This is how unexpected the Buffalo Bills’ drafting of a quarterback was.
When general manager Brandon Beane called Jake Fromm Saturday to inform him he was the Bills’ fifth-round choice, the former Georgia QB was more than a little skeptical.
“I thought it was a prank call,” Fromm said during a Zoom press conference. “I thought my phone was broken.”
It was no prank. Fromm doesn’t need to get his phone fixed.
But you can’t blame him for being caught off-guard by the Bills’ decision to select a quarterback only two years after using the seventh overall pick on Josh Allen. Fromm was right when he described joining the Bills as “amazing” and “surreal.”
He’s hardly alone.
From the time Beane began making picks Friday night, everything was rolling along in predictable fashion as far as addressing needs. Defensive end was obvious, even if A.J. Epenesa’s availability at No. 54 wasn’t. So was running back, which the team hit in the next round with Zack Moss. So was wide receiver, where the Bills landed Gabriel Davis in the fourth Saturday.
Quarterback was at, or near, the very bottom of the list. If the Bills addressed it at all, they figured to do so maybe with their final pick, in the seventh round, or with an undrafted free agent. The player likely wouldn’t have the sort of credentials that grab your attention.
Fromm does. He rightfully expected to be drafted much higher given that he led the Bulldogs to the national championship game as a true freshman in 2017 and, a year later, was a Manning Award finalist and ranked fifth in the FBS in passing efficiency. Fromm’s 8,224 passing yards and 78 touchdowns are fifth in Bulldog history.
That’s big-time production at a big-time program in the big-time SEC.
It made perfect sense for Fromm and his family to be unhappy with the long wait for an NFL team to call.
“I hated it a little more for my family than for me,” Fromm said. “But I’m so excited, so blessed to get that phone call.”
That it came from the Bills could be a mixed blessing. With Allen on the roster, is there truly a chance for Fromm to ever be anything more than a backup? Although Allen still has significant room for improvement, the Bills expect him to be their franchise guy for double-digit seasons. Is the ceiling for him simply being a younger version of 29-year-old Matt Barkley, who entered the league as a fourth-rounder in 2013?
That isn’t how Fromm sees himself. Keep in mind, Georgia wasn’t looking at him as a starter when it recruited him, yet Fromm fought his way to the top of the depth chart. He has carried a chip on his shoulder his entire football-playing life, constantly being told what he can’t be and proving doubters wrong.
He intends to do the same in the NFL.
“Then again,” Fromm said, “I have no idea exactly what I’m getting myself into.”
Beane did his best to help on that count, although the full picture, beyond Allen being firmly entrenched in the No. 1 spot, is about as murky as the rest of the league calendar due the coronavirus pandemic.
“Matt has been a great backup for us,” Beane said during a Zoom press conference Saturday night. “I don’t know if (Fromm) would be able to knock Matt off. We would see about that. But we could definitely go with two quarterbacks, we could go with three quarterbacks. Davis Webb has not got a real chance to show us what he can do, so he’s still in the mix right now.
“Any time you can add a good player, quarterback’s a premium position, I just felt like he was too good a value to pass up.”
Fromm – and the other Bills draft picks – repeated the Sean McDermott mantra of needing to “stay humble and hungry.” He steered clear of anything even remotely controversial, saying he would do his best to “make that (quarterback) room better, make the team better.”
But it will be hard, if not impossible, to ignore Fromm’s presence whenever he and the rest of the players in the NFL are allowed to be together on a practice field. He took scouting knocks for having less than ideal size, at 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds, and something less than a cannon for an arm. He even was criticized for having small hands, which were an eighth of an inch shy of the nine-inch ideal for a QB.
In other words, the opposite of Allen.
Still, Fromm’s grades for intelligence and making good decisions with the ball are off the charts. He knows how to manage a game and has proven, at least at the college level, he can maximize every ounce of skill he possesses.
The Bills weren’t merely taking a flier here. Their evaluation told them that a quarterback of Fromm’s caliber, irrespective of his physical shortcomings, shouldn’t still be hanging around in the middle of the draft.
“The board,” Beane said when asked why he picked Fromm. “Simple as the board. I wouldn’t have told you, going into (Saturday), that he was on our radar. But we had him in a spot that you just can’t ignore and we gave him his due. This guy is a winner at the highest level of college, when you look at all the guys that come out of the SEC. He’s got all the intangibles.”
Beane said that, while he was on a scouting visit to Georgia, he heard plenty about Fromm’s remarkable work ethic and dedication.
“They said, ‘This guy would be in there at 11-12 at night, with the coaches, like walking out the door the same time the offensive coaches are,'” the GM said. “A guy who loves everything about the game, the whole process, the preparation. And that matters.
“Listen, if he had a big-time, cannon arm, was 6-5, those types of things he would have gone Day One. … Just too good to pass up.”
Maybe, it will turn out that all 32 teams were right in avoiding the guy through first two days of the draft. Maybe, Fromm will prove that he can be much more than what the measurements suggest.
He said he models his game after Drew Brees, who isn’t the biggest guy, either, but has put together a career that has assured him of a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. For Bills fans, the best-case scenario would be for Allen to pan out as well as a Hall of Famer by the name of Jim Kelly and for Fromm to be the modern-day Frank Reich.
Of course, if Fromm ends up being more than that for the Bills, it’s hard to imagine any of their fans would be too upset.