Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois (6-2, 219)
One of the top small-school prospects available in this year’s draft, Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo may not be a big-name college star, like some of the other highly-rated signal-callers in the 2014 class, but there are numerous reasons to believe that he has just as much chance of succeeding in the pros.
Following in the footsteps of EIU legend Tony Romo, Garoppolo became the Panthers’ second Walter Payton Award-winner (the FCS version of the Heisman) in 2013, after completing 66% of his passes for 5,050 yards, 53 touchdowns and nine interceptions as a senior, while breaking most of his counterpart’s single-season school records in the process.
Unlike the undrafted Romo however, Garoppolo enters draft season with a real chance to cement himself as an early-round pick and, watching the game tape he’s put together over the past season, it’s easy to see why there is such buzz surrounding this four-year starter from the FCS ranks.
Garoppolo shows very good accuracy on short throws, whether over the middle or on the sidelines, with the ability to quickly move the chains on screens and play-action. He has a knack for putting the right touch on his passes and makes life easy for his receivers with excellent placement. – 8/10
Garoppolo’s intermediate accuracy, especially into tight spaces on the field, is one of the main areas where he really stands out amongst his peers. Though not frequently tasked to in EIU’s offense, he has shown he can throw open his receivers with easily catchable balls, putting them in a prime position to pick up valuable yards after the catch by ensuring they do not have to break stride. – 8/10
Despite not possessing a howitzer for an arm, Garoppolo knows how to place the deep ball and is generally effective at laying a pass over the top and down the seam, hitting open receivers in stride. His accuracy has been a bit hit-and-miss when pressured in the pocket, but it’s rare to see him underthrow a receiver and he can throw a very nice fade to the outside, keeping the ball low and away from the defender, where only his intended target can make the play. – 7/10
Throwing on the Run
Garoppolo looks very comfortable rolling out of the pocket, particularly to his right, extending passing plays while keeping his eyes focused downfield. He needs to show better balance when throwing across his body, but generally maintains his fundamentals when on the move and does a good job leading his target without forcing them to gear down. – 7.5/10
As previously alluded to, Garoppolo doesn’t own a cannon but he has more enough arm strength to make every NFL throw, even when on the move or off his back foot. He uses his anticipation and accuracy to connect on deep outs and should be able to stretch the field vertically at the next level when needed. – 7.5/10
Garoppolo’s football IQ is abundantly clear on the field. He shows patience waiting for his target to uncover and you can see him making progression reads, seldom locking on to a receiver and throwing into coverage. He sprays the ball around the field with effectiveness and finds his secondary targets, with the passing vision to scan the defense before making a split-second decision. He knows when to throw the ball away rather than take the sack or force a pass and can also freeze a defender with an effective pump-fake. – 8.5/10
Garoppolo’s lightning-quick release is the first thing that jumps out at you when watching his games, further easing concerns about his transition from the FCS to the NFL. His throwing mechanics are overall extremely precise, leading to a quick, compact and effortless motion, but he’s also helped in this phase by his solid footwork. Though he does get ‘happy feet’ on occasions, he’s demonstrated the ability and willingness to take the time to reset, even in the face of pressure or when forced out of the pocket. – 9/10
While you don’t hear it mentioned often, Garoppolo is a very underrated athlete, displaying good quickness and mobility for the position. He’s not tremendously fast or elusive but can pick up decent chunks of yardage with his legs when he spies an opportunity and moves well in the pocket when there is on-coming pressure. – 7.5/10
Though Garoppolo needs to become more used to taking snaps from under center, he’s demonstrated on plenty occasions the feet and balance to drive back and set up to unleash the ball quickly, before the defense can properly diagnose. He does have somewhat of a habit for flushing from the pocket too hastily, whilst occasionally getting happy feet in the face of pressure, but has also shown the toughness to stand tall and take the hit when things start to collapse, as well as the peripheral vision to quickly locate edge rushers. Any worries of Gabbert-itis appear largely overstated. – 7/10
The overriding concern with Garoppolo is obviously being a quarterback coming from a small-school – something which will really limit his draft stock, especially when combined with his lack of outstanding size, athleticism and arm strength. However, he did show extremely well against the two FBS schools he played this past season that went to bowl games (San Diego State and Northern Illinois) and also looked impressive at the Senior Bowl, challenging Derek Carr for the best signal-caller in Mobile. The other issue is his hand-size (9” – right at the cut-off for the ideal minimum), as it’s a measurement which has often proved to be good indicator for NFL success in the past. Quarterbacks with small hands can sometimes have a problem spinning the ball consistently and it’s something which scouts have been weary of when it comes to Garoppolo. That said, it doesn’t at all appear to have been a major issue for him in college. In addition, he is a strong leader and team player by all accounts, who is level-headed and always plays under control. – 7/10
Garoppolo may ultimately lack the ‘wow’ physical attributes you look for in a top prospect but there is certainly reason to believe he has the makings of a starting NFL quarterback. While the small-school background may scare some off who are worried about adapting to the fast-paced NFL, his quick release and decision-making should ease that transition and ensure he has every chance to succeed in the right offense, as a smart, efficient and mobile passer, capable of spreading the ball around the field. His play at both all-star games has also been highly encouraging and I’d in fact rate him as a superior prospect to Blake Bortles at this moment in time, while closely challenging Derek Carr for the number three quarterback spot. He’ll almost certainly be picked later than both when we get around to the draft, as a possible day two pick, but I firmly believe his pro future is bright. – Pro Comparison: Tony Romo (an easy but apt one)
77 – Late-First/Early-Second Round