I like to evaluate college prospects, and I'd like to think that I'm better than a coin flip at deciding whether or not a player will have success in the NFL. I also have to acknowledge that there are many, many people out there who have a much better idea than I do and that everyone should take the time to read and evaluate what those people say. Anything to make us smarter, right?
One of those people is Darren Page, a phenomenal scout over at DetroitLionsDraft.com (sister site to our NEPatriotsDraft.com), and I highly recommend you follow him on Twitter.
The piece I want to highlight is his evaluation on quarterbacks and their accuracy. Page charted throws from eighteen quarterbacks to give us a better picture of where they make their throws and how often they complete them. This breakdown is much more informative than looking at raw completion percentages because it provides some context for the results.
In a similar sense, we can use ProFootballFocus.com's stats on Tom Brady to compare and contextualize. For example, we can see that over the past two seasons, Brady has completed 73.3% of his passes between 0-9 yards down the field- and that throws of that distance make up 54.7% of his pass attempts. We know that Brady throws inside 56.8% of the time, compared to 43.2% to the sidelines. And we can use all of this information to address my claim that Jimmy Garoppolo is the best fit quarterback for the Patriots' offense.
My first instinct was to use Page's numbers to compare the player's passing charts to Brady's over the past two seasons. It was fairly simple; I just added up the differences between the percentage of Brady's throws over a certain distance to that of a prospect.
For example, Ball State's Keith Wenning threw 9% of his throws behind the line of scrimmage, 54% between 0-9, 24% between 10-19, and 13% 20+ yards down the field. Compare those to Brady's make-up of 11%, 55%, 21%, and 13% and we determine that Wenning's passes are roughly 6% different than Brady's; as interpretation, that means that Wenning's throws in college were extremely similar to the make-up that Brady has with the Patriots.
The value comes with readiness. A player who has a history of attempting passes similar to Brady will have a leg up if we're looking for a prospect who can provide the most seamless transition into the future. Breaking down Page's 18 quarterbacks, we see that Garoppolo finished 8th most similar. The top three were Wenning, Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater, and Pittsburgh's Tom Savage. The bottom three were Clemson's Tahj Boyd, Fresno State's Derek Carr, and Washington's Keith Price.
Garoppolo finishes in a grouping that I would consider in the middle of the pack, alongside Central Florida's Blake Bortles and Wyoming's Brett Smith. The main difference between Garoppolo and Brady is at the extremes. Garoppolo checked down behind the line of scrimmage almost 8% more than Brady has, and that's built into the playbook at Eastern Illinois; there is always a running back available for a shovel pass in case of pressure. On the other extreme, Garoppolo throws deep almost 5% more often than Brady, which could be a positive sign of arm strength.
Don't take the fact that Garoppolo isn't identical to Brady as a negative without added context. Because the Patriots could have seen Garoppolo's quick release and realized that perhaps Eastern Illinois wasn't using his skill set as well as they could have been. Maybe placing him in the Patriots offensive make-up would show added value.
To further compare, I took each prospect and used Page's numbers to evaluate completion percentage on each throw. Just because Wenning was most similar to Brady based upon passing attempts, if Wenning only completed 50% of his passes in between 0-9 yards, that similarity would mean nothing. So I took each quarterback's completion rate for each passing range and weighted their completion percentage by Brady's passing chart.
For example, Wenning completed 82% of his pass attempts behind the line of scrimmage, 80% between 0-9, 64% between 10-19, and 48% on passed 20+ yards down the field. If we take those completion rates and weight them by Brady's passing chart (11% of his pass attempts were behind the line of scrimmage, 55%, 21%, and 13%), we see that Wenning would project to a 72.7% completion rate in the Patriots offense.
Using this evaluation, Garoppolo ties for fifth at 74.2% (with Derek Carr); behind Bridgewater, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Bortles, and just a hair behind Smith (74.3%). There's a reason why Bridgewater, Manziel, and Bortles were all regarded as top prospects and all three would have fit well in New England.
However, comparing throws at just levels of the field doesn't fit the Patriot's offense. While Brady throws a tremendous amount between 0-9 yards, he also throws plenty up the middle of the field. For reference, 55.2% of his passed between 10-19 yards have come in the middle of the field. As a result, comparing completion rates in the middle of the field versus on the sidelines is a useful tool.
We find Garoppolo completes 68% of his passes to the sideline and 78% in the middle of the field. Using a similar technique of comparing those completion rates with Brady's passing make-up, and we project Garoppolo to complete 73.7% in the Patriots offense.
Looking inside versus outside, Garoppolo ranks second, behind only Bridgewater (and his silly 78.4% projection).
If we average the results of inside versus outside with the results from the different passing depths, we find that Garoppolo averages out to 73.9% projected completion rate. This ranks second, behind only Bridgewater (and his silly 79.0% projection).
So using these numbers, I was wrong. Bridgewater projects to be the best in the Patriots' system. Bridgewater comes from a higher level of competition and has roughly the same degree of size and athleticism as Garoppolo (Garoppolo is 10 pounds heavier. Bridgewater is slightly faster. That's basically the only difference in body).
Still, Garoppolo fits extremely well into the Patriots offense, based upon how his production and skill set in college should translate. While his intermediate passes (10-19 yards) were mediocre compared to his peers, he makes up for it with a high level of efficiency in the middle of the field. I'll take the time to note that in the intermediate range, Brady completes 41.8% to the sideline and 59.7% in the middle of the field. That compares fairly well to Garoppolo's skill set.
In the end, while Bridgewater was in a tier of his own, Garoppolo found himself at the head of the next grouping with Bortles, Carr, and Smith. Not only is that great company to be associated with, but it shows that he's one of the best options to carry the Patriots offense.
The Patriots entered this draft with the mission to find themselves the heir to Tom Brady. They left with one of the best possible options. While we can discuss the merits of taking a quarterback in this draft versus next year's draft, it's clear that the Patriots accomplished exactly what they wanted to accomplish in the draft.
The fact that they bypassed the top option to select Dominique Easley to give the team an immediate contributor shows that they're not ignoring the now; instead, they're setting the franchise up for a very strong future.