The New England Patriots raised eyebrows with their plethora of pre-draft quarterback visits. While the Pats did not select any of the projected first-rounders they scouted, the second-round selection of Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo qualifies as one of the draft's biggest surprises.
Adding Garoppolo appears to have numerous ripple effects on both the present and future of the Patriots. Let's examine the ramifications of this unexpected Day 2 pick.
Patriots fans may be quick to dismiss the FCS product, but Garoppolo comes with a tool kit befitting of a power conference talent. His best traits are his consistent repeatable mechanics and precocious anticipation ability. Combined with a lightning-quick release, he has the ability to catch a defense off guard in an up-tempo system.
Moreover, Garoppolo comes with all the intangibles the Patriots desire in their quarterbacks, as he is both an excellent leader and tough enough to take punishment in the pocket. With above-average athleticism for in-pocket mobility, he could turn into an excellent pocket passer with better anticipation of pressure (more on that later).
Most importantly, Garoppolo can make all the throws, with especially good accuracy on intermediate passes. According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, one anonymous scout labeled Garoppolo's fade passes "the best [he's] ever seen." Garoppolo can subsequently be lethal in the red zone, and his outside-the-numbers passing ability opens up the playbook for New England.
In the short-term Garoppolo provides a solution to Ryan Mallett's impending free agency following the 2014 season. Trade rumors have swirled around Mallett in recent days, and with Garoppolo clearly on board for the long haul, the Pats might want to swap Mallett for some more picks:
This deep draft has pushed some positions of need (particularly offensive line and defensive line) down the board. New England currently has just three picks between the third and fifth rounds, so if Mallett nets them an extra pick or two immediately, the Pats could make up for the short-term hit they suffer from drafting someone who is unlikely to see the field in 2014.
Of course, Garoppolo is no sure long-term solution. Tom Brady's contract expires following the 2017 season, meaning the Patriots will have three years to groom a raw but talented potential successor.
Garoppolo appears to have the throwing tool kit the Patriots seek out. Nevertheless, his selection was extremely divisive even among the most plugged-in football analysts:
For one, Garoppolo (6'2", 226 lbs) is a bit below the typical size the Patriots opt for in their quarterbacks. Moreover, per NFL.com, he possesses 9 1/4" hands, well below average for the position. That could theoretically create some problems in inclement New England winters.
More concerning, however, is Garoppolo's lack of pocket polish. Football Outsiders' Matt Waldman offers a terrific breakdown of Garoppolo's defects in his scouting blog. Waldman is one of the most insightful skill position scouts around, and perhaps ominously, he severely docks Garoppolo based on his lack of nuance:
Pace and manipulation are excellent tools for an NFL quarterback, but even what Peyton Manning does is often predictable. The difference is that a lot of teams lack the total defense to stop him. Garoppolo is not Peyton Manning and he’s not facing a defense the caliber of the Seattle Seahawks.
Is it impossible for Garappolo to address his pocket presence? Of course not. Have I ever seen it when the issues are this dramatic? Not in recent memory.
Of course, Garoppolo will have more time than any other quarterback prospect in this class to address his issues. Coming from a largely one-read shotgun offense, he will need to adjust to playing under center and making more sophisticated reads in New England's option-heavy passing game.
In the meantime, Garoppolo does not offer any immediate help to a team with clear Super Bowl aspirations. The Patriots are deep enough to afford a luxury pick, but with a plethora of starting-caliber prospects along both lines, the timing of this selection was questionable.
It's never poor sense to shore up the long-term outlook at the quarterback position. It will be years before we know whether or not Garoppolo represents that solution, but New England clearly believes it has taken a reliable insurance policy for the 36-year-old Brady.
In truth, the Patriots can contend for the Super Bowl with their current core as constituted. Yes, there are obvious areas where injuries could leave them vulnerable and weak spots that other contenders could exploit. Make no mistake, Garoppolo does nothing to improve New England's immediate championship hopes, a surely frustrating reality for many fans.
Nonetheless, it's impossible to reasonably judge this selection until the post-Brady era. If Garoppolo is merely a backup his entire Patriots career, the second-round price will be poor value. But if he turns into a reliable starter after 2017, then this will have been a tremendous steal. Such a surprising pick often elicits snap reactions, but it will be years before we can even begin to evaluate this selection.