Forget Romo, Trubisky, and Watson. Jimmy Garoppolo is the top quarterback in the class of 2017.
We’re going to hear a lot in the next three weeks headed into free agency, some of it true, some of it not. The Patriots heir apparent, by all indications, has become the hottest commodity on the market.
Toss aside all the the buzz, theory, and anecdotes. That is all secondary. As talks begin to heat up, we need to figure out what the former Eastern Illinois Panther can do on the field. With just six quarters of tape at our disposal, let’s see just who this Jimmy G is.
Let’s start with the semantics.
Garoppolo was a three and a half year starter at Eastern Illinois where he led the Panthers to two straight Ohio Valley Conference Championships. He operated in a spread, up-tempo attack. He completed 62.8 percent of his passes and threw 118 touchdowns against 51 interceptions. During his senior year, Garrapolo was award the Walter Payton Award as the top player in the FCS. The Patriots drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft behind the likes of Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Derek Carr.
Tale of the Tape
Here’s what we know from his 6 quarters of NFL action.
The young quarterback is best suited to operate in a spread or west coast attack. Mechanically, he’s very sound. He holds the ball just under chest height, has crisp feet, and has a lightening quick, ¾ height release.
Accuracy and Timing
Garoppolo is a touch and timing passer. He’s extremely accurate from and outside the pocket to the short and intermediate levels. You’d ideally like to see a little more in terms of deep ball accuracy. He’s never going to wow you with his arm, it’s a little below average with an NFL starter. Has enough velocity to make most throws required and doesn’t attempt those that he can’t.
On this play, the Patriots faced a 3rd and 9 midway through the 2nd quarter. The Dolphins are playing man coverage across the board with one deep saftey, and a linebacker, Kiko Alonso, over Martellus Bennett. On the right side of the field the Patriots ran double seams with Chris Hogan and Bennett.
Garoppolo takes a three step drop and immediately identifies the mismatch between Alonso and Bennett, who quickly separates from coverage. He doesn’t hesitate and gets rid of the ball before safety Isa Abdul-Quddus can react. The ball is on time and accurate and the result is an easy touchdown.
For a young passer, his poise and decision making stand out most. Garoppolo will stand tall in the pocket and deliver the ball when the rush comes. His pocket movement is excellent, he senses and adjusts to pressure a lot like Tom Brady. Athletically, he’s about average. Garoppolo is wildly quick mentally. There’s no hesitation, he knows where to go with the ball and gets it there quickly. He understands how to protect the football. In his six quarters of action, he didn’t put a single ball in danger of being intercepted.
Here’s an easy example from their opener in Arizona. On a rare 1st and 19, the Patriots are aligned in one of their typical four wide, spread sets with Blount in the backfield. The Cardinals are playing straight Cover 2. Julian Edelman aligned on the inside in the slot. As he runs his slant to the inside, watch how quickly the ball is out of Garrapolo’s hand as Edelman comes off of the linebacker’s zone.
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It might not seem like much, but that quick release is something lacking in many young quarterbacks, like Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler. It’s the kind of mental quickness that would allow him to thrive in a spread offense.
The only real concern here is how New England used him. Like most college quarterbacks nowadays, you didn’t see Garoppolo working through progressions a ton. New England scaled back their playbook considerably when he was in the lineup, which is understandable for a first-time starter. They weren’t asking him to do nearly as much as Tom Brady does.
Most of his reads were very defined “this or that” progressions or simple look, such as bootlegs. He wasn’t asked to go more than two deep on any plays. The majority of his throws were short, timing pattern: crossers, screens, spot, and flat routes. He was a little slow working through his reads as well. He’ll need to speed up his mental clock a little bit.
Because of this, there is still some mystery to Garoppolo. It’s a projection to know how he will thrive if and when he’s asked to perform full field progression reads and how he’ll perform when his protection isn’t as good as it is in New England. Because of this, he’s a prospect in a way just like the guys coming out. However, with so much to like in terms of his skillset, he has to figure at least as promising as any of the quarterbacks in this class. He’d be an excellent fit in Cleveland, Kansas City, and perhaps Chicago, Houston, or San Francisco depending on what he’s asked to do. In the right situation, Garoppolo can easily be the answer one of these quarterback desperate teams has been looking for.