In-season evaluations of quarterbacks will consistently fluctuate among evaluators in the league and in the media. But while play on the field shifts from positive to negative for many prospects on a weekly basis, cooler heads prevail after the season as scouts decide on what the body of work tells about a prospect.
In Jimmy Garoppolo’s case, he’s been out of the spotlight for much of this year despite putting up gaudy numbers and showcasing his NFL skill set. And while it may take post-season events and all-star game to accurately compare him to the top FBS talents, the question has already become one of discussion in the NFL draft community: Just how high could Garoppolo go?
After talking to Garoppolo and getting a better feel for his role in the offense, it’s clear that football IQ is certainly a strength of his. With audible autonomy and pass protection responsibilities at the line of scrimmage, his coach calls it giving Garoppolo the “keys to the Cadillac”. With a premium placed on making pre-snap reads and changes by the offense, Garoppolo already has proved he can handle more responbility at the line than many top quarterbacks in the country.
As a passer, Garoppolo possesses arguably the quickest release of any top quarterback in the country. Coming out at his earhole level, he’s able to generate ample velocity on 20 yard or less routes. A calm upper body thrower, he’s able to adjust his shoulders well and come over the top on his throws enough to prevent his passes from rising (and potentially) sailing as they work downfield.
With a developed subtle mechanics, such as pump fakes and read option follow throughs, Garoppolo already has some of the techniques that he would have eventually been taught to him in the pros incorporated in his game. Also, he’s one of the more impressive red zone passers in the country, able to place the ball on deep fades with impressive placement as well as utilizing his quick release to react to cornerback leverage pre and post snap.
RELATED LINK: Teddy Bridgewater Wasn't Perfect, But Still Showed Elite NFL Ability in Win Over Rutgers
He does seem to have issues in remaining fluid as he evades pressure in the backfield, and much of that may stem from still developing footwork and repositioning in non-read option plays. Also, he seems to rush his reads and throws at times, over-anticipating pressure and not making ideal decisions downfield. Part of that may stem from an over-confidence in his own arm strength.
As usual, let’s take a look at a handful of plays were Garoppolo showcases his pluses (and minuses) as an NFL paser.
Play #1 – Quick Release Off Read-Option, Ball Placement In Mid-Field
While this first play isn’t a tremendous display of his skill set, it does show a few areas where NFL teams will see promise in his ability to have some NFL concepts already ingrained in his game. After pre-snap reading (and likely hot-routing) his receiver to utilize the cornerbacks deep and outside leverage to work the middle of the field, he delivers a long-strided zone read to force the strong safety to stand still and leave an opening behind him. Also, notice, how he chops his feet quickly, resets his feet to generate velocity from his lower half, and utilizes his quick release to throw right after the receiver makes his break. A textbook play from fundamentals to throw in a play design that should be incorporated more and more in NFL offenses.
Play #2/3 – Reset Feet, Touch in Red-Zone Fade
On these two throws, Garoppolo finishes drives with back corner throws in the red zone. Again, adding to his red zone efficiency and placement, Garoppolo shows the versatility as a passer to put pressure on the cornerbacks to not bite on either the slant or fade route.
In the first play, you’ll see that Garoppolo (who gets great protection), sets his feet and delivers a perfect pump fake to draw the safety and, more importantly, the cornerback to over-anticipate the inside route, leaving the fade to the corner with plenty of room. He quickly delivers it only where his receiver can get it, and finishes the play with a touchdown.
While this next play doesn’t show off his pump fake, it required a more on-point and on-time throw to finish the touchdown. As soon as the slot receiver begins to belly out on his wheel route, Garoppolo places the ball perfectly at the back pylon, giving the cornerback no chance to react to the receiver and the quarterback, and giving his receiver another chance to be the only one to make a play on the ball.
Play #4 – Rushed Read, Decision Making Vertically
It wasn’t a perfect game for Garoppolo and the rest of the Eastern Illinois offense, as they eventually blew a lead to miss on the upset of the FBS Northern Illinois team. This play shows a time where Garoppolo simply rushed a throw and mis-read the nickel corernback’s leverage. With plenty of time in the pocket but vertical routes covered, his receiver (wisely) cut off his route to come back and take advantage of plenty of space in the middle of the field. However, Garoppolo unnecessarily tries to force the ball deep.
Garoppolo’s skill set isn’t without issues, and isn’t a fit for every NFL offense. Lacking the vertical arm strength for some downfield passing teams in the NFL (such as what the Cleveland Browns are aiming to be), Garoppolo may be best fit in a more West Coast -concept focused offense, allowing his quick release, athleticism as a runner, and ample velocity on shorter routes.
It may be an uphill battle for Garoppolo to pass the likes of Teddy Bridgewater, Brett Hundley, and Marcus Mariota, along with our top senior Zach Mettenberger. But after those four, Garoppolo may have the opportunity (for offenses that fit his skill set especially) to win teams over and make him a trendy early second round, Andy Dalton-esque selection.
At the mid-season point, Garoppolo has earned the right to be discussed among the top senior quarterbacks in the country. His production and scouting report puts him around the Top 100 projected picks. But he has a long ways to go on the field, after the season, and behind closed doors with NFL teams before he can start to win teams over as their planned future quarterback.
But for quarterback who may draw Ryan Tannehill comparisons with his athleticism, quick release, and football IQ, don’t be surprised if Garoppolo makes a similar meteoric rise leading up to the draft.