I’ll answer the question right now.
No, I don’t think Justin Fields will transfer from Georgia.
Yes, I understand the way he was misused in the SEC Championship and at certain points this season. Yes, I understand the stunning number of 5-star quarterback recruits who end up transferring (75 percent of the 5-star quarterbacks from 2013-16 transferred, including the most recent Heisman Trophy winner, Kyler Murray). Yes, I understand the fact that Jake Fromm took his game to another level and has likely already earned the right to start in 2019, health permitting.
But no, I’m not predicting Fields and Georgia to part ways.
If Fields and his family break this down, there’s really only one scenario in which leaving would make sense. And even then, it might still be a reach.
The only way in which Fields transfers from Georgia is if he believes that Fromm is staying all 4 years.
On the surface, that might some pretty obvious. Of course that would be something that would make Fields, who is only a year younger than Fromm, use as the basis of his decision.
It’s actually more complicated than that, though.
Fields is going to have to roll the dice on something that even the experts seem to be somewhat split on. Ask someone like Bleacher Report NFL Draft scout Matt Miller and he’ll tell you Fromm will be a first-round pick in 2020. Ask someone like SEC Network analyst Jordan Rodgers and he’ll tell you that Fromm will be an undrafted free agent after having an Aaron Murray-like career at Georgia.
That’s not a knock on Murray, who was a record-setting quarterback. But the more Fromm gets that comp, I think the more likely we are to see Fields leave Athens.
Let’s back up for a second because I know what you’re probably thinking.
“Why couldn’t Fields just decide to leave after the bowl season and transfer somewhere with a clearer path that’s not dependent on one of the nation’s best quarterback’s eventual NFL decision?”
Well, it’s simple really. If Fields decides at season’s end that he wants to transfer, he’s going to sit the 2019 season per NCAA rules. An in-state kid isn’t getting a hardship waiver, either. If he does, the NCAA might as well forgo that process altogether and just hand them out like candy on Halloween.
In other words, Fields’ path elsewhere would consist of him starting in 2020 at the earliest … which would be the same timeline at Georgia if Fromm leaves for the NFL Draft after his junior year.
So again, why would it make sense for Fields to leave?
If Fields does transfer, it’ll be fair to wonder why he picked Georgia in the first place. The former Penn State commit would have had a clear path to replace Trace McSorley and be the starter in 2019. Shoot, he could have gone pretty much anywhere outside of Alabama or Georgia and not had to worry about dealing with an established starter just one year his senior.
But that discussion is all in the past. The one that matters now is how the nation’s No. 2 recruit in 2018 feels about his development and his opportunity moving forward.
To Georgia’s credit, Fields was part of the offensive game plan on a weekly basis, albeit not always in the fashion that I would have preferred to see him used. The Dawgs have one of the country’s top 10 quarterbacks, and they still made it a point to get a true freshman involved. Was it to keep Fields happy? Probably. Was it because Fields is extremely talented and they wanted to see what they had in him? Most likely.
This dynamic isn’t going anywhere, and for all the parallels it had to the Tua Tagovailoa-Jalen Hurts 2017 situation entering the season, Fromm’s improved play took this down a different path. Who knows if Fields is thinking about his different path just a year into his time in Athens. If he is, it probably stems from the fear that Fromm will indeed be the next Murray and become a 4-year starter.
But I still come back to the belief that Fromm not leaving after his junior season would be the result of regression. If that happens, Fields has his window. That would obviously be dependent on him staying at Georgia for his sophomore season. I suppose in this era of transferring, nothing is a guarantee.
The ideal way this works out for Georgia is essentially a repeat of 2018. That is, Fromm makes more strides and looks NFL-ready after his junior year while Fields stays involved and gets more responsibility as a passer. That combination fuels a return to the title game and Fromm leaves NFL scouts drooling with perfect back-shoulder throw after perfect back-shoulder throw.
Will that happen? It’s not a bad bet.
If you ask me, a worse bet would be Fields leaving after his freshman season.