When I started in scouting in the early 1980's, good scouts could find a small school prospect, keep the name quiet, and draft him in the late rounds. When the player turned out to be good they would label him a “sleeper”. That’s is not the case anymore. Between social media and YouTube, there are many ways for the small schools to get one of their players noticed. In the case of Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the school didn’t need either of those tools to get the word out on their star player. Garoppolo’s play did all the talking. It’s only early October, and just about every team in the NFL has seen him this year in practice or a game. He has been a starter since midway through his freshman year and has re-written the quarterback record book at Eastern. He hasn’t just done it against the lower level of comp FCS schools. Just about every time he has played a Division I school he has put up big numbers. This season versus San Diego State and Northern Illinois he completed a total of 65 of 95 passes for 911 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Through five games this year, he has completed 151 of 231 passes for 2053 yards, 23 TDs and five interceptions. That is a season's worth of production for a lot of quarterbacks. In his college career he has passed for over 10,000 yards and 88 touchdowns. By the end of this season, I have no doubt he will surpass 12,500 yards in passing and 105 TDs.
Coming out of high school, Garoppolo was not highly recruited. His offers were from Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, and Montana State. Big Ten schools Iowa, Indiana, and Purdue all looked at him but did not offer. I’m sure they regret that decision as none of those schools have a quarterback with Garoppolo’s talent.
Garoppolo has good size at about 6’3-220. He is a good athlete with quick feet and better than average play speed (4.77). He plays mostly from a spread or pistol formation but will line up under center at times. When under center, he can set up quickly. He has the quick feet and athleticism to move around in the pocket and keep plays alive. He shows a good feel for pass rushers and can step up or roll to keep plays alive and get the throw off. He holds the ball high and has very good delivery quickness. When he makes a decision, the ball is out of his hands instantly. I have seen improvement from 2012 to 2013 in his decision making and accuracy. On tapes from 2012, I felt his accuracy and ball placement were just above average. This year his completion percentage is up, and his ball placement is even better. He will still force a throw at times, but with only 5 interceptions in 231 throws, he is keeping his mistakes to a minimum. He is showing much more patience in the pocket this year. He does a good job seeing the field and going through a progression.
Garoppolo does not have a cannon for an arm. He has good arm strength and can easily throw the ball 50+ yards but by no means can he drill the ball. He doesn’t have John Elway or Brett Favre arm strength, it’s more like Sam Bradford or Aaron Rodgers when they came out of college. His arm will improve when he gets into an NFL strength program and he is doing exercises conducive to improving his arm strength. My one concern is he doesn’t throw a consistently tight ball. While he shows he can drive the ball, I have also seen a number of throws where the ball flutters. It will be interesting to see what his hand measurement is when he attends an all-star game or the combine. Quarterbacks with small hands can sometimes have a problem spinning the ball consistently.
Garoppolo can make all the throws needed to play in the NFL. He has good pocket presence and awareness. His decision making improves every year as he gains experience. He is a play maker who comes up big when it is needed. His leadership on the field is obvious.
At this point, I’m not ready to say he is a potential first round pick. He is talented and will go early but I don’t think I would take him in the first. He still has at least seven games to play this season and then the FCS playoffs. How well he plays the rest of the season and in an all-star game will determine his final value. Jimmy has a lot of upside. He will be a guy who goes through a number of interviews. Before the process is over, he will be looked at as much if not more than any other player in the draft.
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