I don't think any rookie player is ready to come in and play in the National Football League at any position, certainly quarterback is in that. Every player that comes into this league has a lot to learn, a lot to improve on and has to learn a new system and all the things that we see at this level. It's the same game, but it's a different game. They all have a lot to learn. We try to teach it to them the best we can.
The above is a quote from Bill Belichick's post-draft presser on Day 2 regarding grooming quarterback prospects.
Keep that in mind as we move forward. I broke down four of new quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's games to determine a) what he can and cannot do; and b) where he can and cannot improve.
Games courtesy of Draft Breakdown (Northern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee State, Towson)
I did not look to see his stats. I was not evaluating the level of his competition, although I will factor that into my analysis of his performances. What I saw was a prospect who flashes in many facets, yet struggled in some key areas. If he cannot overcome his flaws, he will not be successful. If he can continue to grow, he will be a star.
Garoppolo is a former linebacker. He wasn't a quarterback until his junior year of high school and his brings that linebacker mentality to the position. He isn't afraid of contact when he's on the run and he knows how to command his teammates on the field. He's a former baseball player and it shows in his throwing motion and velocity.
His delivery is similar to Phillip Rivers, in that it's only three-quarters delivery, as opposed to your standard and prototypical over the shoulder throwing motion.
His release is similar to Colin Kaepernick, another former baseball player, where his release snaps out of his hand and zips to his target. The aforementioned velocity is laser-like in transition, but lacks the (unnecessary) power of Ryan Mallett.
Additionally, he sometimes throws the ball with just his arm, as opposed to his full body. This shotput-esque throw can reach the target, but it reduces the touch on the throw and is an example of a bad habit he has when throwing under duress.
Both of these points should lead to more batted passes. The lower point of delivery means that opposing players don't have to reach as high, while the straight-line/no-arc throws mean that the ball will have to go by the defenders, not over them. Garoppolo says that he's open to coaching changes, even though throwing styles differ from quarterback to quarterback.
He has a howitzer. He throws extremely quickly and extremely accurately, although he needs to follow through with his throwing motion more frequently in order to establish positive habits and to provide better touch on the ball on certain throws.
Garoppolo shines in a similar way as Tom Brady; in the short game and in between the hashmarks. He will take advantage of the open receiver out of the snap, eating up off-coverage, and putting the ball in the receiver's hands before the defender can react.
Specifically in the middle of the field, Garoppolo will hit the receiver's hands almost every time and, on intermediate throws, hit the receiver in stride and en route to daylight. He has solid command of his throws and will make similar passes that Brady will- and passes that other quarterbacks might shy away from.
Brady will always hit his slot receivers on curls at the sticks against zone coverage, even if there is a linebacker on the inside, a cornerback on the outside, and a safety on the deep side. This moves the chains and progresses the drive. Garoppolo makes these same throws and shows skills that translate well into the Patriots' offense.
What I like about Garoppolo on the short throws is that he's willing to move off of his initial read if they're blanketed by coverage. On slip screens, he'll hold the ball until the last possible second to draw all the defenders away from the receiver. Garoppolo will throw the ball away instead of taking a negative play, if possible. Most would say that his short and inside game is his strength, and the tape just reinforces this notion.
Deep passes are a different concern. Here's exhibit A of a beautiful throw:
And here's exhibit B of a terrible throw:
The difference is how he handles the pressure. When he feel comfortable and can step into the pocket, he can make every throw at every point on the field. If there's any pressure, though, he shows his inexperience as he reverts to poor habits and throws off his back foot.
On the plus side, he's mobile enough where he can buy time in order for his receivers to break into the open field and he's accurate enough of an athlete to hit them in those opportunities. He'll even direct the receivers away from the safety coverage with both his pass and by physically pointing at where he wants to throw.
But all of that is for null unless he can learn to improve his habits of stepping in to every throw and following through with his passing motions every throw. Additionally, this is why the side-arm throwing motion is so difficult: Garoppolo has different motions for different throws. He approaches a standard over-the-shoulder throw on deeper passes and reverts to his sidearm throw when he feels rushed. If he can come to terms with a standard throwing motion, it will help him reduce errors on the field.
Another area where Garoppolo tries to emulate Brady is on his sideline throws. He tries to place the ball where only his receivers can catch them, while showing enough strength to hit his targets in front of coverage.
Where Garoppolo really thrives is in the red zone, where his corner fade pass is tremendous. He can drop it anywhere the defender is not- if he's throwing to his right. When he throws to his left, he's clearly less polished and will either throw closer to the defender, or overcompensate and throw it into the sidelines.
Still, he shows that he has the tools to develop into a complete quarterback with regards to attacking defenses on all levels of the field.
Additionally, he provides enough mobility as a runner to force defenses to keep an eye on the pocket at all times. While he's not the same runner as Cam Newton or Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers or Robert Griffin III, he's a viable threat like Alex Smith or Matt Cassel, where he could pick up 15 or 20 yards per game. Additionally, he used his mobility to buy time outside of the pocket for his receivers at least three or four times per game.
While I think Garoppolo's throwing motion can and will eventually be tinkered with, his ability to become an NFL starter hinges upon his reaction to pressure.
He'll double clutch and dance around the pocket if he feels outside pressure. He'll drift to the left until he assumes what Matt Waldman calls the "Standing Fetal Position." He buckles under his perceived pressure and goes down.
Or, alternatively, if he doesn't go down for a sack, he'll try and throw the ball and revert to his poor habits with a side arm and by throwing off his back foot. I'll be honest, there were some pieces that reminded me of Mark Sanchez backpedaling into his throws while under pressure.
And while he has no problem changing his reads, if his initial read isn't blanketed, he will stare him down through the entire pass attempt. Add in poor passing technique and telegraphing the throw location and that's a recipe for disaster in the NFL.
My final thoughts? There's a lot to like about Garoppolo with regards to his tools and his fit into the Patriots offense. I stand by my initial analysis that there's no quarterback that would fit as seamlessly into the Patriots current offensive package as Garoppolo will. However, the concerns regarding his ability to handle pressure and his lack of polish in his throwing technique are more than just valid; they're likely reasons for him not to succeed.
So let Garoppolo sit on the bench. Have him improve his throwing habits so he feels comfortable with good technique even under duress on the field. If Brady can impart anything on Garoppolo, it will be how to improve his pocket presence with regards to feeling pressure and not panicking.
If Garoppolo can improve the consistency of his throwing technique and improve his reaction to pressure, then he will be a star and will thrive in the Patriots' offense. If he can't, then we all have to hope that Brady is able to play at an elite level well into his forties.