Now that the 2019 NFL Draft is in the books, let the Jake Fromm-Tua Tagovailoa debate begin
Six months ago, it wasn’t a debate.
Tua Tagovailoa over Jake Fromm all day. Suggesting that the Alabama quarterback wasn’t the obvious top quarterback in the 2020 class was considered ridiculous, and understandably so.
At that point, we hadn’t seen Tagovailoa fail. Pre-November 2018 Tagovailoa led a legendary comeback to beat Fromm’s Georgia squad in the national championship, he had yet to throw an interception and it looked like he was in the midst of winning the Heisman Trophy en route to another national title.
Pre-November Fromm was starting to bring in more of the Aaron Murray comparisons — those are still there for some people — while plenty of Georgia fans were calling for the beginning of the Justin Fields era to start.
But as is often the case in this sport, things changed.
We saw Tagovailoa regress down the stretch albeit while dealing with ankle and knee injuries. He was outplayed by Fromm in the SEC Championship before he went down, and if not for another heroic performance from Alabama’s second-string quarterback in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Georgia would have made the Playoff.
And while Tagovailoa failed to live up to his pre-November billing down the stretch, Fromm thrived against 4 top-20 defenses in the latter half of the season.
Six months later, it’s an actual debate: Will NFL teams favor Fromm or Tagovailoa in 2020?
Just for some historical perspective, the SEC never had multiple first-round quarterbacks in a given post-merger draft (since 1967). No matter who comes off the board first, they could make history in the process.
I realize there’s no guarantee that both SEC signal-callers leave after their junior seasons. But with the 2020 mock drafts set to be all over the place this week, it’s going to become a popular topic of conversation. Fromm and Tagovailoa will be at the top of plenty of them (#TankForTua is already out there, but our own Michael Bratton came up with #FailForFromm, which he should totally get trademarked). Experts are going to have differing opinions on the subject.
A week ago during an appearance on “The Paul Finebaum Show” (shameless plug), I brought up the notion that Fromm and Tagovailoa weren’t very far apart as prospects. Finebaum about laughed me off the phone.
A couple days later, I asked Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller about that same subject. He didn’t laugh me off the phone. In fact, he did the opposite. He explained why he likes Fromm more than Tagovailoa as a prospect.
“I’m higher on Jake Fromm (than Tagovailoa),” Miller said. “I honestly am. I love Tua. I love watching Tua play, but with him, I worry about arm strength a little bit. I worry about how long he holds the ball in the pocket. Obviously being banged up this year made it tough to get a good evaluation of him because by the time I really started watching not just to enjoy the game or to break down the college aspect of it, he was hurt. It was hard to watch.”
So yeah, some of this is “what have you done for me lately” and some of it isn’t for Miller.
While it might sound like his Tagovailoa evaluation is a bit skewed because of what he saw down the stretch, Miller also saw Fromm at his absolute worst. That actually factored into his evaluation of both of them.
“They’re almost polar opposites,” Miller said. “Jake Fromm is almost more of a game manager. He beats you with his mind and he’s really accurate. I got a chance to watch him in person against LSU, which was probably the worst game he’s ever played in his life, but then he bounced back so well the week after. That was really big to me.”
Miller hit on something that I think is extremely important at this stage of the Fromm-Tagovailoa debate. By bouncing back the way he did after the LSU game, Fromm already answered a major question that Tagovailoa hasn’t yet.
(Insert Mike Tyson’s “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” line here.)
That’s why a lot can change with this. If Tagovailoa responds to looking less-than-stellar in 3 of his last 4 times on TV — that’s including the spring game — by playing like an even better version of his pre-November self, maybe it won’t be a debate 11 months from now.
But there’s also the possibility that Fromm, just as he did in Year 2, takes another step up. Maybe he gets over the Alabama hump and solidifies his first-round status in the process. Trent Dilfer compared him to Drew Brees before the 2018 season, and there could be plenty more people making that comp — not the Murray comp — after the 2019 season.
Miller gave me a little teaser about his pecking order with 2020 quarterbacks. As it stands, he likes Fromm, then Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert and Jacob Eason. That’s right. Eason. The former 5-star recruit and freshman starter who Fromm made Georgia fans forget about.
Including Justin Fields, Fromm’s play led to the transfer of 2 former 5-star quarterbacks. It seems like he has a knack for rising past quarterbacks who are considered more talented or better prospects. Maybe Tagovailoa is the next person he rises past, or maybe he isn’t.
At the very least, it’s a debate right now.