What are Garoppolo's strengths, and how will they fit within the Patriots offense? AP Photo
Over the weekend, I decided to learn a little more out about the Patriots new quarterback of the future, Jimmy Garoppolo. This is obviously a small sample size, but here are my impressions based off of the film I've managed to see of Garoppolo: Eastern Illinois' 49-39 loss to Towson in the FCS playoff quarterfinal, and his MVP performance in the East-West shrine bowl.

Eastern Illinois vs Towson: FCS championship quarterfinal

Garoppolo has a distinctive skill set that becomes obvious at the get-go, as he starts the game off with a 10-11 exhibition on their first drive, culminating with a touchdown strike to leading receiver Erik Lora. He's a calm, confident and decisive signal-caller, with a tight, accurate spiral and very quick release that stands out right away.

As you'll quickly notice, Eastern Illinois mostly ran a spread offense, with Garoppolo operating almost exclusively out of the shotgun. From there, Garoppolo is able to pick the defense apart with a ruthlessly efficient combination of short, high-percentage patterns (screens, shovel passes, slants/in-cuts and sideline throws). You'll note the poise Garoppolo shows in converting both of his 4th down attempts (0:51 mark and again at 1:09), but the fact that they faced two fourth downs on the series despite the quarterback going 10 for 11 shows just how short a lot of those completions were.

Garoppolo has said that he models his game somewhat after his new teammate, Tom Brady, and you can see a little of it in his game. Like Brady, Garoppolo's deadly accuracy and quick release make him excellent in the short and intermediate passing game, a staple of the New England offense. While he doesn't have a cannon for an arm, he has enough arm strength to make every throw he'll have to. For an example, check out the beautiful downfield throw he completes at 1:48 after going through multiple progressions. He does a nice job of using touch to drop high arching passes onto a receivers, and does a nice job of using his accuracy to place the ball where only his receiver can make a play on the ball, with the incomplete throws he makes at 1:03 and 3:24 serving as examples of how his accuracy helps him make throws into coverage less risky.

He also impresses with his footwork in the pocket and athleticism. He does an excellent job of improvising and buying time with his feet, which he uses to extend the play long enough for receivers to break open. For an example, check out the play at 7:14, as he buys enough time for Jeff LePak to break open for a 39 yard touchdown to bring Eastern Illinois back into the game.

That athleticism also translates to Garoppolo's game as a scrambler. Running isn't a primary component of his game, but he's athletic enough to take what the defense gives him, and will gladly pick up an easy 5 or 6 yards if it's there on the ground. For a look at what he can do as a runner, check out his touchdown run at the 2:06 mark, his nice 7 yard scramble at the 6:59 mark, and a 14 yard scamper at 10:02.

The aforementioned touchdown to LePak at 7:14 serves as a good example of the moxie Garoppolo showed at the position during his collegiate career. He was a respected leader in the huddle who could be counted on to step up when it counted and make the plays his team needed. While Eastern Illinois wound up losing to Towson, largely thanks to 354 yards and 5 touchdowns by Tigers RB Terrance West, Garoppolo quickly turned an 11 point deficit into a 35-32 affair with that touchdown and ensuing 2 point conversion. That kind of timely play was a regular occurrence for him in college.

Garoppolo's skill set is well suited to what the Patriots like to do offensively, but it should be noted that the offense Garoppolo ran at Eastern Illinois is much simpler than what he'll be learning in New England. The fact that Garoppolo ran Eastern Illinois' offense like a well-oiled machine is certainly to his credit, but it should be noted that he'll be facing a steep learning curve initially.

While I came away from the film fairly impressed (Garoppolo finished 38-50 for 321 yards, 2 passing TDs, no interceptions and 2 rushing TDs), some of the concerns I'd heard about Garoppolo from scouts show up on the film.

Most troubling is occasional lapses where he holds onto the ball for far too long and doesn't sense pressure, a flaw which does rear it's ugly head at times during the Towson game. At 2:57, Garoppolo nearly gets swallowed up by the pass rush and is forced to make a panicked jump throw to avoid the sack. At 5:06, he holds onto the ball for far too long and gets rid off it a split second before getting crushed with a blindside hit. Finally, Garoppolo does get crushed from the blindside on 3rd and 13 at the 9:03 mark, with his fumble essentially sealing the win for Towson.

Another issue is his ball security. There are some concerns amongst scouts about Garoppolo's small hands (9 1/4"), as small hands have a harder time gripping onto the ball. This shows up in several mishandles of the football on the snow-covered field. At 3:41, he has the ball simply slip out of his hand, and is fortunate to recover the unforced fumble. At 6:30,  he simply mishandles the shutgun snap, although he does recover quickly and use his scrambling ability to give the play a chance.

East-West Shrine Game (Garoppolo comes in at 5:57, 22:39 and 28.32)

Garoppolo earned MVP honors of the game, finishing 9-14 for 100 yards and a touchdown. Once he comes in, he establishes himself quickly, getting good protection and delivering a quick accurate strike to Patriots seventh round pick Jeremy Gallon running the deep out (6:05). He also impresses at the 6:55 mark, calming zipping in a pass for the first down on third and 10.

However, his first series isn't perfect. At 6:33, he does a nice job of extending the play with his feet, but misses an open Galon down the field while throwing on the run. At 7:24, the drive ends prematurely when Garoppolo goes with a short checkdown on third and four. While Garoppolo does complete an extremely high percentage of his short passes, his willingness to take the short stuff can be maddening when it doesn't mesh with the situation. He ended several drives by settling for short checkdowns on third down in the Towson game as well.

With that said, he comes back with an impressive second series. Check out the play at 8:01: Garoppolo draws the defensive end offsides with he snap count, then calmly surveys the field under pressure and delivers floats in a perfect touch pass down the left sideline for a solid gain. However, his most impressive throw of the night just might be the incompletion at 9:01, as his receiver just wasn't able to haul in a perfectly placed back shoulder throw. While his receiver didn't make the play, the cornerback didn't have a chance to make a play on the ball because of his accuracy. He follows that throw with a dart on a quick slant for the touchdown on the very next play.

His third series doesn't go nearly as well, as a first down sack sets the rest of the possession back. It's impossible to blame the quarterback on that one, as his left tackle simply gets bowled over by the defensive end. A run on second down gets some of the yardage back, but Garoppolo's pass on third and 11 comes out short, forcing a punt. His next drive is also a three and out, with a deep ball on first down to Galon falling incomplete and pressure affecting a third down misfire.

My impressions:

It's easy to see why so many teams were high on Garoppolo during the draft process, including Houston, who were prepared to make him their quarterback of the future with the first pick of the third round if New England had passed. He might have the quickest release and best accuracy of any quarterback in 2014 draft. He's also an excellent fit for the Patriots, as his skillset matches up very well with New England's quick, precision passing attack.

While I'm on the record as being against the Garoppolo pick, I'm not against it because of any dislike of the player himself. I actually think Garoppolo certainly has a chance to be a very good quarterback in this league, possibly as Tom Brady's successor. My contention remains that Garoppolo will need to be very good to justify making that kind of investment on him, especially with Tom Brady still under contract for four years and other, more pressing needs going neglected on draft weekend. At the very least, he needs to be considerably better than Tom Savage or Aaron Murray, similarly-rated QBs who lasted into the fourth and fifth rounds.

Can Garoppolo develop into the kind of quarterback who will make this pick pay big-time dividends over the long haul? Absolutely, but there's no denying he has some work to do. He faces a steep learning curve, transitioning to a much higher level of competition and much more complex playbook. His A+ accuracy will be his greatest ally in making the transition, but he'll need to be a little less reliant on short passes to succeed at the next level.

Ned Brady 5/13/2014 11:59:00 AM Edit

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