Is Jimmy Garoppolo the Answer?

By George Haraktsis

The New England Patriots are sitting pretty with the 62nd pick in this year’s draft , and they’re almost up. The buzz around the league is that the Patriots are in the market for prospects who could come in and contribute immediately. Tom Brady — still elite — is showing no signs of slowing down but his window for another championship is getting tighter.

Willie McGinest steps up to the podium, nods to the crowd and calmly makes the pick.

“Jimmy Garoppolo.”

WHO?!?! The guy out of Eastern Illinois? The guy who broke all of Tony Romo’s record’s there? Wait, the Quarterback?!? Yeah, that guy. The quarterback.

The Patriots defied all logic and spent an important and valuable 2nd round draft pick on a player who had no shot at contributing right away. Flash forward to today, Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T, Bill Belichick is still Bill Belichick, and the patriots have two new Super Bowls to add to their collection. Oh yeah and that second round pick? After being most sought after trade piece of the 2017 NFL off-season with some experts saying he could have gone for as much as two 1st rounders, was shipped to the San Francisco 49ers for a second round pick in the 2018 draft. Was this too much or too little guy for who has only started in two NFL games and has a meager 93 passes thrown in the NFL?

WHY JIMMY?

It can’t only be for his great hair and pearly white smile. I mean the guy is as handsome as the day is long, but he must be good…right?

Jimmy has two NFL starts under his belt (all of which came in the 2016 season) in his three year career. In those two starts he threw for 502 yards, with 4 touchdowns, no interceptions and two turnovers. With a completion percentage of 70.95% and a QB rating of 120.75. Not bad right?

Not bad at all, but it is just TWO games. The 49ers did not base their entire evaluation of a player on his statistics in just two games, right?? That would be illogical.

BUT

What if they did?

QUICK RELEASE

If you’ve ever watched a game that JG10 was starting, whether preseason or regular, one of the first things you notice is that the kid can get that ball out fast. Coming out of college Jimmy was heralded as having one of the quickest releases since NFL QB legend, Dan Marino. In a system like Shanahan’s that uses aspects of the quick hitting West Coast, a Quarterback with a quick release is necessary. Let’s take a closer look:

We can see here, that Jimmy is able to get the ball out of his hands in under 2 seconds! (“Leaguewide, quarterbacks took 2.48 seconds to get rid of the ball in 2015”-Sheil Kapadia, ESPN ). With the blitz coming, Jimmy had to be quick and he delivered.

Almost identical play calls and throws here but with the wrinkle of play action. Jimmy fakes the hand-off while keeping his eyes squarely down field and quickly throws a strike to Edelman for a first down. Look at those mechanics! Absolutely zero hitch in his release and it’s out in no time. In a league where pass rushers are multiplying and only getting faster every year, a quick release is an absolute must.

ESCAPE ARTIST

While I’m not willing to dub our young signal caller Houdini just yet, it does seem that he has the propensity to escape what some would consider inescapable situations. On a young 49ers team, with a rebuilding offensive line, and a division full of great pass rushers a mobile quarterback seems like a must.

It‘s never a good thing when a running back blows his blocking assignment. Especially when the man blitzing is coming right up the middle. Most QBs would cover the ball up and just drop to the ground. Jimmy sees a full speed Kiko Alonso coming at him, sheds the tackle, makes the completion, and takes the hit. And yes I know it was for a loss but this shows that Jimmy gives you a chance every single play, even if it means taking a big hit. Eventually those elongated plays will turn into something for the Red and Gold.

That’s more like it. On 3rd and 9 Jimmy evades two defenders, rolls out to the right, and throws a laser to Malcolm Mitchell for a first down. All while on the run! While this particular play did lead to a shoulder injury that ended Jimmy’s year as a starter in New England, it brought a couple of things to light. One, Jimmy definitely needs to start protecting his body on these broken plays. He is now the franchise signal caller in the Bay. No QB, no matter how good can have any effect on the game if they’re on the IR. Two, he has the ability and desire to keep plays going far longer than they should be. While this is not a must for a great quarterback, it sure does help. Just ask Russell Wilson.

WINDOWS JG

To make it in a Kyle Shanahan offense a quarterback must be able to make those “elite” or difficult throws pundits are always talking about. Not only that, but one must recognize when those throws are necessary. They’ve got to be able to fit a ball in those tiny windows all while reading a defense and reacting. Those corner fades, and sideline darts that are so common in a Shanahan are what separate the good from the great. So which is he?

The window for passes in the NFL is much much smaller than that of college as you can see in our first clip. Not only does Jimmy step up into the blitzer (something he’ll be doing behind the sub-par 49ers o-line for the next few years), he does so while unleashing a dart to Danny Amendola right in stride. This pass just slips by the defender’s fingers and goes for a first down. Not too shabby.

This throw is perfect. Jimmy sets his feet, steps into the throw and fast lobs it flawlessly over two Dolphins defenders for a touchdown. Oh and did I mention it was 3rd and 9? That’s some poise. Granted, Martellus ran a great route and got some great separation there, but there was still a lot of room for error on this throw. Just a little more to the left or right? Probably intercepted or batted. A smidge lower or higher? A batted ball or it’s out of play. Jimmy had to be near perfect on this throw, and he was. You better bet the John Lynch was thinking of this throw when he traded for Jimmy.

Awareness and Recognition

The least talked about characteristics when it comes to quarterbacks. That’s because they’re not something you can quantifiably measure. Sadly, real life is not Madden and you cannot see a quarterbacks “awareness rating” with the press of a button. But what we can do is watch film and hope to identify a players elite recognition, or lack thereof. These two seemingly undefinable traits might actually be the most important aspects of being a quarterback. Because in the game of football it doesn’t matter how far or fast you can throw a ball, if you don’t know where it should be going. And in a complex offense like the one Shanahan ran in Atlanta, where there are multiple reads every play, you better know where that ball should be going.

Right off the bat Jimmy recognizes that the Cardinals are in a zone defense. He scans over to his second read, Chris Hogan, and quickly realizes that there is no safety over the top and the cornerback is well behind the receiver. He proceeds to deliver a beautiful ball right down the sideline for an easy touchdown. In a matter of milliseconds he is able to identify the scheme, situation, and cornerback & safety’s positioning and take immediate advantage of it. Pretty aware if you ask me.

Always keeping your eyes down field, MAJOR KEY. A common attribute most aware quarterback’s share is their ability, no matter the situation, to keep their eyes down field the entire time. If their gaze is averted it can be very hard to readjust, leading to turnovers and missed opportunities. On this particular play Jimmy is pressured almost instantly, but he doesn’t panic. He steps up in the pocket, avoids the pass rush, and finds an open Amendola for a touchdown. But what makes the play so special is Jimmy’s eyes -always looking downfield. He even runs into a defender as he throws the ball but never averts his gaze. Jimmy is able to recognize his surroundings and to capitalize on them. Not every quarterback can do that.

WHY DIDN’T TEAMS WANT JIMMY?

TWO STARTS. I REPEAT, TWO PROFESSIONAL STARTS. One against the Dolphins where he had to leave late in the 2nd quarter due to a shoulder injury. And another against the Cardinals that doesn’t wow you in the box score. So we’ll call that one and half games for the “Pride of Eastern Illinois”. That’s just not enough of a sample size to make a definitive decision on the true ability of any player. Any quarterback can put together a great two game stretch, and then fizzle out almost immediately. So we just don’t know. And that’s what it all boils down to when we discuss Jimmy — no one knows. Which makes the risk that John Lynch and company took on Jimmy that much more interesting. They may think they not what they have in the young leader, but do they really know?

What we do know is that no one is perfect and that still holds true for our boy Jimmy. So let’s see what things might have given scouts and evaluators some cause for pause.

The Deep Ball

The best play in all of football. The deep ball allows teams to stretch and open up the field. It may be the most fun play but it is also one of the most difficult. It can win games and it can almost most certainly lose them. This throw requires perfect timing, awareness, and a good arm to complete. Without these three things coming together for you, there is no deep ball, and in an offense under Shanahan the QB needs to be able to take those shots. Let’s see if Jimmy’s is up to par.

You’ve got to make this play here, no excuses. When you’re a starting quarterback in this league and your wide receiver has two steps on the closest person to him, you make that throw. So what went wrong here? The ball definitely has enough distance here. It actually has too much — so arm strength isn’t the issue. Jimmy identifies that the player is wide fucking open and that he should make the throw as well — so it’s not awareness. It’s most definitely his timing. Jimmy can’t seem to get on the same page with the receiver here. The ball seems to get there a stride and a half too early and the receiver doesn’t even have a chance to make a play. Not great.

Here we see no problem with Jimmy’s arm strength (I think he has that part down.) But his timing and awareness leave some pause for concern. Again we see that Jimmy still can’t get that timing with his receivers down. But should he even be attempting this throw? The cornerback is practically blanketing Amendola, leaving no room for a play to be made. If Jimmy’s timing is on point here I’m still not sure the ball is caught — he could be throwing into a turnover. So in that case I would say this throw is definitely the wrong choice. C’mon Jim.

Not again Jimmy! A wide open receiver is overthrown on what would be a guaranteed first if it’s caught. This can’t happen on third down. An elite quarterback needs to make that throw. The issue again, is you guessed it, timing. Jimmy can’t seem to get it down. Without his timing and awareness coming together, Jimmy will not be able to get his deep ball down. And for that reason Jimmy will have to work on it if he ever wants to take the next step. Will Jimmy be able to develop the timing that is lacking here with his new receivers in San Francisco?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.

Life is all about the decisions you make and consequently so is playing the quarterback position. The most important aspects, poise and decision making, can make or break a quarterback’s career. Does Jimmy have both?

Not a huge fan of Jimmy’s decision on this play. A quarterback should know where another team’s best defensive player is at all times. Especially when they’re 6’8″ and 300 pounds. Jimmy can’t throw this ball right where Calais can get it, he should know better than that. In a new division with elite defenders all around him, Jimmy has to be more mindful. Mind you, he does complete this pass to himself for a gain, but I can assure you more times than not that ball will be intercepted or swatted to the ground. So let’s stick to throwing and not catching, huh Jim?

The dreaded fumble. Bill Belichicks sworn enemy. Something tells me Jimmy got an earful after this play from the hoodie, but I digress. We have seen JG10 extend plays just like this and be able to turn those plays into first downs. Not here, though. Jimmy needs to learn when it’s time to improvise and when it’s time to just cut your losses. It’s not always the worst thing in the world to punt. When the pocket collapses like that, you have to drop to the ground and make sure that ball is not coming out. Hopefully over time he develops a better “pocket feel”, but for now it’s a work in progress.

While I don’t think Jimmy is a bad decision maker by any means, he does have to step it up if he’s going to make it in this league. Shanahan will not tolerate poor decisions for too long. Turnovers and poor choices does not make for a long career long in the NFL, unless your name is Jay Cutler.

The Verdict?

It has been mentioned for years by past players, coordinators, and those close to the Patriots organization that the offense the team deploys is no joke. Many players have been cut because they couldn’t “grasp” the offense quick enough. Everyone on the offense from the wide receivers to the O-line have some of the toughest jobs in the league every single play. Why is this offense so tough? Responsibility. Wide receivers have the possibility to run a myriad of routes on one play based on the defense, quarter, etc. That goes for the linemen as well, who have to adjust on the fly as well. Those players fortunately only have to worry about themselves, the QB isn’t so lucky.

The quarterback has to know where every single player is going to be; on that play; in a split second. Add in the fact that these players have tons of options for their assignments every play depending on the defensive look before and after the play. Sounds fun, right? Luckily for the Patriots, they have Tom Brady who has a savant-like understanding of this ever growing offense. But what does this all say about Jimmy G? He may not have a Tom Brady-level mastery of the offense, but he sure as hell gets it. He sat behind and learned from one of the most meticulous, hardworking, and downright obsessive QBs of all time. He picked up good habits, and was taught how to carry himself as a professional. His time spent with the GOAT cannot go unnoticed. All of this will surely help him pick up the new offensive system that he’s in. It might not be this year, but a full off-season under Kyle may just get him there.

And while we have clearly seen that Jimmy has his deficiencies, I believe these are very correctable issues that he can overcome when he’s allowed some time as the starter. While I can’t say with any confidence that Jimmy will be an elite quarterback in this league, I do believe he’s a damn good player and can be a starter for this team for a very long time. The positives are far too abundant to go unnoticed. And while this is still a risk by the 49ers brass because we’re not exactly sure if he is injury-prone and we haven’t seen him play in enough games, I think a team who had no real plan at QB for the future would be dumb not to take a shot on a relatively ”cheap” young player.

You may ask “Why didn’t the 49ers just wait to draft a QB with one of their top picks next year?”. Well first off, Lynch and company may not like the young signal callers in this draft. Plus, the biggest advantage that Jimmy has on these rookie QBs is that he actually does have NFL film out there, albeit not a lot. So if I was the 49ers and I was in a spot to get a top 3 pick and I needed one of the top guys left at the position (e.g. Rosen or Darnold), I would take a step back and say “is this guy really better than Jimmy Garoppolo”. If not then, then why the hell would I draft him and not just trade for Jimmy?