Competition. It’s something you hear coaches in all sports talk about, but especially in football. They want to see their players compete and respond to someone pushing for playing time or a starting role. Well, over the past decade in college football, creating competition and developing a deep roster has beneficial for almost every position – except quarterback. If you are not the guy, go somewhere else you can be the guy.
This phenomenon will never be more apparent than it will be in college football this season as three legitimate playoff contenders and three of the PFF preseason top 15 will have a former five-star quarterback taking snaps that, at one time, suited up for the Georgia Bulldogs.
There’s the incumbent — Jake Fromm (No. 3 Georgia); the talent — Justin Fields (No. 6 Ohio State); and the original — Jacob Eason (No. 15 Washington). Which of these three quarterbacks plays the best will go a long way in determining the ultimate destiny of each team’s championship dreams and who will end up in the College Football Playoff. Thus, let’s use PFF data to gauge past performance and discuss the ceiling of what we’ll see on the field from these three in 2019.
Jake Fromm – Georgia
All Jake Fromm has done in two years since taking over for an injured Jacob Eason in the first game of 2017 is lead Georgia to a 24-5 record, an SEC Championship and national runner-up as a true freshman, and then another SEC Championship game a season ago. Last season, he held off the fellow highly-ranked recruit in Fields and improved in nearly every PFF and traditional statistic to put up this line:
Overall grade – 84.7
Clean pocket grade – 92.4
Clean pocket passer rating – 134.1 (No. 4 in nation)
Adjusted completion % – 75.7
Yards – 2,749
TD-Int – 30-6
In terms of projecting Fromm this season, his situation will be quite different from the previous two seasons as he’ll be working with a new offensive coordinator (James Coley — who was promoted from within) and an entirely new receiving corps as his top five receivers from a year ago are no longer on the roster. However, Georgia’s offensive line will push to be one of the best in the nation and allow Fromm to operate from many clean pockets. Thus, could Fromm continue his statistical ascension and put himself squarely in the Heisman discussion this year as the undisputed leader of UGA’s offense?
Justin Fields – Ohio State
After being unable to supplant Fromm, Fields decided to transfer to Ohio State and was able to gain immediate eligibility to play this season. Fields played 173 snaps across 12 games for the Bulldogs in 2018 and performed quite well in that time:
Overall grade – 90.1
Clean pocket grade – 90.0
Adjusted completion – 79.5%
Yards – 340
TD-Int – 4-0
You also can't forget what he brings to the table as a runner, as he had 40 rushing attempts (27 designed runs) for 289 yards, including four touchdowns and 11 missed tackles forced. Now, how does that translate to Ryan Day’s offense at Ohio State? Obviously last season, the Buckeyes did not use the quarterback as a true running threat given Dwayne Haskins’ passing strength (-2 yards total on designed runs). Thus, projecting Fields ceiling for 2019 must be a combination of his running prowess in addition to his former Elite 11 MVP passing abilities. From a running standpoint, recent Buckeye QB J.T. Barrett provides a great comparison. This was Barrett’s senior season line and Haskins’ a season ago:
[table id=1289 /]
While Barrett was a senior in 2017 and already logged almost 2,200 snaps for the Buckeyes in his first three seasons, Haskins had only played 97 snaps before bursting onto the scene a year ago. So, where does that put Fields from a projection standpoint? His absolute ceiling is likely a combo of the two, especially given the talent Ohio State has at receiver. However, unlike the other two quarterbacks discussed, we have truly yet to see it.
Jacob Eason – Washington
Before either Fromm or Fields had stepped foot between the hedges of Sanford Stadium, Eason was busy starting 12 games and logging 892 snaps for the Bulldogs as a true freshman. Then in 2017, he played only 55 snaps due to the knee injury described above. Eason definitely had his moments as a freshman, including leading a come-from-behind victory in his highest-graded game of the season at Missouri and then launching a go-ahead touchdown bomb in the final moments against Tennessee. However, his own inconsistency and accuracy issues, to go along with inconsistent offensive line play and the ninth-highest drop percentage in the FBS that season (29 total drops), plagued him. His 2016 line ended up as such:
Overall grade – 65.7
Clean pocket grade – 74.7
Adjusted completion – 68.1%
Yards – 2,430
TD-Int – 16-8
For comparison purposes and projecting Eason’s ceiling in 2019, we have four years of data on the Huskies’ previous quarterback, Jake Browning. Interestingly, Browning’s overall and passing grade actually decreased in each of his four seasons from a peak 82.8 grade (80.1 passing) as a freshman in 2015. His best statistical season, though, was the 2016 campaign – when the Huskies won the Pac-12 and competed in the College Football Playoff with future NFL receivers John Ross and Dante Pettis on the outside.
Jake Browning 2016
Overall grade – 77.0
Clean pocket grade – 88.0
Adjusted completion – 70.4%
Yards – 3,419
TD-Int – 43-9
In Eason’s favor is the experience returning along the Huskies' offensive line and at the receiver position. If he has improved his accuracy to go along with his NFL-level arm talent, the Huskies should find themselves battling for both the Pac-12 championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Thus, projecting Eason’s ultimate ceiling for 2019 looks much like Browning’s 2016 playoff run, but will the accuracy and inconsistency issues still exist?
In the end, who you got?
If you have to pick one to lead your team in 2019, you’d take the quarterback who fended off the other two and who’s produced on the biggest possible stages in Jake Fromm. But there’s always something tantalizing about the ‘potential’ of the unknown. It’s just one subplot that will make the 2019 college football season incredibly compelling.