ATLANTA — The narrative heading into the 2018 season is it’s the year of the quarterback in the SEC. After a couple of years of unspectacular overall play at the position, the league is stocked with exceptional signal-callers this season.
And Georgia’s Jake Fromm is expected to be at the top of the class.
That’s according to the SEC Network’s Greg McElroy. A former quarterback himself — he led Alabama to a 14-0 season and national championship in 2009 — McElroy makes it his personal business to evaluate the position in the league to an extensive degree. He dives deep into statistical analytics provided by ESPN and studies game and practice video until he’s left cross-eyed.
McElroy loves what he sees and has seen in the Bulldogs’ sophomore quarterback.
“From an efficiency standpoint, you’d be hard-pressed to find a guy better than Jake Fromm,” said McElroy, asked to handicap the best quarterbacks said during SEC Football Media Days on Thursday. “I think Fromm’s a surgeon. He just kills you with execution. I don’t think there’s anything more demoralizing than a quarterback that can defeat a defense with his brain.”
Aside from the pass efficiency numbers that McElroy alluded to — Fromm was ninth in the nation (160.1) in that category — there’s not a lot about Fromm’s game beyond that attracts national attention. Fromm’s 174.3 yards passing a game didn’t crack the Top 10 even in the SEC and he attempted 15 or fewer passes in seven. Therefore, Fromm’s is 24 TD passes (versus 7 interceptions) pale in comparison to the 44 of league-leader Drew Lock of Missouri, who got them in two fewer games.
But while Fromm’s primary task was to get the play call in from the sideline and to distribute the ball to the Bulldogs’ bevy of backs, he was given an increasing level of autonomy to audible at the line of scrimmage. He had pass-run options, could switch a play from left to right based on defensive alignment, could switch protections and check to a hot read.
McElroy says Fromm scores particularly high in this department. He compared the Georgia quarterback to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
“Marcus Spears said playing against Aaron Rodgers was the worst experience he’s ever had in his life,” McElroy said. “It’s because he just kills you with completions and positive plays. There’s never any negative plays, so you can never steal momentum. Even if it’s a 3-yard completion, you’re moving in the right direction. Right?
“That’s what I see in Fromm. He has very few negative plays. He’s great on third down, so he keeps drives alive. He’s efficient in the passing game. And he doesn’t have a big ego. He’s not trying to do too much. He stays within the system. He’s an extension of what Jim Chaney wants him to be and that’s a great place for Georgia to be in. If you’re trying to win a championship, knowing the great personnel that Georgia has, he’s the perfect fit.”
McElroy had similar traits when he led Alabama to the SEC championship in 2009. He credits Fromm for helping Georgia land the title last year.
He argues that Georgia doesn’t make it to the playoffs and the national championship game if Jacob Eason had remained. Fromm replaced the sophomore quarterback when he suffered a knee injury in the first quarter of the first game last season.
“The biggest difference from 2016 to ’17 was quarterback,” McElroy said. “I said it going into last year — and Georgia fans killed me for it — there were things about Eason that bothered me. I didn’t feel like he approached the game with a level of professionalism that you have to win a championship or contend for a championship. He was a little statuesque in the pocket. Fromm is the antithesis of all that. Ultimate leader, consummate pro, great weekly preparation, and he could move around when things broke down around him a little bit. So I love Fromm.”
That said, McElroy wasn’t ready to tab Fromm as the best quarterback in a league with a lot of good ones. Lock was named preseason All-SEC Thursday and is generally seen as the best pro prospect in the SEC this season. The Eastern Division also features South Carolina’s Jake Bentley and Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur. Whomever Alabama chooses between Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts should be good. Felipe Franks could make a major jump at Florida under the direction of Dan Mullen, who of six offensive-minded head coaches hired in the league this year.
“If I had to start a team based on what we know, I like (Auburn’s) Jarrett Stidham,” McElroy said. “I love Tua, too. But Fromm definitely has a chance to be one of the best ones out there.”
The Bulldogs plan to throw the ball more in 2018, so Fromm’s passing numbers should improve just due to more opportunities.
As for the competition with highly-touted freshman Justin Fields, McElroy said he expects it will be a factor this season. But he also believes it will ultimately make Fromm that much better.
“With Fields behind him, I’m really fascinated to see how much he’s elevated his play,” McElroy said. “He’s obviously had to do that. I’m just fascinated to see how big that bump is.”