A Word on Jimmy Garoppolo

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So the NFL is reportedly suspending New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady four games for his role in deflated footballs. Yeah, it’s stupid and has dominated the landscape of sports takes, but next up on the defending Super Bowl champion Pats’ depth chart is Jimmy Garoppolo.

Hey, as someone who follows the Football Championship Subdivision closely, I know Jimmy Garoppolo! Now it’s Marge’s time to shine!

Jimmy Garoppolo won the Walter Payton Award in 2013, given to the premier offensive player in the FCS. Think of it like the FCS Heisman. Past winners who went on to noteworthy NFL careers include the late Steve McNair, Brian Westbrook and Tony Romo. Romo is particularly noteworthy as it concerns Jimmy Garoppolo, as the Cowboys’ quarterback is likely to be the first comparison NFL honks with no background into the FCS jump to.

Both Romo and Garoppolo played at Eastern Illinois, but Garoppolo’s college head coach — current Bowling Green head man Dino Babers — shot down the comparison last year before the NFL draft. Per CBS Radio:

“[T]he comparison is really not true. I’m not saying that Jimmy Garappolo is Tony Romo, but the thing you got to remember is Tony Romo was a free agent and made the Dallas Cowboys. Jimmy Garoppolo is going to get drafted in the first two rounds. The comparison’s not fair.”

Babers, a 30-year coaching veteran whose stops include a stint working with Art Briles at Baylor, gushed about the speed of Jimmy Garoppolo’s release, going so far as to compare it to that of Dan Marino. The quarterback used that quick release to throw for over 5,000 yards and score 53 touchdowns in 2013, leading Eastern Illinois to an Ohio Valley Conference championship and FCS Playoffs appearance.

While that’s all quite impressive within the context of Garoppolo’s competition, the FCS isn’t the NFL. However, Babers was adamant in the above linked interview that Garoppolo was simply overlooked by the bigger programs, and “would have been the starter at Texas A&M. Jimmy Garappolo would have been the starter at the University of Arizona.”

The SEC and Pac-12 aren’t going to elicit the same kind of eye-rolls from elitists as the Ohio Valley.

Beyond the small school background, which Romo and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (Delaware) have helped dispel, another criticism of Garoppolo that could surface in the coming weeks as he readies to take over in New England is that Babers’ pass-happy, spread philosophy adopted under Briles is not suited to the NFL.

That’s a valid concern in some organizations, but in New England tight ends function effectively as additional wide receivers. Furthermore, the Patriots went to a shotgun-heavy look in 2007, and have been among the more reliant offenses on shotgun snaps for years since.

Patriots brass certainly wasn’t concerned about his playing in the FCS or running a spread offense when the franchise drafted Garoppolo in the second round — four rounds earlier than Tom Brady was selected, coming out of the much higher profile Michigan program.

None of the above is to imply Jimmy Garoppolo is going to steal Brady’s job, or that he’ll be a star in his opportunity. But he was a damn impressive player at Eastern Illinois, and I’m personally excited to see how he performs as an NFL starter.