Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
Jimmy Garoppolo is the Quarterback for Eastern Illinois; at team that plays in the FCS instead of the BCS. But don't be fooled by Garoppolo's small school status; he is the most underrated Quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft and has the potential to be a star in the league.
Garoppolo posted monster numbers the last two years at Eastern Illinois. The only other Quarterback in the draft with stats even comparable are Derek Carr. In 2012, Garoppolo threw for 3,823 yards and 31 touchdowns. Last year, Garoppolo improved throwing for a ridiculous 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns. Let me repeat, 53 touchdowns! While his stats might be padded playing against lower-level competition, he has performed well against top teams. In a win against Northern Illinois (ended the year ranked 23rd nationally), he threw for 450 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Against top competition at the Shrine Bowl and the Senior Bowl, Garoppolo looked like the best Quarterback on the field. His low level competition should not be a concern as he has consistently performed well against higher competition.
Houston Texans Head Coach Bill O' Brien when asked what he looks for in a Quarterback stated: " Number one, and don't laugh, they've got to be able to throw the ball accurately. If you tell them to put it somewhere, they've got to be able to put it there, and they've got to be able to work at it to improve their accuracy." In 2013, Garoppolo had a 66% completion percentage. To put that in perspective, Peyton Manning last year had a 68% completion percentage in his record breaking season. As O' Brien mentioned, accuracy is a necessity for Quarterbacks and Garoppolo displays it tremendously.
The biggest knock on Garoppolo that has refrained him from being a top 20 pick is his arm strength. Garoppolo lacks the cannon arm that NFL scouts love. His lack of velocity will give defensive backs more time to break on the football. As a result, unless Garoppolo makes intelligent decisions, he will be frequently intercepted. Luckily, next to Teddy Bridgewater, Garoppolo is the most intelligent Quarterback in the draft.
The biggest aspect that Bill O' Brien assesses in Quarterbacks is intelligence: "You're seeing man-free, blitz zero. You're seeing blitz zone, from the field, from the boundary. With all that, in my opinion, your quarterback has to be intelligent. He has to have a great football IQ. They've got to be able to make good decisions. They have to be able to be good decision makers." Garoppolo always seems to find the open man as he is adept at reading defenses. Watch Garoppolo's eyes in the Northern Illinois game. His head is constantly scanning through his wide receivers until he finds one open. Rarely does he stare down a receiver making it much harder for defensive backs to read him. Garoppolo is not afraid to check down to the underneath receiver. Instead of forcing a throw, he is fine with checking it down for a five yard gain. Another aspect where Garoppolo excels is keeping his eyes down field when the blitz arrives. Instead of panicking and take a sack, he often finds an open receiver or simply throws it away.
Listed at 6-2, 226 lbs, Garoppolo has average height and weight for an NFL Quarterback. He has 9 inch hands and 30 inch arms which are typical for a Quarterback. Quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Russell Wilsonhave had tremendous success in the NFL and both are smaller than Garoppolo so his size should not negatively affect his draft stock.
Another area where Jimmy Garoppolo shines is his release. He might have the fastest release of any Quarterback in the draft. At his pro day, Garoppolo had a private workout with 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh. Afterwards, Harbaugh was asked what he thought of Garoppolo's release: "Quick release, yes." This is a great trait to possess because by getting the ball out his hands quickly, Garoppolo will limit the amount of times he is sacked. In 2013, Garoppolo was only sacked 19 times. To compare, Johnny Manziel who is known for his evasiveness was also sacked 19 times.
At the NFL Scouting Combine, Garoppolo ran a 4.97 40-yard dash which was one of the slowest times among Quarterbacks. While having an athletic Quarterback is a benefit because it allows Offensive Coordinators to call bootlegs and Quarterback keeps, it is not necessary. Garoppolo makes the majority of his throws from the pocket where elite athleticism is not needed.
Quarterbacks that spend most of their time in the pocket must develop good pocket presence. As mentioned before, Garoppolo was sacked only 19 times last year. He navigates the pocket well and steps up when pressured from the outside. But what is important is that while Garoppolo avoids defenders, he keeps his eyes down field looking for open Wide Receivers. His shuffles his feet quickly like Peyton Manning does which allows him to scan the field faster.
Quarterbacks are often asked to provide leadership not just for the offense, but for the entire team. The Quarterbacks in the NFL that do not succeed often never step into that role. But for Jimmy Garoppolo, he has been Eastern Illinois's leader for 4 years. He is very composed on and off the field. When he does throw an occasional interception, he comes right back with a brilliant throw.
Philip Rivers: While Garoppolo is often compared to Tony Romo, I see a lot of Philip Rivers in him. Both are extremely accurate, smart and are leaders. Both often lack velocity on their throws. Rivers is one of the best Quarterbacks in the NFL so if Garoppolo shares his traits, it means he has serious potential.
For more Jimmy Garoppolo game film, visit his player profile on draftbreakdown.com