With a four-game suspension hanging over the head of franchise quarterback Tom Brady, the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots will likely need the services of second-year backup Jimmy Garoppolo. Mark Schofield reviewed the tape and breaks down what traits he brings to the position.
Jimmy Garoppolo was selected in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft out of Eastern Illinois, where he was a four-year starter and the 2013 Walter Payton Award Winner. I reviewed his senior year film, as well as his limited NFL action, with an eye on the core traits scouts and coaches look for in quarterbacks. This trait-based approach is taught by Dan Hatman through his program The Scouting Academy. A former NFL front office member, Hatman and the other teachers ‒ including ESPN’s Louis Riddick and former GM Jerry Angelo (video link) ‒ bring years of scouting and player evaluation to students.
One of the first major traits that stands out when evaluating Garoppolo is the accuracy in his passes, particularly in the deep, vertical passing game. But he can make very accurate throws at all levels of the field. When looking at a quarterback’s accuracy, you want to see if he can put the football in a place where the receiver can not only secure the throw with ease ‒ but is left in a position to gain yardage after the reception.
We can start with intermediate accuracy, beginning with this play from Eastern Illinois’ 2013 contest against Northern Illinois. The Panthers have 21 personnel on the field, with Garoppolo in the pistol formation showing an offset-i formation in the backfield. The tight end splits wide to the left, with slot formation to the right. The Huskies have a 4-2-5 nickel in the game showing Cover 2 man underneath pre-snap:
Garoppolo hits his tight end on a weak-side slant on this play. What is interesting is the defense inverts the coverage to that side of the field. Just prior to the snap, the weak-side safety rolls to the line of scrimmage while the weak-side cornerback bails into a safety alignment. This puts the safety in a position to jump underneath the route – should Garoppolo throw this slant route early. But Garoppolo waits, and then places the pass perfectly:
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The QB waits for his target to clear the safety, and then puts the football on his TE in a perfect position and the receiver continues in stride all the way to the end zone. This play is also an example of how to attack Cover 2 ‒ inverted or not ‒ in the weak area between the two safeties.
In last season’s final preseason game against the New York Giants, Garoppolo begins under center with 12 personnel on the field. New York has a 4-2-5 nickel defense on the field showing Cover 3. Garoppolo hits TE Steve Maneri on a seam route here:
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After the play-fake, the QB executes a solid three-step drop, and then hits his tight end right between the numbers. The replay shows how precise the pass is:
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The underneath zone defender is draped all over Maneri, but Garoppolo puts the football just in front of the TE, preventing the defender from making a play on the football.
Where Garoppolo excels is in placement on his deep throws, including vertical routes and deep cut patterns. This first example is from the second preseason game in 2014, against the Eagles. Garoppolo is in the shotgun with 20 personnel on the field. To his right Josh Boyce (#82) and Brandon LaFell (#19) are in slot formation, LaFell to the outside. The Philadelphia Eagles have a 3-3-5 nickel defense in the game with two linebackers showing blitz, and the defense shows Cover 1 in the secondary:
LaFell runs a deep out pattern. Watch how Garoppolo drops this throw in perfectly:
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This is also an example of his arm strength, which we will address in a bit. But this throw comes from the left hashmark to the right sideline. With Garoppolo releasing it from his own 30-yard line, and LaFell making the reception at the Eagles’ 37-yard line, you can see how the QB is able to locate ‒ and drive ‒ throws of 20+ yards. This is a solid benchmark for pro quarterbacks.
Returning to college for a bit, this next play is a vertical route that Garoppolo executes with precision. The Panthers have Garoppolo in the shotgun with 10 personnel on the field, and wide receiver Erik Lora (#8) starts the play in the backfield next to the QB. Northern Illinois has a 4-2-5 nickel in the game showing Cover 1:
Prior to the snap Lora motions out to the left, and a linebacker follows him. This is a mismatch that Garoppolo is quick to exploit:
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The linebacker tries ‒ and fails ‒ to get a jam on Lora, and the WR streaks down the sideline uncontested. Garoppolo hits him in stride and the Panthers put six easy points on the board. The QB also does a very good job of influencing the middle-of-the-field safety with his eyes, looking to his right before coming back to Lora. Gee, a mismatch on the outside against a linebacker in the vertical game ‒ is that something the Patriots like to do?
A final example of his accuracy in the vertical game, and the play that forced many Patriots fans to take notice, is this from last season’s first preseason game:
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Brian Tyms is split wide to the right, and faces Cover 3 with the CB in his face in press alignment. The WR beats the press, and Garoppolo drops in the pass perfectly.
This can be considered a fall-back trait, in that when all the other traits are stripped away, can the quarterback execute throws to every level of the field? With the speed and ability of defenders in the NFL, throwing windows are miniscule, and throws that hang in the air are destined to be broken up – or intercepted. Quarterbacks need the appropriate velocity as well as pure strength to deliver these throws. Thankfully for Patriots fans, this is another box that Garoppolo can check.
Having seen one example of his arm strength, here is another from the preseason game against the Giants. New England faces a 3rd and 8 on its own 22-yard line, and Garoppolo is in the shotgun with 20 personnel on the field. The Giants have a 4-2-5 nickel in the game and show Cover 2 Man Under in the secondary:
At the top of the screen, Aaron Dobson runs a deep out cut, and is able to beat the press coverage underneath and run away from the deep outside safety. Because of the narrow throwing window, this play requires a strong, hard throw ‒ and Garoppolo delivers:
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The throw arrives before the underneath CB can make a play on the ball, and before the safety can make a play on the receiver. Garoppolo makes the throw from his 15-yard line and Dobson makes the catch at the 40-yard line, making this a strong, hard throw of 25 yards.
Sometimes arm talent is evident on the shorter throws, and this touchdown pass against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4 is one example. Late in the blowout loss Garoppolo has the offense in the red zone, and is under center with 12 personnel on the field. Tim Wright and Rob Gronkowski are in slot formation to the right, with Gronkowski to the outside. Kansas City has its base 3-4 defense in the game and uses Cover 3 in the secondary. The offense runs a basic out/slant combination to the right with Gronkowski cutting inside on the slant:
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Garoppolo executes a perfect three-step drop, beginning his throw right on the third step. He drives this pass into a narrow throwing window, but the speed and accuracy of the throw put the TE in position to make the catch, and finish the play for a touchdown. Here the crucial element is pure velocity ‒ and the QB delivers.
While not an essential trait for a quarterback, coaches like to have a player who can extend plays with his feet, avoid sacks and make plays outside the pocket. Garoppolo is an upgrade in this category over Brady, as the second-year player is more athletic inside and outside the pocket. Here are some examples:
This first play is from the Northern Illinois game. On this 3rd and 9 the Panthers empty the backfield with 11 personnel, while the Huskies counter with a 4-2-5 nickel showing Cover 2 in the secondary:
At the snap, the defense runs a double-cross stunt that completely fools the right guard. As the defensive tackle cuts to the outside, the RG blocks him directly into the right tackle. This takes the entire right side of the line out of position ‒ and opens up a huge lane for the DE, who now has a free shot at Garoppolo:
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But the QB is able to slide deftly away from the DE ‒ shaking off the 15-yard personal foul face mask penalty in the process ‒ and race upfield and pick up decent yardage. Tack on the additional 15 yards for the personal foul, and the Panthers are in business in opposition territory.
The beauty of this play is that defenders break free all the time, blitzers sometimes get a free shot, so having a quarterback that can mask mistakes up front is a big bonus for an offense. This is likely the only area in which Garoppolo is an upgrade over Brady, but it comes with advantages.
Footwork in the pocket is an extension of athletic ability. This is an area where Brady does excel, as he is very capable at sliding away from pressure. But Garoppolo has shown this on film as well. Take this play from New England’s Week 17 game against the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots have 1st and 10 and Garoppolo is under center with 12 personnel on the field. New England runs one of its staples, a fake stretch play with the primary target being the receiver on the weak-side, who is LaFell on this play.
The Bills have their base 4-3 defense in the game with Cover 3 in the secondary. Watch as the QB executes the play fake, then climbs the pocket with ease before delivering a strike to LaFell for the first down:
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The end zone camera provides a great view of his footwork and athleticism as he climbs the pocket:
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With his athleticism and footwork, Garoppolo can be expected to extend plays, breaking the pocket when necessary to gain yardage with his feet. That might come in handy should Brady be suspended for the Week 2 matchup with Rex Ryan and the Bills.
The final core trait we will examine is decision-making, arguably the most important quality in a quarterback. Coaches and scouts want a QB who will take care of the football, make the right reads and keep the offense in a position to succeed. This is one area where Garoppolo needs improvement. At times he makes great decisions with the football, showing solid awareness for the game and the play as it develops. But not all the time.
First, take this play against Northern Illinois as an example of both sound decision-making and situational awareness. Garoppolo stands in the shotgun with 10 personnel, again with WR Erik Lora lined up in the backfield. The Huskies counter with a 4-2-5 nickel showing Cover 2.
Once more Lora goes in motion to the left setting up a slot formation with the tight end on the side and the WR outside. Only this time, the defense slides the cornerback with the WR. This tells Garoppolo two things: 1.) This is not man coverage and, 2.) He will not have the clear mismatch to the outside, like he did on the touchdown throw to Lora previously outlined. So what does Garoppolo do:
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The QB reads this perfectly, hitting the TE on a post/seam route working against the linebacker’s underneath zone coverage. This is great recognition and awareness from Garoppolo. Even though he and Lora were clicking on this night (Lora finished the game with 198 yards and three touchdowns), the QB makes the right decision here and the offense moves the chains.
What Not To Do
Staying with the NIU game, we now have an example of what not to do. The Panthers have Garoppolo in the shotgun on this 4th and 8 play in the second quarter, with 11 personnel on the field. The offense has trips to the right with the TE split wide on the left, while the defense counters with their 4-2-5 nickel using Cover 6 in the secondary.
On the trips side of the formation, the inside receiver runs a seam route while the middle and outside receivers run matching slant patterns. Both these receivers gain a step on their defender, and the middle receiver especially is open and in good position to secure a first down. On the other side of the field, the tight end runs a streak route.
Garoppolo tries to float in a pass to his TE on the streak route:
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The corner is able to make a play on the football for the interception, as the pass is slightly underthrown. But the free safety was breaking on the TE as well, making this a very difficult throw to execute. Given the situation ‒ and the two slant patterns breaking open ‒ this was a poor decision from the QB here.
The Patriots saw enough in Garoppolo to draft him in the second round in the 2014 draft, and to later trade away Ryan Mallett and entrench the rookie as the backup behind Brady. Because of the talent ‒ and traits ‒ outlined here we can understand their decision-making, and have an idea of what to expect when Garoppolo takes the field next. Whenever that may be.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
Footage courtesy of DraftBreakdowns.com and NFL GamePass.