ATHENS – If I’m Jacob Eason, I’m fighting mad. If he has a competitive bone in his body, he’s been working out like a crazed dog; he’s been studying the playbook like his life depends on it; he’s been binge-watching practice and game footage.
He certainly should have plenty of motivation for all that. The kid’s getting no respect. He’s the Rodney Dangerfield of SEC quarterbacks.
The latest putdown came with another one of those rank-‘em pieces, this one by ESPN’s Alex Scarborough coming yesterday. He ranked what he thought was the top five quarterbacks in the league for 2017. Eason wasn’t among them.
Eason wasn’t in the top five of John Crist’s rankings over at Saturday Down South earlier this month either. SEC Country’s own Kyle Tucker had him ninth in his QB rankings after this past season ended.
SEC Country senior football analyst Oliver Connolly had Georgia’s “quarterback situation” ranked fifth in the SEC earlier this year. But he still pointed out the many flaws he observed in Eason in 2016, including a “worrisome” levels of immobility and inaccuracy. He also got hammered by an “anonymous SEC coach” in Athlon.
Whew! Tough crowd.
The truth is, it’s hard to argue with a lot of the analyses being offered on Eason. He was, at the end of it all, pretty underwhelming as a freshman. And that’s especially pronounced when placed into the context of all the hype that came to Athens with Eason.
Here’s the good thing: None of these rankings matter. And, of course, nothing remains stagnant in football, or in life that matter. Everybody’s working, everybody’s growing, players around these quarterbacks are coming and going.
The one thing I believe we can all be absolutely sure of is Eason will be better. That’s almost always the case just from natural progression. But head coach Kirby Smart and quarterbacks coach Jim Chaney have done everything they can to assure it.
Real or imagined, they fanned the flames of competition with freshman Jake Fromm. Nobody can be sure at this point how Fromm would perform if pressed into service for the Bulldogs this fall. But by all accounts he is strong where Smart has said Eason is weak. That’s in the areas of leadership and football aptitude.
But I’ve never really believed Eason was in danger of losing his starting job to the early-enrollee freshman. Fromm is good, no doubt, but there’s no substitute for 13 games of experience, which is what Eason got. The proverbial trial by fire.
Those games revealed a lot of flaws in Eason’s game. He was shockingly immobile at times. He had a tendency to lock in on receivers sometimes, or guess on coverages rather than read them. But the most alarming deficiency was Eason’s poor accuracy. Granted, protection was often substandard and receiver separation was rarely exceptional. But a 55 percent completion rate simply won’t get it, and that included way too many misses on open targets.
The question is how much of that can be fixed in a year. I’m thinking a lot. We’ve seen this before.
The similarities to former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford as a freshman are uncanny. Placed side-by-side, their freshman numbers are eerily similar:
Eason Stats Stafford
55.1 Comp. % 52.7
2,430 Yds passing 1,749
16 Passing TDs 7
8 INTs 13
6.6 Yds per att. 6.8
120.3 QB rating 109.0
So I don’t know, maybe Eason isn’t as good as Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley and Mississippi’s Shea Patterson and Arkansas’ Austin Allen and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald. Those are the quarterbacks that are consistently mentioned ahead of Eason in these lists that are coming out weekly about this time of year. So is Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, who’s coming in via transfer after a year off from Baylor. Never mind that he hasn’t even taken one SEC snap in his career.
If I’m Eason, I’m outraged. I’m ticked. Between that and his own coaches’ inferences that he doesn’t lead or prepare particularly well, that Fromm’s presence ought to help him with that, Eason’s competitive juices ought to be boiling.
But that’s the part we can’t be sure about. When Eason came to Georgia as a 5-star quarterback and the No. 5 player in America, all the talk was about how great he was and the incredible things he could do. That’s all he ever heard. This is new territory for the blue-chipper from the Washington State.
We can see Eason’s exceptional height (6-5) and enormous arm talent, but it’s hard to see competitive spirit and internal motivation.
We should get a good idea about that this fall.