At this time last year, the Jamie Newman balloon was expanding with each way-too-early mock draft.

David Pollack had Newman tabbed as a future first-rounder, as did CBS Sports, who had the new Georgia quarterback as the No. 8 overall prospect and No. 3 among quarterbacks behind only Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. Sports Illustrated’s Monday Morning Quarterback had Newman coming off the board at No. 20 overall in the way-too-early mock draft, and Matt Miller had Newman at No. 29 overall.

Mel Kiper Jr. bought into the hype, too. He had Newman as the No. 4 quarterback on his board behind Lawrence, Fields and Trey Lance. Days after that, Kiper went on public airwaves and questioned if Newman could be the next great transfer quarterback after 3 such players went No. 1 overall in the previous 3 drafts.

“We want to see what the transfer from Wake Forest to Georgia, Jamie Newman, does,” Kiper said to ESPN host Kevin Negandhi last May on an episode of The College Football Podcast With Herbie & Pollack. “All of that talent, he’s certainly gifted. He’s got those young receivers now who will be sophomores. I think he one that could really make a nice jump. We saw (LSU’s) Joe Burrow make a huge jump up. We saw it with (Oklahoma’s) Baker Mayfield. We saw it, obviously, (with Oklahoma’s) Kyler Murray. Now we see Jamie Newman, the quarterback at Georgia.

“The first year there, we’ll see if he does well, how far he moves up the draft board.”

What Kiper and all of us didn’t know at the time was that we wouldn’t see Newman at Georgia at all. At least not in a game. Newman’s opt out in early September was equal parts baffling and unpredictable.

By the time the NFL Draft rolled around, the question wasn’t whether Newman would be picked in Round 1; it was whether he’d be picked at all.

This past weekend, 259 players were selected. Newman wasn’t one of them. He didn’t have some major injury or arrest. Newman simply didn’t play football, and he paid the price for it.

To be clear, nobody is criticizing a player for not playing football in the midst of a pandemic. But with a free year of eligibility, Newman decided he didn’t need to come back in 2021 and play another year of college football, and that he was ready for the NFL.

It’s easy to pick him apart and say he got bad advice. What we admittedly didn’t know at the time was how opt-outs would be perceived by front offices. The elite talents like Ja’Marr Chase, Micah Parsons and Penei Sewell didn’t hurt their draft stocks.

But then look at someone like LSU defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin and wonder how much playing would’ve benefitted him. He went from a first-rounder in the way-too-early mocks to a Day 3 pick, even though he came into his pro day in ideal physical condition. There were other lesser-known opt-outs who seemingly watched their draft stock fall like Memphis running back Kenneth Gainwell and one of Newman’s Wake Forest teammates, Sage Surratt, who wasn’t drafted.

It was a strange year with so many moving parts because of COVID, but it’s not like opt-outs watched their draft stock climb. Not having an NFL Combine probably hurt that cause.

The difference with guys like Chase, Sewell and Parsons wasn’t just the top-end ability. It was that we already had at least a full season of them playing at an All-American level before they opted out. What did we have with Newman? Maybe half a season’s worth of promising play with some absolute clunkers sprinkled in, which wasn’t enough for any NFL team to decide he was worth a draft pick.

(And for what it’s worth, opting out and leaving early the NFL is different than opting out of the Liberty Bowl.)

When the way-too-early mock drafts came out, all of those were under the assumption that we’d get to see Newman play in Todd Monken’s offense. The hype was built on a foundation that Newman would improve with more reps, and in that system, we’d see that big arm on display on a national stage. Workout videos on Instagram still pale in comparison to live reps against Auburn. Newman’s hype wasn’t based on what he did; it was based on what we believed he was capable of doing.

I say “we” because I was in that camp, as well. I had him as my No. 4 SEC quarterback entering the year, and I kept bringing up that Pro Football Focus stat about how the only player in 2019 who had more touchdowns thrown into tight windows (14) than Newman was Joe Burrow.

Speaking of Burrow, he’s proof of how much things can change by playing a season of football. In late-August just before Newman opted out, he was tied with Mac Jones for No. 6 in Heisman Trophy odds at 16-1.

We’ll never know how close Newman would’ve gotten to New York or if he could’ve lived up to that first-round hype with a full season. The crowd who wasn’t sold on Newman as Georgia’s savior will point to his status as an un-drafted player and take a social media victory lap when, in reality, Newman’s 2020 grade should be “Incomplete” instead of an “F.”

If Newman did buy into those preseason projections, where he failed was understanding that those were made under the premise that all things are equal. We don’t project opt-outs, injuries or off-the-field incidents. We project who is in a spot to succeed based on the tools they have and the circumstances around them.

Newman opted out of what would’ve been a favorable situation. I’m hardly the first or last person to point that out. You’re not going to hear an interview wherein he says, “yeah, man. I messed up,” and quite frankly, I don’t blame him for wanting to focus on the future instead of the past.

Newman’s path, though atypical, can benefit a future quarterback in his spot. Maybe there’s a quarterback in the way-too-early 2022 mock drafts who gets first-round buzz but has serious questions to answer, and instead of opting out, they get hurt before the start of the season and debate declaring for the NFL Draft. Newman can be a cautionary tale of what happens without those reps wherein the intermediate passing game issues are fixed, and defenses with blue-chip talent aren’t overwhelming.

Here’s hoping that’s the case. Regardless of whether you’re a Georgia fan who no longer claims Newman or if you were just someone buying the way-too-early hype, we should all be able to come to an agreement on something.

Playing football is still the best way to get better and show that you’re ready to play football for a living.