 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 26-14 win over Baylor. He completed 20 of 30 passes, ending a streak of five games in a row with a completion percentage of less than 50%.
After the season, Coley left the Georgia staff for Texas A&M. He will be replaced by Todd Monken in 2020. Rather than play for a third different offensive coordinator in three years, Fromm declared for the draft in January.
Georgia’s pro day, which was scheduled for March 18, was canceled as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, QB Country put together a self-made pro day in early April, giving Fromm an opportunity to showcase his arm strength.
“It’s a box scouts want to check — how big is a guy's arm? It weighs too much in the evaluation,” Morris said. “We want to get stronger regardless of anybody else's opinion, it's just part of playing quarterback. You get stronger every year. Maybe you hit a plateau when you're 30, but he's got a long time until then.”
Morris went through a similar experience last year with Daniel Jones, who ended up being chosen sixth overall by the New York Giants. The biggest knock on Jones in the pre-draft process was his arm strength, but he did just fine in windy MetLife Stadium as a rookie.
“Wind is always going to be a factor in outdoor conditions,” Morris said. "The challenge up there (in Buffalo) is maybe a little more unique than what he's seen, but he's got plenty of juice in his arm and plenty of ability to make throws in any conditions.
“As a quarterback, you've got to be a fast thinker. You've got to have a quick trigger, you have to understand what a defense is giving you and you've got to be able to throw the ball on time with anticipation and accuracy. That's what Jake does really well.”
Fromm reportedly scored a 35 (out of 50) on the Wonderlic test this year, which ranked either second or third among quarterbacks in the class (there are two different scores that have been reported for Oregon’s Justin Herbert – 39 or 25).
“He' a very intelligent kid. He's a student,” Morris said. “He's always been that. He's very eager to learn. As a coach, it's what you want. You want a guy that's always wanting to get better. When you have a kid like that, you've really got to have a great plan. I'm a believer with Jake, he was challenged in high school on the football field from an Xs and Os standpoint, very well coached, and then obviously Georgia, that prepared him. He's just sharp. He's a quick learner, quick study, you don't have to tell him much more than once. He understands it, he gets it, and he can communicate it well. It's one of his best gifts.”
Smart trusted Fromm with more audible power at the line of scrimmage than most college quarterbacks get.
“The coaches really trusted me a lot,” Fromm said. “I could change a run to a pass, a pass to a run. … I was really grateful for the kind of power they gave me with the offense. It was awesome. It was a great learning curve for me. It’s really going to prepare me for this next level and what I can do and how I can communicate.”
“He's one of the smartest football players I've played with,” said Georgia tight end Charlie Woerner, who roomed with Fromm in college. “He knows dang everything on the offense. He's like a Peyton Manning-type player. They said he used to call everything himself. I know Jake could do that if they let him. It gave a lot of confidence to the coaches, that they can call a lot of stuff. They can open up the offense, because Jake is going to get everyone else right, too. Jake can kill it to three different plays, depending on what the defense is giving him. He'll know everything about the defense.”
While Woerner watched the third day of the draft unfold, eager to learn where his professional career would begin, he couldn’t help but notice Fromm was still on the board when the fifth round began.
“I was a little surprised, because I think Jake's a really good player,” he said. “I think he's one of the best quarterbacks in this draft, so I was surprised to see him go that late. I knew he's going to be great for whatever team he went too. His main thing is his mind. He’s super smart. Second to that, though, he's a winner. He's always going to compete. He's going to go into whatever room or team or whatever game and he's going to have the expectation to win.”
The most likely scenario for Fromm with the Bills in 2020 is to compete with Matt Barkley for the backup job. That would have been true if he had been drafted in the second round or the seventh.
“It didn't matter much to him at the time,” said Von Lassiter, Fromm’s coach at Houston County High School in Georgia, of Fromm's slipping to the fifth round. “It probably mattered more to his family. I'm sure it was stressful for everybody for a little while, but he feels very, very good about the Bills. He feels really good about the offensive coordinator. He's prepared, ready to go and excited about being in Buffalo. He's never said, I'm disappointed that I went in the fifth round. It's never been a negative thing whatsoever.”
Fromm now has one foot in the door. It’s up to him what the next step will be.
“Whether he was a top-10 pick or a fifth-round pick, he's a hungry kid,” Morris said. “He's never been projected as the top guy, whether it be a recruiting class or certain competitions. There were other people that we ahead of Jake, but Jake kind of always rises up. He's a self-motivated kid. He thinks hard and he studies. It fires him up. He's not the type of kid who doesn't understand how big of a blessing this is. He knows this is just a great opportunity.”