What Jimmy Garoppolo's Inconsistent Debut Means for the Patriots' Future

Cian Fahey@CianafFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2014

New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo passes the ball during the second half of an NFL football preseason game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Md., Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Connor Radnovich)
Connor Radnovich/Associated Press

Jimmy Garoppolo's selection in the second round of the NFL draft hasn't been sold as a potential threat to Ryan Mallett's position as the New England Patriots' primary backup.

Instead, the annual tradition of overblowing Mallett's value to other teams and presuming that a trade is imminent has begun. The preseason Week 1 game against Washington, a game in which starter Tom Brady didn't play, was sold by many sections of the media as a showcase for a potential Mallett trade.

That trade now seems as unlikely as ever, because Mallett failed to seize his opportunity.

Mallett hasn't really impressed during his time on the field in the NFL. He is entering his fourth season with four regular-season pass attempts and one interception over that time. His preseason performances haven't been horrible, but they've also never suggested that he should be an NFL starter.

It's very possible that the media is simply overselling Mallett because of who he plays for and because of his physical presence.

That fascination with the veteran has allowed the rookie to quietly go about his job during the offseason. Outside of Boston, little fanfare has surrounded the Garoppolo selection in spite of his status as the favorite to replace Brady as the team's starter when he eventually retires.

Even if Mallett is traded or if Garoppolo usurps his position on the depth chart, an injury to Brady will likely be the rookie's only route to the field during the regular season. With that in mind, now is the time to watch and evaluate the 22-year-old's potential moving forward.

Against Washington last week, he endured an inconsistent display.

Garoppolo begun the second half after Mallett completed an unimpressive first-half outing. He was facing lesser competition, but he was also playing with less talent than his peer. Nerves may have been affecting him on his very first play of the game, but regardless of the reason it was still a very unimpressive start.

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On first viewing, this play may look like a simple drop by the receiver, but that wasn't the case.

Throwing on the move isn't something every quarterback in the NFL can execute effectively. It's not about athleticism as much as it is about footwork. Just like throwing the ball from a stationary position, effectively throwing the ball on the move requires an established, balanced base.

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As we can see here, Garoppolo never sets his feet and establishes a base to throw from. He simply relies on his arm strength and actually leaves his feet completely as he releases the ball down the field. This causes the ball to careen inside of the receiver who is running across the field.

Not only does the receiver need to reverse his momentum to reach back for the ball, but he also has to drop his hands as the ball is thrown too low. This "drop" from the receiver isn't really a drop at all. He should have been given an easy reception, but Garoppolo couldn't make a relatively simple throw.

One of the Garoppolo's selling points during the draft process was his quick release.

A quick release can be very valuable in the NFL because it allows the quarterback to negate some of the pass rush on his own. He doesn't need his offensive line to be perfect on every play if the ball is leaving his hand quickly.

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This play from Matt Ryan last week is a perfect example of a quarterback using his quick release to account for pressure that the offensive line couldn't pick up.

Having the ability to get rid of the ball quickly on its own isn't enough to negate pressure. You also need to be quick to adjust in the pocket and/or be able to consistently throw the ball with anticipation. While Garoppolo has the quick release, he didn't show off these aspects of his play against Washington.

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On this play, Garoppolo's offensive line doesn't give him time in the pocket. He has an opportunity to adjust and slide to his left because there is effective blocking in that area of the field, but his feet move too slow to set up a pass attempt. Garoppolo doesn't remain in a position to throw the ball throughout the play, instead turning sideways to set up an uncomfortable throwing angle.

While this was a tough play to make, Garoppolo's quick release would have allowed him to find the receiver running underneath if his footwork had been quicker and more precise earlier in the route.

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Garoppolo shows off decent athleticism and elusiveness on this play to eventually give his receiver a chance to make a play in the end zone. However, he missed an opportunity to score an easier touchdown within the design of the offense.


The rookie quarterback should be letting the ball go at this point of the play. Leading his receiver, No. 84, to the open space on his post route. It may not be an easy throw, but it's a throw a quarterback with good arm strength and accuracy would expect to make.

Garoppolo simply doesn't anticipate the opportunity.

Those were the notable negatives for Garoppolo. Areas where he's experiencing development and he's comfortable at this level should allow him to continue improving over the coming years. The striking positives of his play came in one area: his ability to throw the ball down the field.

Mallett is partly celebrated because he is a big, strong quarterback. Garoppolo is smaller, but with just two throws in this game, he showed off better deep accuracy than his teammate ever has in a Patriots jersey.

The first throw falls incomplete, but the defender is penalized for pass interference. This throw is impressive for a number of reasons.

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The first thing that stands out is how comfortably Garoppolo pushed the ball down the field. He didn't need to take a huge step into the throw to put his body weight behind it. He simply controlled it and stayed true to his mechanics.

This control aided him in controlling the placement and trajectory of the ball. Too often deep passes are either thrown too high or lose velocity at the end. It makes it harder for the receiver to catch the ball. This throw carried along a perfect trajectory and landed firmly, but not too firmly, to help the receiver catch the ball.

A better receiver likely would have.

Furthermore, the placement of the pass is very important. Garoppolo not only leads the receiver upfield and toward the end zone, he also places the ball infield to completely take the defensive back out of the play. The defensive back can't go straight through the back of the receiver, so Garropolo has thrown a perfect pass.

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On this play, the throw is impressive again as he leads the receiver down the sideline and throws a very catchable football. However, more impressive than that is what the young quarterback does before the snap.

Washington appears to have a deep safety patrolling the middle of the field. Before taking his shot down the right sideline, Garoppolo looks to his left and holds his gaze for a moment. This drags the safety toward the other side of the field.

As the ball arrives to the receiver, the safety is nowhere near the play to disrupt the catch. Even if he hadn't moved the safety, the placement of the ball, outside shoulder and upfield, would likely have allowed the receiver to catch it regardless.

These two throws, and the different aspects of the plays as a whole, tell us that Garoppolo has the potential to develop into an NFL-caliber player. Quality of competition and sample size limit what we can really learn about him, though.

At this time of the year, there is a tendency for onlookers to go to one of two extremes. Either everything is irrelevant, or everything is more important than it actually is.

The reality is we need to find a happy medium where we can understand the context of what we are watching on the field. Garoppolo can't prove that he is ready to start in the NFL over the next four weeks. He can only prove that he has the potential to one day develop into a starter.

Considering his inconsistency in camp to this point, as outlined by Christopher Price of WEEI 93.7 FM discussing a recent practice session, the Patriots should be happy overall when it comes to Garoppolo's debut in the preseason.