Very often in professional sports, players only get one opportunity to define their career. We saw it in 2001 when Tom Brady took over for Drew Bledsoe, who was knocked out of commission by former Jets linebacker Mo Lewis. It's unclear if Brady would have had a second opportunity had he not led the Patriots into the playoffs, and ultimately the franchise's first Super Bowl title. I don't need to rehash the rest of the story, but the point is clear. With Brady battling a 4-game suspension, the window opens for Jimmy Garoppolo to show the league what he's capable of. While Brady will appeal the suspension and there's a chance the suspension gets thrown out altogether, Garoppolo must be ready to take the reins if pressed into duty.
So what does Garoppolo do well? The traits that stood out in the pre-draft process is his quick release, pocket awareness, and poise. Coincidentally, those three traits are also what Brady is known for as well. The Patriots typically play in at least 2 "Bad Weather" games per season, which isn't a big deal since Garoppolo played in a lot of those games at Eastern Illinois. The only phase of the game that might separate Jimmy G from becoming a future Tom Brady is the ability to read defenses in both the pre-snap and making the right decision to beat the coverage he's faced. Brady is one of the best in the history of the game at pre-snap adjustments because he's played a long time and has seen everything. Garoppolo doesn't have that luxury, but given enough time in the film room and on the practice field he can acquire that skill. The only way to get better is through repetitions and the Brady suspension gives Garoppolo an opportunity for real game reps with the starting offense. For more information, here is Rich's scouting report on Jimmy G.
In the small sample size we've seen last year, Garoppolo has flashed the ability (even better than Mallett in 3+ years) to lead the offense. He started off with a stellar 2014 preseason, played in mop-up duty against the Chiefs and performed well including throwing a TD pass to Rob Gronkowski, and even played the second half of the last game of the season since the Patriots were resting their players after clinching Home Field Advantage. Even with those snaps, it's hard to predict future success or failure because of the rule of small sample size. For the 2015 season, he'll likely get almost all the workload in preseason. That may equate to about 200 snaps, but not all of them will be against first string defenses. The next four games (approximating he plays about 250 snaps) is a better indicator of what he'll end up in the NFL. On a side note, part of me is curious to see a Garoppolo vs. Romo matchup just for the Eastern Illinois story although I'm sure Jerry Jones would make a better profit with Tom Brady under center instead.
The Patriots drafted the Eastern Illinois QB with the 62nd pick of the 2014 Draft because incumbent backup (and now playing for Bill O'Brien in Houston) Ryan Mallett was in a contract year. The 2014 class was deep in the QB pool with 4 guys in the draft with franchise QB potential (Bortles, Bridgewater, Carr, Garoppolo). Patriots have taken their QBs when the backup QB is in a contract year or sign a camp arm. While the Patriots could have used that pick on a more immediate need, the thought process behind that move is the worst time to be looking for a QB is when you need one. As a result, the Patriots have a better QB situation than half the league despite the fact their future 1st ballot Hall of Famer is barred from play. Instead of panicking and trying to piece together 4 games, the Patriots can use this as an opportunity to develop Jimmy Garoppolo as the starter. In the NFL, you only get 1 shot to prove yourself to the league and it's very unlikely that a player will get a second or third chance if they screw up the first time. For the Patriots, these next 4 games (or whatever the duration of Brady's suspension winds up being) will determine if Jimmy Garoppolo is indeed the heir to Tom Brady.