Through six quarters of playing time as the New England Patriots' No. 1 quarterback in 2016, Jimmy Garoppolo completed 42 of 59 passes for 496 yards and four touchdowns. That's good for a 71.2 percent completion percentage and a Total QBR of 90.9. Those are great numbers, but it's also a very limited sample size for teams to evaluate as they weigh possibly trading for Garoppolo this offseason.
Today, let's cut through the film and focus on five key areas of Garoppolo's game. From his ability to read pressure and play with high-level vision on the field, here's a comprehensive look at the positives and negatives that Garoppolo showed on tape during his time in New England.
Instead of the reduced game plan we are accustomed to seeing when a No. 2 quarterback takes the ball, the Patriots continued to run their scheme with Garoppolo in the game. Think of the quick passing game, play-action, the short-to-intermediate route tree and the core concepts that create space for wide receivers. And that continued in Week 2 versus the Dolphins, a game in which Garoppolo threw three touchdown passes in the first half.
It all starts at the line of scrimmage with Garoppolo's ability to identify coverages, find the matchups and get the ball out.
Here's a prime example against a quality Arizona defense back in Week 1: Garoppolo reads the pre-snap rotation of the safeties and takes advantage of the matchup outside of the numbers with Chris Hogan.
Before the snap, Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu (SS) walks down to the strong side of the formation over the tight end with the free safety (FS) aligned in the deep middle of the field. Plus, with the cornerback showing a press look outside versus Hogan (yellow circle), this tells Garoppolo that he has the matchup on the fade route. The QB audibles at the line, holds the free safety during the drop (with his eyes) and targets Hogan over the top of the defense. Yes, the cornerback drops the coverage, but I'm more focused on the young quarterback recognizing the matchup and making a check to expose it for a score.
Through the six quarters of work that Garoppolo put on tape, there are plenty of positive examples of the Patriots quarterback making the proper pre-snap read. It's clear he has a high-level football IQ, but just like the pro evaluators who are putting a grade on Garoppolo, we also have to highlight when the QB missed open targets based on his pre-snap reads.
Check out this example versus the Cardinals, with the Arizona defense bringing five-man pressure (linebacker) and the Patriots sliding the protection.
The Cardinals are showing man-pressure at the snap with the defensive backs playing press front side, Mathieu rolled down to the weak side and the linebacker (orange circle) moving to a blitz alignment. With the running back releasing on the rail route and the Patriots sliding the protection (white box) to the strong side, this ball has to come out (that free rusher is getting home in a hurry). However, Garoppolo reads to the front side here, and is forced to hold the ball until Hogan can clear on the smash route. This leads to a poor throw and a hit on the quarterback. The correction? Read to the blitz side and throw the hot to Julian Edelman (yellow circle) with Patrick Peterson showing off-man at the snap.
This is just one example, but NFL teams have to take it into account given Garoppolo's lack of playing time. There will be some situations where Garoppolo has to climb the learning curve. And that should expected.
Given the lack of reps Garoppolo has put on tape, NFL teams will have to go back to their college scouts for his grades at Eastern Illinois. What did the college tape say? For me, I went to my Senior Bowl notes when Garoppolo was on the practice fields down in Mobile, Alabama.
Garoppolo didn't have the arm strength to match Derek Carr during practices, but he had enough juice to drive the ball through the wind. And his release? It's quick. He can get the ball out with speed. Pair that with his ability to see the field, and he had a great week in front of pro personnel. Find the window, move the safety and then deliver a strike.
That shows up on his pro tape also. Garoppolo is very good with his eyes. He understands how to manipulate the defense. Whether that is moving a linebacker to create a window underneath or freezing the safety in the deep middle to generate a lane to hit the seam, Garoppolo's vision creates opportunities to expose coverages.
Here's an example on Garoppolo's touchdown pass to tight end Martellus Bennett versus the Dolphins.
Garoppolo starts with the front-side read in his drop. That will keep the Dolphins free safety (orange circle) to the hash mark while Bennett (yellow circle) stems up the field on the seam route. By the time Garoppolo flips his hips, moves his eyes to the back side and sets his platform to throw, the safety is stuck on the wrong side of the field. Great footwork, eyes and mechanics from Garoppolo to deliver a good ball to Bennett for the score.
Garoppolo doesn't have elite arm strength, but that is often overrated at the position. Instead, we have to focus on the production and ability to create windows on throws down the field to the inside seam or the deep out cuts. In Weeks 1 and 2, Garoppolo was 4-of-7 for 113 yards and two touchdowns on throws that traveled more than 20 yards in the air. And if you study those plays, it starts with his vision.
When grading Garoppolo on his ability throw the ball with anticipation, you will find a lot of positives on the tape -- especially in the quick game. On throws under 10 yards, Garoppolo went 25-of-32 for 243 yards (78.1 completion percentage) versus Arizona and Miami.
This goes back to his quick release and his fit in the Patriots' offense. Garoppolo throws with a rhythm in New England's short-to-intermediate route tree. And that also shows up when Garoppolo has to anticipate a small window in which to deliver the football.
Take a look at this example versus a Dolphins defense that's bringing a zone blitz.
With the Patriots releasing the running back into the route scheme, Garoppolo knows he has to find his inside hot read and unload the ball (with a free rusher coming off the edge). Plus, Garoppolo has to deliver the ball quickly as the linebacker (orange circle) matches inside to Danny Amendola (yellow circle). This window closes in a hurry, but Garoppolo puts the ball right past the ear of the defender to complete the pass.
It's an aggressive throw, but it's also calculated with the defender playing with his back to Garoppolo. Even from a parallel platform, Garoppolo can fit this ball in to Amendola to beat the coverage scheme.
On the flip side, here is an example of Garoppolo delivering a ball late to Edelman on a pass he should hit, given the leverage and cushion of the defensive back in coverage.
This is a nasty route from Edelman -- release up the field, stem outside, work to the post and then break on the out. That's tough on any defensive back playing from an off-man position. And it shows here when you see the separation Edelman generates (yellow circle). But Garoppolo throws this ball high and late, which allows the defensive back -- who got completely turned around by the route -- to round his break and still close in on the throw. Edelman has to wait on the throw and the defender breaks up this play.
Again, as we discussed before, the negatives are few and far between with Garoppolo's tape. But this could have resulted in an interception if the defensive back played with better technique at the break.
Beating the blitz
During the first two weeks of the season, Garoppolo went 13-of-17 for 205 yards and two touchdowns versus the blitz (five or more rushers). Yes, that speaks to his vision, quick release and ability to read coverages as we have already discussed, but I've also looked at plays on the tape that show his ability to buy time and throw from unstable platforms.
Take a look at this play, a touchdown pass to Amendola versus Miami where Garoppolo identified the pressure and bought extra time to deliver a perfect ball for six points.
With the Dolphins showing zero-man pressure (no safety help in the middle of the field), and bringing two extra rushers (orange circles), Garoppolo has to quickly find his target and get the ball out. However, in order for Amendola (yellow circle) to beat the coverage and gain leverage inside (no defensive help over the top), Garoppolo buys his receiver a little extra time by giving ground in the pocket. He throws off his back foot as Amendola separates from the coverage. And it's a money toss.
We always talk about mechanics and the proper throwing platform with the position, but I really like this example because it shows us that quarterbacks have to vary their techniques to find open targets. This is a positive from my perspective. Find a way to beat the coverage and the blitz when you don't have the numbers up front.
Stuff happens in football. That's why I always say that the chalkboard isn't perfect -- especially at the quarterback position. Plays will break down and you want a quarterback who can use his mobility to buy time.
I've been impressed with Garoppolo's skill set in the pocket. He can manage a mess at his feet, slide or step up to create throwing lanes, and he has the athleticism to pull the ball down if he needs to.
This showed up on both tapes with Garoppolo, as he found ways to move in the pocket while producing productive plays. Whether that was hitting Amendola on an inside crossing route for a touchdown versus Miami or pulling the ball down versus the Cardinals to turn a negative into a positive, Garoppolo can make those off-schedule plays that will pop up in every game.
This example against the Cardinals happened to come at a huge moment -- third-and-15, Patriots down 21-20 in the fourth quarter. New England needs a play here to continue the game-winning drive.
The Patriots want to run the fake bubble screen with the two vertical routes (yellow circles). Pump to the bubble, draw the defensive backs downhill and target the seam or outside fade to move the sticks. It's not there. But instead of panicking (as we see often from young quarterbacks), Garoppolo calmly maneuvers in the pocket to find an open lane and continues to keep his eyes down the field. This allows Garoppolo to reset his feet/platform and hit Amendola when the wide receiver separates across the field. And the quarterback takes a shot too after throwing this ball. It was a big-time play to move the sticks and continue to drive.
Look, I want quarterbacks who battle, guys who show up in critical moments of the game. Yes, this is only one play. And I get that. But given the situation -- down in the fourth quarter and needing a play to continue the drive -- I love Garoppolo's ability to manage the chaos and find a way to advance the sticks against a very good defense.
I completely understand if some teams have hesitation about trading for Garoppolo, given the extremely small sample size. But there are plenty of positives on the tape, and it's not like he has come out of nowhere. (Remember, Garoppolo was a second-round pick out of Eastern Illinois.)
Sure, Garoppolo is still developing. And there will be situations where his lack of reps shows up during games. But given the five key areas we just looked at, Garoppolo should carry high value if the Patriots put him on the trade market.