Jimmy Garoppolo is still a virtually unknown prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft, but the Eastern Illinois quarterback has started building some real momentum over the past couple of weeks.
I'm not particularly surprised by Garoppolo's strong showing at both the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl. Back in December, I said this about him in an article:
The Dark Horse: Jimmy Garoppolo, Eastern Illinois: Garoppolo may not be a big name yet, but he's got a heck of an arm and great mechanics. I think there's a good chance that the best player in the FCS will shoot up boards and have a shot at being taken in the first 100 picks.
Clearly, I really believe in this kid, and so far, he hasn't let me down.
This is the second installment of my small-school prospect scouting report series, which kicked off last week with Princeton defensive tackle Caraun Reid.
Now I'm shifting to Garoppolo and will try to provide some background, as well as just scouting material, because most people know nothing about him at this stage.
Garoppolo didn't begin playing quarterback until high school, according to Chris Johnson of Sports Illustrated. In a way, this actually may have helped his development because he didn't have any bad habits to break.
The Rolling Meadows, Illinois native's progression as a passer was quick, and he put up big numbers in high school. His only scholarship offers, however, came from three FCS schools: Illinois State, Montana State and Eastern Illinois.
While he couldn't have known it at the time, picking Eastern Illinois did wonders for his career. That's because Dino Babers would sign on to become the Panthers head coach before Garoppolo's junior year.
Babers was previously the wide receivers coach at Baylor, where he worked with Robert Griffin III. He then brought over his offensive knowledge from Baylor to Eastern Illinois, which undoubtedly helped Garoppolo maximize his talent and catch the attention of the NFL.
He had an extremely decorated career at Eastern Illinois, winning the Walter Payton Awardd as the best player in FCS this year. At the conclusion of his junior season, he was already third in Eastern Illinois' history in total offense (7,977 yards), touchdown passes (65) and passing yards (8,106).
Then in his senior year, he went and broke his own Ohio Valley Conference record for single-season passing yards, racking up an incredible 5,050 which was just shy of the FCS record.
With all of this in mind, it's time to dig deep into what the film says about Garoppolo's game.
Footwork and Mechanics
People will be heaping praise on Garoppolo's accuracy and lightning-quick release (I'll be doing that shortly), but they have to realize that none of that is possible without great footwork.
He is very light on his feet, maintains a relatively wide but comfortable stance and has the right instinct to always set himself before he throws.
This allows him to have a consistent motion, which is huge for quarterbacks. Many guys who have strong arms and get the "boom-or-bust" label are often given that because of their inconsistency, which starts with footwork.
His ability and willingness to take the time to reset his feet is really huge, and he'll do it even in a tight pocket or when facing pressure.
His throwing mechanics are extremely precise, and he leads to an unbelievably fast and compact throwing motion that allows him to get the ball out quickly with power.
Make sure you pay attention to Garoppolo's stance and windup before he releases the ball in the video clips throughout the article, because it's really a thing of beauty.
Garoppolo is smooth and quick while still remaining strong and powerful, which is difficult to do.
He stays balanced throughout the throw, wastes no motion, and stays within himself. He throws the ball from a 3/4 arm slot which seems natural and consistent, and his stride is just right.
His quickness and fantastic throwing motion are put prominently on display in Eastern Illinois offense. I tried to pinpoint a couple of videos here which showcase his extremely quick delivery.
On the second play, Garoppolo's quick release is on display despite getting pressure right in his face. It's nice to see him ignore that rusher and get the ball out around him.
One might also notice that neither play here comes off play action. But throwing off of play action may be Garoppolo's biggest strength, however, and it is something he did a lot in Babers' spread offense.
His ability to immediately reset himself and get the ball out after faking the handoff to his running back is a really big asset that is just another testimony to his outstanding release.
There are a ton of examples to choose from, but just a few should suffice for now.
Take note of how quickly Garoppolo shuffles his feet, locates his target, squares his shoulders, and is already whipping his arm through to release the ball.
This kind of talent obviously can be improved with practice, but there's also a certain natural ability here that Garoppolo just seems to have.
While I will go into further detail now about his arm strength and accuracy along with his anticipation and knowledge of his offense, it's quite clear to me that, from a mechanical standpoint, Garoppolo is the best in this class.
There will be a lot made of his playing against weaker competition in the FCS, but his numbers against better teams are still very good, and his great mechanics can't be downplayed because of the quality of his opponent.
Now let's move on to take a look at the ball that Garoppolo throws, instead of just harping on how he throws it.
Arm Strength and Accuracy
Garoppolo isn't an overly powerful guy, and he doesn't often make any outrageous downfield throws that make highlight reels.
But he knows his limitations, can still throw a good deep ball, and has more than enough power and anticipation to squeeze balls into tight windows.
His biggest asset is his accuracy, and he really excels on short and intermediate throws where he's either throwing the ball out to the flat, up the middle, or hitting receivers on simple routes like slants and posts.
These two throws showcase his incredible ability to put the ball exactly where it needs to be, anywhere on the field.
Make sure you look at the replays of the first throw, especially the second replay, which shows how Garoppolo seams the ball through three defensive players right into his receiver's hands.
The second throw is underrated in its difficulty, as well, and Garoppolo hits his man in stride perfectly so that he has the ability to turn upfield and get extra yardage.
While he isn't the biggest and most powerful quarterback, Garoppolo's arm strength is still very much above-average, and he showcases his ability to throw the deep ball here.
It's encouraging to see that Garoppolo still uses the same compact motion even when airing the ball out a bit. He doesn't reach back farther or "heave" the ball down the field.
Despite what most people think, however, arm strength is not just about airing it out.
While it's nice to be able to throw the ball really far, the majority of throws in the NFL will be much shorter and there will be many times where a successful throw really comes down to strength to drive the ball into difficult areas.
One of the most telling examples of arm strength is the intermediate sideline throw. When a player runs a route that leads him towards the sideline, a quarterback needs a lot of strength to get the ball there, because even though it's not that far downfield, he's also throwing it pretty far to the side.
That's an example of when people say "making NFL throws," which is otherwise just pretty useless scouting jargon. But jargon or not, Garoppolo can certainly make all the throws necessary.
As the following plays show, Garoppolo has more than enough strength to hit players on any kind of route.
Those first two throws to the outside are impressive, but it's also very easy to see the velocity and RPMs he gets on that third one.
But what about the opposite kind of throw, when there needs to be some touch on the ball?
Garoppolo still has some room to grow there, but also shows the ability to take something off and float the ball to his receiver.
He can be a bit inconsistent on very short fade routes in the end zone, and here he overthrows his receiver in the end zone on two consecutive plays and then a third shortly after (skip ahead to 4:00 for the third overthrow).
Nothing really breaks down here, as Garoppolo's motion stays consistent and his feet are set. He may have rushed the throws a bit, and the overthrows may have something to do with his arm slot.
This is a point that Garoppolo will have to work on and fix, because if he gets some big receivers or tight ends in the NFL, then he'll be relied on to make this throw once in a while.
But he's also shown plenty of ability to put some touch on the ball and is especially good at it when he's not necessarily "lofting" the ball, like on those previous misses, but is actually throwing the ball a little further downfield and dropping it in the middle of coverage.
These throws are both different, as the first one shows both accuracy and a really keen sense of how to throw a fade in a tight window.
The second one is exactly what I meant by "dropping it in," as Garoppolo gets it over the initial line of coverage with enough power while having the accuracy to fit it right in.
Summing up a player's talent in one throw is pointless and meaningless, but I'm going to do it here anyway.
This last throw shows everything Garoppolo is capable of. He's patient but then still anticipates exactly when the window will be open, has the strength to get it all the way to the sideline, but puts enough touch on it to make it catchable, and places the ball literally exactly where it needs to go.
As impressive as they look, these throws have all come from a standstill when Garoppolo has at least a little bit of time in the pocket.
How does he fare when he's forced to roll out and make plays on the move?
Garoppolo won't be mistaken for Johnny Manziel, but he's still a reasonably athletic quarterback who won't get stuck taking bad sacks in the pocket because he's stuck in mud.
He isn't necessarily a fluid or graceful athlete, but he's pretty light on his feet and is also well-built and strong throughout his body.
Garoppolo can extend some plays, but defenses will not fear him taking off and trying to get yards with his feet.
With that in mind, one thing he definitely needs to improve on is his ability to throw the ball on the move.
On these two plays, Garoppolo tries to heave the ball on the run and simply doesn't have the power or fluidity to deliver a good accurate ball.
I know, on the second play it ends up being a touchdown—but take a look at the replay to get a better view of the ball in the air.
It's upright, wobbling, and under-thrown. The defensive back completely just whiffs on the play (he actually may have gotten a piece of it), and even an average play by the defensive back would've ended up with an interception.
In both of those plays, Garoppolo is moving to his right, which is the more natural direction for a right-handed thrower. But as comfortable as he looks inside the pocket, he looks that uncomfortable outside of it.
When he gets hurried and moves, he still looks to throw first, which is good—but he still needs to try and stay calm and use those great mechanics to deliver a ball.
He also had time on both of those plays to pull up, reset his feet a little, and make a better throw. On this play, Garoppolo does just that.
Granted it's a designed roll-out, but the difference is evident. The ball is powerful, accurate, has a tight spiral, and arrives right on the money.
If Garoppolo can get that done more often, it'll improve his all-around game and help him in the fast-paced NFL.
The term "functional mobility" has been a buzzword for quarterbacks recently, and I think it fits Garoppolo perfectly.
Even though he's not an elite athlete, let's see how Garoppolo measures out physically and mentally.
Measurables and Intangibles
One of, if not the biggest knock on Garoppolo will be his size. I'm not a big stickler about the numbers, because I think that if a kid can play, then he can play. Period.
People will point out Drew Brees and Russell Wilson as successful short quarterbacks, but the fact is that they are the exception, not the rule.
Garoppolo measured in at the Senior Bowl at 6'2" 1/4, 219 pounds with 9-inch hands. These are not bad numbers by any means, but they will cause a little hesitancy among some scouts.
The smaller hand size is probably the biggest concern, because it makes him more prone to fumbling and can make it harder to palm the ball and make good throws on the move.
Overall, I'm not overly concerned about his size at all. One thing he'll have to adjust to is playing with a bigger offensive line than he had at Eastern Illinois.
By all reports, Garoppolo is a really good leader and team player. OptimumScouting's Eric Galko interviewed him and came away impressed, noting that he seems to be well-liked by all his teammates.
Other articles, including Chris Johnson's that I referenced at the beginning of the article, call Garoppolo a humble and hard working player who just goes about his business.
This interview on YouTube with Panther Sports Talk lets you get a little bit of an idea what Garoppolo is like off the field, and I personally came away impressed after watching it.
Quarterback is such a tough position to project for the draft, because different teams like certain players to fit into their specific offenses.
Some teams will be hesitant about Garoppolo because it's hard to predict how he'll adjust to the faster speed of defenses in the NFL.
His play in the past two weeks at both all-star games is extremely encouraging, however, and I remain confident after looking at his film that he'll be a productive NFL starter.
He's solidly a top-five quarterback for me, and he'll push to get into my top-50 overall prospects. Right now, he's locked in as a second-round pick in my book.