I’m a huge fan of Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and have been ever since I saw him at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
But despite that, I would say no team should draft him with the intention of throwing him right into the fire as their starter.
This isn’t a knock on him.
Unlike many years, there appears to be no consensus top quarterback in the 2014 NFL draft class. Everyone has someone they really like, but most will admit even their favorite requires some work.
It’s a hodgepodge of “choose your favorite,” especially once you get past the first few players at the position. There is a lot of potential, but it may take some time to fulfill it.
This year is really a regression to the mean—a draft where the majority of the prospects at quarterback have faults. That doesn’t mean they won’t succeed, merely they may require a little time to do so.
Garoppolo is definitely one of them, and the issues he faces are why my enthusiasm is tempered enough to have him no higher than No. 5 on my quarterback rankings for 2014.
And hey, there are certainly those who disagree. NFL Network’s Charley Casserly told 620 WDAE in Tampa Bay that Garoppolo is the “best prospect at the position on tape,” though even he will admit the Eastern Illinois prospect is raw.
The problem which plagues Garoppolo isn’t something you see in Senior Bowl or Shrine Game practices, because it only emerges when the turf is flying and defenders are blitzing.
What’s the issue?
Simply put, Garoppolo has problems when he is under pressure.
Earlier in the offseason, Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio did an excellent job illustrating what he called a “freeze first-react second” tendency.
As Waldman mentions in his analysis, Garoppolo not only feels pressure when it isn’t there—he tends to make poor decisions on top of it.
Take the play Waldman breaks down early on in his piece—a two-point conversion play against Northern Illinois.
The play shows off some of Garoppolo’s pluses—such as a nice pump fake—but fails, and it’s in large part because he reacts to pressure off to his left which simply isn’t there.
The defensive end is being handled by Garoppolo’s left tackle and while he’s in the neighborhood, he’s not going to lay a hand on the quarterback.
Rather than sitting in the pocket and making his reads, Garoppolo scrambles left, and rushes a pass to the back of the end zone. The throw is too high and forces his receiver to extend himself in such a way as to pull him out of bounds.
So he feels pressure when it might not be there, you say, he made more good plays than bad?
Is it really that big of an issue?
Well, it is when you see him literally fold in the pocket.
Waldman calls this the “standing fetal position” and it’s as apt of a description as I have seen. When I first saw Garoppolo do it, I had to rewind the play because I didn’t think I could possibly have seen what had happened.
There are two things Garoppolo frequently does when he senses pressure (real or imagined).
Either one is bad—both together are disastrous.
Far too often, Garoppolo freezes when he senses pressure. Sometimes it’s just a second, sometimes two or three. In the NFL, that hesitation will end with a sack.
Luckily, Garoppolo has a very fast delivery and can escape the pocket—so a momentary brain freeze doesn’t spell doom on its own all the time, even in the NFL.
Combined with Waldman’s “standing fetal position,” though and you assure yourself of problems at the pro level.
When you watch this selection of plays, you can see Garropolo sense pressure (some real, some not), duck, then react.
Garoppolo drops his head and shoulders and almost huddles around the ball. He’s usually watching the field, scanning for a way out, but he’s in a poor position to do much to facilitate his own rescue.
And oftentimes, it ends up as it does in this next GIF.
Tennessee State brings seven pass rushers (including a linebacker on a slightly delayed blitz) while Eastern Illinois keeps just six players in.
Certainly, the quarterback can’t mess around. Especially since the blitzing linebacker is flying thorough the A-gap right at him.
Garoppolo needs to make a quick decision, but instead, he freezes and ducks.
By the time he gets out of his chair and makes a decision, it’s too late to scramble or throw. He has to take a sack. At the end of the day, it’s not a huge deal since throwing the ball away would have left the team to kick a field goal anyway.
And better the sack than an ill-conceived pass resulting in an interception.
However, Garoppolo has shown an ability to get rid of the ball quickly. There is no excuse for him to freeze, much less freeze, duck and cover. Not for even half a second.
Because if hesitating for just a moment got him hammered at the FCS level—not even the highest level of collegiate football—it’s going to be a real issue against pro defenses, who will scheme to take full advantage of it.
I still love what Garoppolo is capable of. He’ll take a hit to deliver the pass, has a smooth, compact delivery and is very clearly a charismatic teammate.
However, I am very concerned by the habits I’ve outline here. Waldman goes even deeper, so if you want to learn more, make sure you read his stuff.
Can Garoppolo start in Year 1?
Does this mean Garoppolo is going to be a bust? That he won’t even be capable of starting?
Not at all. Pocket presence is something that can be hard to teach (some would argue impossible, but that’s a different article), but if put into the right situation—a good line, some solid receivers and a good running game—Garoppolo could probably hold his own sooner than later.
However, I believe he will take some time to develop, and Garoppolo would be well-served take a year or so on the bench to sit in the film room, talk to the quarterbacks coach and the starter and to see what he can do to stop hearing the footsteps, and more importantly, stop freezing when he does.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.