Georgia keeps signing elite quarterbacks, but only one can play at a time
On the one hand, I applaud Justin Fields for sticking to his guns and picking Georgia during the upcoming early signing period.
Fields, a 5-star quarterback and the No. 2 prospect in America according to the composite rankings at 247Sports, will sign Wednesday with the Bulldogs when the new three-day window opens for the class of 2018.
A 6-foot-3, 221-pounder out of Kennesaw (Ga.) Harrison High School, Fields reportedly turned down late overtures from the likes of Florida, Florida State and Penn State — he was originally a committment for the Nittany Lions once upon a time — in order to stay close to home. Kennesaw is less than a hundred miles from Athens.
Nevertheless, I don’t know when Fields plans to see significant playing time. UGA is in great shape at QB.
While the Dawgs may not be a passing team, per se, they’re going to the College Football Playoff at least partially due to the play of Jake Fromm at the game’s most important position. His efficiency rating of 168.2 is sixth nationally.
Not only does Fromm check every box on the field — he’s a 63-percent passer with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 21-to-5 — but he seems mature beyond his years off the field, too. From the moment he arrived on campus, he showed the kind of leadership qualities that this program desperately needed.
And he did so as a true freshman. Even if Fromm develops into a must-have NFL talent, he isn’t going anywhere for two seasons.
That’s what’s most puzzling about Fields opting for Georgia, especially considering what we’ve been told about the 21st century student-athlete. They don’t want to sit and learn the tools of the trade first. They want to light it up immediately.
Being close to his friends and family may indeed be very important to Fields. It’s possible that coach Kirby Smart developed the best rapport with him on the recruiting trail. Maybe he — like Fromm, you’ll recall — grew up a rabid Bulldogs fans and always dreamed of putting on that red-and-black uniform between the hedges.
I’m not here to criticize the decision that Fields made. Good for him. Still, it’s unexpected to say the very least.
That being said, Fromm also went to UGA at a time when it looked like Smart had his field general of the future. Jacob Eason, a 5-star signee in his own right, had just wrapped up his freshman campaign.
While Eason put a fair share of “Wow!” plays on tape — his last-minute TD to Riley Ridley in the eventual loss Tennessee was one of the throws of 2016 in the SEC, no question about it — overall there were more valleys than peaks. It wasn’t unthinkable to believe that Fromm could see action sooner rather than later.
After all, Eason (below) was 11th in the conference in efficiency rating (120.3) that season out of only 12 who qualified.
Even so, it took a knee injury to Eason in Week 1 for Fromm to get his chance. The rest, as they say, is history. Fromm played incredibly well, the Dawgs ascended to No. 1 in the country and they’re now in the hunt for a national championship.
Fromm didn’t get nearly as much attention during the recruiting process — to be fair, he was a 4-star kid and not some unranked walk-on — but earned rave reviews for his intangibles. Could he throw it through a brick wall like Eason? Probably not. But Fromm has shown a feel for the game that seems to have escaped Eason.
Which brings the conversation back to Fields and where he fits once he puts his John Hancock on the dotted line.
Currently, Georgia only has three scholarships signal callers in Fromm, Eason and Brice Ramsey. It’s fair to assume Eason will transfer given his situation. As for Ramsey, he’s a senior and out of eligibility.
Clearly, Fields isn’t afraid of a challenge. He should be commended for that. However, this isn’t the same situation that Fromm was in a year ago. Remember, not only did Eason fail to live up to lofty expectations immediately — most of them were unfair, of course — but the Bulldogs were a rather unimpressive 8-5.
Smart’s defense was largely assembled for 2017. It was reasonable to suggest that a better trigger man could be the difference.
That turned out to be the case. But while Fromm certainly deserves the lion’s share of the credit, he didn’t do it all alone. Running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have been healthier. The O-line and receivers improved, too.
Even if UGA doesn’t get past Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl — Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield will stress this D in new ways, to be sure — what Fromm has done straight out of high school can only be viewed as a smashing success. Nobody is nitpicking him to death, which is what was happening to Eason at this time last season.
It’s not insane to think that Fields starts for the Dawgs at some point next year, although the odds have to be crazy long.
If Eason does go elsewhere, which is a safe assumption at this juncture, Fields could be just an unfortunate hit away from entering the huddle. It happened to Eason. It can happen to Fromm, as well.
But barring that, does anyone think Fromm’s game will somehow regress to the point where Smart is forced to consider making a switch? Could Fields prove to be so jaw-droppingly unstoppable in practice — if you pay attention to some of the recruitniks out there, he might — that he wins the job fair and square?
Perhaps Fields isn’t a typical millennial and doesn’t mind waiting until 2020, although that would be most shocking of all.