For just about the entire 2013 NCAA Football season, Teddy Bridgewater was the top quarterback available in the 2014 NFL draft. When the season ended, he still was. Then he was not. Now he might be, possibly. The quarterback class in the upcoming draft is not quite stacked at the top like in 2012, but it offers a lot of depth. Waiting until the second, third, or even fourth round could still net a team a good player like Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois University (EIU), a talented quarterback who could potentially be very good value.
Garoppolo has most frequently drawn comparisons to Tony Romo, mostly due to the fact that they attended the same school and Garoppolo just finished breaking a number of Romo’s records. There are a few traits they have in common coming out of EIU. They keep their eyes upfield when they move. They throw with a lot of arm, as opposed to using their lower body. Both are fairly good athletes, and they each have mechanical issues.
Almost every quarterback comes into the draft with at least a few glaring flaws. When someone ends up projected to be taken outside of the first round, it is usually because their flaws will demand some coaching before they will be NFL-ready, or because their physical abilities limit their upside. Garoppolo, like Romo did, falls into the camp of the former. Also like Romo, Garoppolo would greatly benefit from time on the sidelines as he learns to correct a few bad habits.
The biggest issue with the EIU star is that he has trouble feeling pressure coming at him. He has ample pocket mobility, and does a good job of locating throwing lanes, but he has shown a tendency to not only rush throws under pressure, but to rush throws when he thinks he is under pressure. A number of times throughout the year, Garoppolo ducked away or left the pocket when he was in no danger of being hit.
None of that is a knock on his toughness, because when he needs to he has no issue standing tall and taking a hit to make a throw. He just lacks either the feel or the peripheral vision to know exactly how much time he really has. That could be a lingering issue requiring coaching, or it could be because of a lack of experience. Despite starting for four years at EIU, Garoppolo is still behind experience wise because he did not pick up the position until his junior year of high school. He was a linebacker until that point, which demonstrates his athletic ability.
As the Walter Payton award winner for 2013, given to the top player in the NCAA’s FCS division, Garoppolo certainly has a high level of ability. His accuracy is good, particularly within 15 yards. He has a good arm and throws a great looking spiral. He also has a quick release and good sense of timing the ball. Physically, he will be capable of making all the necessary throws in the NFL, and his only inadequacy his size. While he is by no means short, at 6’2″ and with a bit of a low delivery Garoppolo is not a giant in the pocket either.
Garoppolo is one of a number of prospects who are expected to go in the second or third round range. There are a lot of things to like about him, and teams in need of a quarterback might think it better to wait until after the first round to draft one. The Houston Texans, for example, are currently presented with the opportunity to acquire Jadeveon Clowney, graded as the best prospect in the draft. The only reason they would lean away from him is because of the importance of the quarterback position. However, if they become enamored enough with someone like Garoppolo they could take Clowney and still draft a quarterback that they feel comfortable moving forward with in the next round.
Garoppolo is a lot more of a known quantity at this point than when his season ended. Since his EIU career came to a close, Garoppolo has participated in the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl, the NFL Combine and a pro day in front of scouts and head coaches. The up close look at him has caused his draft stock to balloon to the point that a few are projecting him to go in the first round. That might be a bit optimistic, but he seems a sure thing to go no later than the late second at this point.
The draft is all about value, and answering whether a team would rather have someone like Blake Bortles in the first half of the first round, or Garoppolo in the second round. While not as physically intimidating, Garoppolo grades out similar to Bortles, with each still needing a good amount of work and polish. Garoppolo is a strong prospect who should follow the path of EIU’s last great quarterback by learning behind a veteran. If a team can wait to draft a quarterback, and wait on his development, Garoppolo could end up making a team very happy a few years down the line.
Commentary by Brian Moore