Now that the Jake Fromm era at UGA has ended (a year earlier than many anticipated), it’s time to assess where his three seasons as Georgia’s starting quarterback rank.
For simplicity, I limited the scope of this exercise, asking fellow Dawgs fans where they think Fromm ranks among Georgia quarterbacks of the past 20 years. (Feel free to offer your own views in the comments section below.)
Taking over from an injured Jacob Eason part-way into the first game of the 2017 season, Fromm racked up quite a record, leading Georgia to three successive SEC East titles, one SEC championship, a Rose Bowl win and a place in the College Football Playoff national championship game, where the Dawgs fell a play short in overtime. He also beat out two 5-star quarterbacks (Eason and Justin Fields) to remain Georgia’s starter.
Fromm wound up throwing for 8,224 yards in his three seasons, including 78 touchdown passes (second only to Murray’s 121 at Georgia) and just 18 interceptions. His career completion percentage (63.3%) is second only to one-year starter Hutson Mason’s 65%.
On the other hand, Fromm benefited from a superstar backfield (particularly his freshman year when Georgia had Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, the best college running-back tandem ever) and very strong Georgia defenses. Fromm was hailed as a smart field general, but he didn’t have the strongest arm, and, perhaps unfairly, he never could shake the “game manager” tag given to him by many sports analysts in his first year. And, unfortunately, his third season wasn’t as impressive as expected, due in part to a decimated receiving corps, but also to some slippage in Fromm’s own fundamentals, leaving the superb defense to carry the team.
Among the fans I surveyed, Fromm’s ratings ranged from second-best to third, so the estimation of his place among QBs of the 21st century was pretty consistent. Overall, David Greene edged out Aaron Murray for the top spot, with Fromm in third and a fourth-place tie between D.J. Shockley and Matthew Stafford.
A common theme of comments from the folks I surveyed was that Fromm benefited from a stronger supporting cast than either Greene or Murray had. As my son Bill put it: “I think Murray could have done what Fromm did in 2017 with that team. I don’t think Fromm could have done what Murray did in 2013, where he carried that team. That’s the difference to me.”
Several fans said they would have liked to give a higher ranking to Shockley (who led Georgia to an SEC championship in 2005), but the fact that he was Georgia’s starting QB only one season limited his impact. As my buddy Joel said, “Shockley might have been No. 1 if he had more time.” Several fans praised Shockley for waiting patiently as a backup for his lone year as starter. “Nobody would do that today,” Joel said.
My friend Scott noted that “Stafford has the best skill set by far … but I can’t get past the lack of winning even a division title” during his time at Georgia.
As for my own top five picks from the 2000s, I agree with the fan vote for the most part, though I’d flip the top two and rank Murray No. 1, followed by Greene, Fromm, Shockley and Stafford.
Murray, after all, wound up as SEC career leader in passing yards (Greene ranks third), passing touchdowns and pass completions, and his school records include most career pass completions, most passing yards in a season, most passing yards in a career, best career completion percentage, most touchdown passes in a season and most career touchdown passes.
He also played with the heart of a lion, as evidenced in the next to last game of the regular season his senior year. Starting his 52nd game as the Bulldogs’ quarterback, he injured his left knee on a 29-yard QB keeper (he was much more of a running threat than Fromm), but refused to be taken out of the game and continued to play until his leg just gave out.
As for Greene, whose tenure at Georgia younger fans might not remember as well, he led the Dawgs to their first SEC title in two decades and left college as the NCAA’s all-time winningest quarterback with 42 wins in his career. (He still ranks 4th on that list 15 years later.)
Greene was the SEC’s all-time leading passer until Murray broke his record in 2013. And, as I wrote shortly after he finished his time at UGA, Greene was the coolest quarterback I’ve ever seen, the most adept at faking the handoff, and could make some of the prettiest, most precise passes imaginable.
Still, if I had a team that was trailing late, with the clock running out, there’s no QB I’d want behind center more than Murray, whose late-game heroics were consistently thrilling.
Of course, the other Georgia quarterback with that talent was Fromm, who proved time and again that he was the best in the country at running the 2-minute offense.
He might not have been the best Dawgs QB of the past 20 years, but Fromm certainly was more than just a game manager. He’ll definitely be missed next year.
That brings us to the outlook for Kirby Smart’s Dawgs offensively in 2020.
Whoever winds up as the starting quarterback will be dealing with a completely rebuilt offense, with Georgia losing 80 percent of its offensive line, its top two tailbacks, top two tight ends and two of its best receivers. Of course, considering 2019’s lackluster play most of the season on that side of the ball, a completely rebuilt offense isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially if offensive coordinator James Coley decides to follow the current vogue in college football and open up the passing game more.
It’s notable that Georgia’s early departures from the program this year are from the offense, while all of the defenders who were eligible to leave early elected to return for another season in Athens. It makes you suspect that fans and alums aren’t the only ones who were frustrated with Georgia’s stodgy offensive philosophy this past year.
Fortunately, strong recruiting means there’s a lot of young talent ready to step up on the OL, as well as in the receiving corps and backfield.
As for the signal-caller, holdovers in the quarterback room include the 2019 backup, former walk-on redshirt junior Stetson Bennett, who returned to Georgia last season after a year away playing in junior college. He throws a catchable ball, but he’s rather short at 5-foot-11 and, frankly, seems a long-shot as a starter. (I wouldn’t be that surprised to see him transfer to an FCS school, where he could be a starter.)
There’s also redshirt freshman Dwan Mathis, who’s considered more of a dual threat passing and running, but who arrived at Georgia very raw and spent this past season recovering from brain surgery. He still hasn’t been cleared to play, though he expects that to happen (possibly after spring drills, though).
And, there’s early enrollee freshman Carson Beck, a 4-star recruit from Jacksonville. A lot of fans were very high on Beck, a 6-foot-5, 226-pound former Mr. Football in Florida, when he first committed last year, but a so-so senior season in high school has raised the skepticism about him just a bit.
As of this week, though, the favorite at this point to wind up as Georgia’s starter in the opening game against Virginia at Mercedes-Benz Stadium has to be newly arrived graduate transfer Jamie Newman, who was the starter for Wake Forest this past season, throwing for 29 touchdowns against 11 interceptions. He completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 2,868 yards.
Not only does the 6-4, 230-pound Newman, who turned 23 on Dec. 1, have the edge over the other quarterbacks at UGA in terms of experience, which next year’s offense will need badly (none of Georgia’s other QBs ever has started a game), but he also is a legitimate dual threat, having run for 574 yards and 6 more TDs for the Demon Deacons. (One of the main knocks on Fromm was that none of Georgia’s opponents considered him a threat to run.)
Former Georgia and Miami head coach Mark Richt, now an ACC Network analyst, is very high on Newman. “I have been watching Jamie Newman all season with the ACC network,” Richt tweeted after Newman announced he’d enrolled at UGA. “Georgia just landed a great one! I predict he will be the best quarterback in the SEC! Go Dawgs!”
Your reaction to that tweet no doubt depends on your view of Richt’s ability to evaluate quarterbacks, which sometimes was questioned in his later years at UGA.
One thing’s certain: If Georgia’s going to continue to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff, this transfer is going to have to be a definite upgrade over Greyson Lambert, Georgia’s last grad-transfer starter.
Let’s face it, as my friend Scott noted, Joe Burrow, Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts have raised the bar considerably when it comes to expectations of (and pressure on) transfer quarterbacks.