As NFL scouts and coaches make the annual cross-country trek to view pro days at colleges from Syracuse to San Francisco, March 4 brought many of them to the Windy City.
Of course, most of the scouts gathered at Northwestern University weren't there to watch the Wildcats work out.
No, the star attraction was Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has been steadily rising up draft boards through the college all-star contests and scouting combine.
In fact, at least one former NFL executive thinks Garoppolo may have worked his way all the way into the NFL draft's first round:
Former Colts GM Bill Polian just said on ESPN's NFL Insiders that he projects Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo to be a first-round pick.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) February 24, 2014
The 6'2", 226-pound Garoppolo, who was the Walter Payton Award winner last year as the top offensive player at the FCS level, has been one of the most talked-about prospects in all of college football since thrusting himself into the spotlight at the East-West Shrine Game.
Per Yahoo Sports
A strong showing there got Garoppolo an invite to the Senior Bowl. From there, it was on to Indy and the combine. At every stop along the way, Garoppolo impressed with his quick release, poise and vision.
Tuesday provided one last opportunity for Garoppolo to impress in person. According to Eric Edholm of Yahoo Sports, there was certainly no shortage of folks in attendance for Garoppolo to schmooze:
31 of 32 NFL teams spotted at Northwestern Pro Day to watch EIU's Jimmy Garoppolo. JG and Jim Harbaugh warmed up for 45 minutes together.— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) March 4, 2014
Among those in attendance were two head coaches at opposite ends of the first round, according to Pro Football Talk:
Jim Harbaugh, Bill O'Brien checking out Jimmy Garoppolo's workout http://t.co/K0zdDENgNc— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 4, 2014
Those head coaches ended up being the biggest story of the day, as before Garroppolo even worked out he'd worked out.
First, Edholm tweeted that Harbaugh introduced himself:
Jimmy Garoppolo on how Jim Harbaugh mini-workout came together: "He saw me, introduced himself and said, 'Wanna throw a little?'"— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) March 4, 2014
Then, he and Garoppolo retreated to the side of the field for an impromptu throwing session:
So they did, and Garoppolo and Harbaugh ducked on to an off-limits-to-others part of the field and threw and talked for 45 minutes.— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) March 4, 2014
Harbaugh told Edholm Garoppolo's quick release (and perhaps some nerves) were on display:
Jim Harbaugh told me on Jimmy Garoppolo: "Quick release, yes, but sometimes too quick. You want to see him go through whole motion." #49ers— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) March 4, 2014
As Tony Pauline of Draft Insider pointed out, Harbaugh wasn't the only NFL head coach in attendance who put Garoppolo through some private paces:
Not sure it its out there but I'm told it was HC Bill O'Brien & QB coach George Godsey who privately worked out Jimmy Garoppolo this morning— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) March 4, 2014
O'Brien's presence raised some eyebrows, including ESPN's Adam Schefter's:
Hmmmm: Houston Texans HC Bill O'Brien at Northwestern for Eastern Illinois QB Jimmy Garoppolo's Pro Day.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) March 4, 2014
Garoppolo's name has been linked to Houston in hypothetical scenarios mainly involving the Texans drafting South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney or Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson first overall and then selecting Garoppolo with the first pick of Day 2.
O'Brien's private show with Garoppolo will no doubt add fuel to those fires, but Bill Polian told Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated the increased hype could hurt the Texans' chances of pulling off such a two-fer, while explaining why he feels Garoppolo may go even earlier:
[ESPN host] Suzy [Kolber] set the stage by asking me on air if Houston would be better off drafting Jadeveon Clowney at No. 1, then coming back with the first pick in the second round taking Garoppolo?' And I said, 'Well, if that's the case, he won't be there.' What I said is absolutely correct. If word gets out that that's what the [Texans'] strategy is, then other clubs that have interest in him and are below Houston in the second round would try to trade up for him. The guys that are legitimate second-round quarterbacks can get moved up, or overvalued simply because of the competitiveness and the desire to get a quarterback before someone else takes him.
Then it was time for Garoppolo to throw for the entire class, and as Edholm reports the youngster acquitted himself fairly well:
In his 36 throws on Tuesday — 14 of which were scripted, the other 22 coming at the request of scouts — Garoppolo was mostly good. His short and intermediate accuracy was terrific, with every throw on target. But his accuracy waned on a few passes, including a 17-yard comeback route that wasn’t in the Panthers’ playbook.
Garoppolo admitted to Edholm the last throw, "got away from me. That’s an NFL throw I wasn’t asked to make in college, but I have got to get it down. Otherwise, I thought I had a great day throwing it.”
Can Jimmy Garoppolo be a successful starter in the NFL?
It was a pro day that culminated a draft season for Garoppolo that, barring a last-minute injury, went about as well as he could have dared hope.
Yes, it may not be enough to vault Garoppolo, who Bleacher Report NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller ranks sixth among quarterbacks and 58th overall in this year's draft class, all the way into the first round.
Still, a few months ago, very few people outside the state of Illinois or the draftnik community had no idea who Jimmy Garoppolo was, and now there's little chance he makes it out of the second round.
And if that's not a draft season success story, what is?