The New England Patriots seem to finally have that oft-sought "successor" to Tom Brady in Jimmy Garoppolo.
Do not give it a roll of the eyes just yet—the 2014 No. 62 overall pick has already been hit with a promotion and has done nothing short of improve each time he takes the field under the watchful eye of one Bill Belichick.
Friday in Foxborough against Philadelphia, Garoppolo was a surprise entrant with the second team-offense, a moment best captured by NFL Network's Albert Breer:
Remember, Ryan Mallett was a third-round pick in 2011 and the original "successor" in the pipeline.
The latest ruse by the staff in New England with Mallett was a bit of trade bait a week ago against Washington with Brady on the sideline. There, Mallett fell flat on his face with a 5-of-12 effort for 55 yards.
To his credit, though, the Arkansas product did improve Friday with 92 yards and a touchdown, albeit against backups. But it is one of those situations where Mallett may now simply be too far behind to catch up.
Garoppolo has looked that good.
The former Eastern Illinois star made the most of his time in Washington with a 9-of-13 line for 157 yards and a score, yet spoke afterward to Mike Petraglia of WEEI.com about areas of improvement:
Tough. Losing like that is never fun, but it is a good experience for the first preseason game and I had fun out there. I did all right. There is a lot of stuff to improve on. It is a process. For any rookie quarterback, there is a lot to learn from and we will go watch the tape tomorrow and fix those things.
Friday's box score was sexier in some ways—six completions for 72 yards and a pair of touchdowns—but the more important takeaways were the clear improvements in smaller areas that normally give first-year players some trouble.
Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald now looks akin to something of a prophet after making such a proclamation earlier in the week:
Garoppolo stood tall in the pocket, made the right reads for most of the contest and drove the Patriots down the field to scores on each of his first two drives. The second was most impressive, though, as the rookie fit the ball into a tight window in the back of the end zone as Brandon LaFell was draped by a defender.
It was limited action, and yes, it is just the preseason, but a first-year player who shows this much improvement on a week-to-week basis is noteworthy. It matters little that the Patriots offense is quarterback-friendly, if Garoppolo has "it," then he does.
Belichick is infamous for wild depth-chart alterations during the preseason, but this one served a purpose. He would not have taken Garoppolo in the second round and given him somewhat of a trial by fire Friday if he did not have high hopes for him in the future.
As CSNNE.com's Tom E. Curran noted after the game, the competition with Mallet has always favored the rookie, who has done nothing short of cement his slot:
No matter what Ryan Mallet can do, he will never overtake Jimmy Garoppolo for the simple reason that Jimmy Garoppolo was a second round pick and he is now anointed. The anointing has now ended for Ryan Mallet. There is no ascension coming. He either makes the team this year [and] he’s gone in March, or he doesn’t make the team this year and he’s gone in about two weeks. It’s not a fair fight.
The backup quarterback situation in New England is multifaceted. Belichick surely wants to keep just two signal-callers on the roster in order to shore up depth at others areas such as defensive tackle.
If two is the magic number, the backup has to fulfill two requirements:
- He can win games as early as the 2014 season should Brady succumb to injury.
- He is a viable long-term option who shows enough ceiling to make the question of who replaces Brady down the line a thing of the past.
In both instances, it is Garoppolo more than Mallett who qualifies.
While the veteran has seemed to plateau under the immense expectations of being Brady's successor, Garoppolo has quietly gone about his job in a smooth—and quite effective—manner.
Sometimes preseason performances should not be thrown out the window. This is one of those times. So far, Garoppolo has responded. The best part, which the staff in Foxborough surely understands better than anyone, is we have yet to see him at his best.
Note: Preseason stats courtesy of NFL.com.