The Hype Is Real: Jimmy Garoppolo Worth the Price of a 1st-Round Draft Pick

Mike TanierNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 14, 2017

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 23: Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the New England Patriots looks on from the field before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on October 23, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Patriots defeated the Steelers 27-16. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Before falling head over heels for Jimmy Garoppolo as your favorite team's savior, listen to the lovelorn wisdom learned from decades of quarterback heartbreaks. 

 Don't lose your heart to a quarterback who only played a couple of good games. Garoppolo has attempted 94 passes in three seasons. That's the quarterback evaluation equivalent of three emails and a lunch date. Go gaga over a strong arm and a handful of big wins and you might hitch your future to Brock Osweiler. Or Matt Flynn. Or Rob Johnson. Or Scott Mitchell. Or countless others.

 Don't let the Patriots snooker you. They just want to sweet-talk you out of your draft picks. They offer shiny trinkets that look great inside their system but often fall apart when you take them home.

Trading for one of Tom Brady's backups offers the worst of both worlds. Yet every few years, we play matchmaker between Brady Buddies and desperate teams, estimating how many high draft picks would make a worthy dowry.

Some teams even took the plunge. The results are the stuff of a decade's worth of advice columns. Don't lose your heart to Matt Cassel. Don't get carried away about Brian Hoyer. Why buy the Ryan Mallett when you can get the Tom Savage for free?

So here we are, watching the Browns and other teams ogle Garoppolo from across the NFL's seediest singles joint, the Offseason Trade Rumor.

This time, it's different.

This time, the quarterback is worth it.

This time, the match actually makes sense.

Garoppolo was a legitimate prospect three years ago, not some Patriots creation like Cassel or Hoyer, or an arm-with-issues like Mallett. Garoppolo climbed the Shrine Game/Senior Bowl ladder after shining at Eastern Illinois, impressing at every stop with his quick release, strong arm, athleticism and between-the-ears attributes.

G.M. Andrews/Associated Press

So Garoppolo's merits as an NFL starter don't rest on circular Patriots reasoning. You know how that goes: He's good because the Patriots made him good! He absorbed greatness from Tom Brady via osmosis! He'll bring Patriots-ness to our lowly locker room!

Garoppolo's 2016 game film, scant though it is, suggests the Patriots truly spent three years honing his tools. "He learned from great coaches" is a lousy argument when it's the only argument, but Garoppolo answered just about every question a young quarterback can answer in a game-and-a-half.

His 63 attempts this past season took place in high-leverage situations. Garoppolo wasn't beating up on last-place teams or padding his stats in the fourth quarters of blowouts. He faced a pair of good defenses, one on national television, for a Super Bowl contender. So check the box next to "handles pressure well."

New England trailed in the fourth quarter of the season opener after the Cardinals scored a touchdown with 9:46 remaining. Garoppolo went 5-of-7 for 62 yards on the ensuing drive to set up a field goal that gave the Patriots a lead, making several plays under duress against the Cardinals pass rush. While a smart offensive coordinator can customize a game plan to "hide" a limited quarterback in many situations, trailing a good opponent in the fourth quarter is not one of those situations.

On third downs, Garoppolo was exceptional in his two starts: 14-of-19 for 195 yards, two touchdowns and 12 first downs. On third down and longer than seven, he was 9-of-12 with a touchdown and seven first downs.

Again, a so-so prospect with something to hide would be throwing swing passes or handing off on many of those 3rd-and-longs. The Patriots trusted Garoppolo to fire the ball past the sticks, and he delivered.

Load the game film, and Garoppolo's performance becomes even more impressive. Garoppolo isn't just a guy whose numbers look good. He makes adjustments before the snap. He "holds the safety" with his eyes. He consistently finds his second or third receiving option. He resets his feet quickly when changing receiving targets. He steps up in the pocket to buy time.

This touchdown to Martellus Bennett from Week 2 sums it up. Garoppolo reads the defense, checks down from his first target, resets and snaps off a perfect throw, all in a third-down situation when a lesser prospect would be ordered to throw into the flat and settle for a field goal.

Yes, it's just one throw, but there are others like it, and there are much fewer overthrows or bad decisions on Garoppolo's brief resume. For two weeks, Garoppolo looked like a high-round quarterback prospect in the latter stages of his development process. There is a good chance that's precisely what he is.

Now, what would you offer for a quarterback like that? A second-round pick? Sure. And you'll date Jennifer Lawrence if she moves in next door and asks you to show her around the neighborhood.

The better question is: What would you have to offer a team that would happily keep its proven, low-cost (Garoppolo is due to make just over $1 million next season) backup on the payroll for one more year to get a quarterback like that?

The 12th overall pick, the second of the Browns' two first-round draft picks, would get the Patriots' attention.

The Browns are in a unique situation. Their roster is terrible, but they are teeming with extra draft picks. They possess the first pick in the draft, but there is no Andrew Luck, or even a Jameis Winston, in this year's class. They also have such a long history of half measures and bad decisions at quarterback that any move they make will look like the wrong move.

The Browns could use a pre-developed quarterback who is ready to assume a leadership role on a young offense. Garoppolo looks like a sound fit in Hue Jackson's system, which helped turn Andy Dalton into an efficient, reliable quarterback. And unlike the other quarterback-needy teams, the Browns can give the Patriots something they want—the Patriots haven't selected in the top half of the draft since 2008 and would welcome a crack at a blue-chip rookiewithout mortgaging their future at other positions. If they have to throw in some extra picks, the Browns have them to spare.

Imagine the Browns coming away from the draft with Myles Garrett and Garoppolo. Sounds much better than Garrett and whoever is left in the quarterback draft bin after the 49ers, Bears and whoever pick through it, doesn't it?

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the New England Patriots looks to pass the ball during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
Tim Bradbury/Getty Images

Yes, there's risk in placing too much stock in a few dozen NFL passes. Draft Mitch Trubisky or Deshaun Watson, though, and you place stock in zero NFL passes. And how much did those three minutes of meaningless action in Week 17 really tell us about Tony Romo's vertebrae? Acquiring a quarterback, like falling in love, is all about taking a big risk for a big reward.

The conventional wisdom we began with still holds true, most of the time. But sometimes, making the "safe" move—dipping into the rookie pool, signing a veteran to hold down the fort—only saves a team from criticism.

Garoppolo looks as much like The One as Trubisky, Watson or any other rookie, and he comes at roughly the same price. He provides many of the benefits of a veteran without the age or baggage.

The Browns and Patriots have each other's number. They bonded over Jamie Collins. Maybe they should get serious.

Don't be afraid to fall in love with the idea of Garoppolo as a franchise quarterback. Scary though it may be, it's important to keep both an open mind and an open heart.

    

Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference. Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.