The New England Patriots made a surprising selection on Day 2 of the NFL Draft when they selected Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with the 62nd pick. Now, the question has become whether or not Garoppolo will be the next quarterback after Tom Brady. To get the breakdown on the EIU quarterback, I talked with Anthony Catezone, the sports editor of Eastern Illinois’ student newspaper, “The Daily Eastern News”.
1. What was the reaction around the Eastern Illinois campus when it was announced Garroppolo would be taken in the 2nd round by the Patriots? Is that the round you thought he would go?
Anthony: In my four years at Eastern Illinois, I had never seen the entire campus gather together for one purpose like it did when Garoppolo was at the NFL Draft. There were parties thrown for the sole purpose of waiting to hear his name be announced. People lost their cool when the Patriots took Garoppolo. The general feeling was that he could not be brought into a better situation. He gets the chance to learn of one of the greatest of all time in Tom Brady and possibly be groomed as the quarterback of the future. It far outweighs going to the likes of the lowly Jaguars, Raiders, Browns or Texans.
I honestly, thought he would go No. 26 to the Cleveland Browns, after they took Sammy Watkins with the No. 4, clearly I was wrong. I was surprised to see him fall so much. I thought he would go in the first round, but I’m a bit biased
2. What was the one facet of his game that stood out to you while he was at EIU?
A: His leadership and humility are both unheralded. He was such a leader that the entire campus bought into him, nicknaming him “Jimmy Football,” Dime-piece,” “JG” or “Perfect 10.” He’s a first-in, last-out guy, and everyone follows suit because of him. Also, he is the most humble person I have come across in my years of sports reporting at Eastern Illinois and it starts with his home life and upbringing.
On the field, as everyone says, he has a lightning quick release, really good feet and is so cerebral. He reminds me of an Aaron Rodgers 2.0 — and I’m a Packers fan.
3. If there is one aspect of his game he needs to improve, what would that be?
A: Just the fact that Garoppolo spent the last two years in a spread offense that was so uniquely fast. He was rarely under center or even in a huddle. I could see that being an issue trying to adjust to an NFL offense.
4. You recently wrote an article for your newspaper about Garoppolo’s conversion to quarterback in his junior year of high school. How did his game improve from year-to-year in college and tell us a little more about that piece for our readers.
A: Well, his freshman year, Garoppolo was pretty much tossed into a situation that really blindsided him. He came on the depth chart as the fifth string quarterback. He had no expectations of really seeing any playing time; he was supposed to red-shirt. That changed when the season went awry with injuries and position battles. Garoppolo ended up starting the final eight games or so in 2010. He literally got beat around so bad and I believe that season is where he learned o look down the barrel of a gun and deliver a pass while a defensive lineman is preparing to hit you.
Garoppolo’s sophomore year was much of the same. He received more bumps and bruises, threw more interceptions and lost more games. It was hard for him and hard to watch but his resiliency paid off with coach Dino Babers coming in.
Babers utilized Garoppolo’s strengths and implemented an up-tempo offense which virtually never huddled. Garoppolo flourished and he ultimately seemed like a different quarterback. Statically, he had the best year to that point with 31 touchdowns, but he still threw for an Ohio Valley Conference-high 15 interceptions. There was room for improvement.
Then, came Garoppolo’s senior season. He was a monster. The 5,050 passing yards and 53 passing touchdowns were unheard of. The biggest thing that changed was his confidence. He knew the team was his in his senior year. Nobody questioned single part of Garoppolo’s game in 2013. He had career successes as a junior and decided to take that to the next level as a senior. The NFL was in closer sights than ever and he used his senior season to make it a reality.
5. A lot of people knock the competition Garoppolo played against last season., yet the Panthers beat San Diego State and nearly beat Northern Illinois. What did you see from him in these two games vs. FBS opponents?
A: The numbers speak for themselves: 361 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions against San Diego State and 450 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions against Northern Illinois. Garoppolo also said it in several interviews, the margin between FBS and FCS is getting closer. Eight FCS teams beat FBS teams in just the first week of the season. Garoppolo proved he is able to read and dissect defenses at a level people believe is higher than he was used to playing at.
6. From your interactions with Garoppolo, do you think he is capable of being Tom Brady’s successor in New England? Why or Why Not?
A: I’ve been sitting here trying to think of a better quarterback to become the successor to Tom Brady, but I honestly can’t. The Patriots will not find anyone, especially in this draft class, which has a better willingness to learn the offense and do exactly what is asked of him. For every game Garoppolo is the Patriots’ backup, he will approach it as if he is their starter.
As a rookie, Garoppolo already has the leadership skills that coaches dream about, his track record of a four-year starter at Eastern Illinois proves that.
Garoppolo will study the play of Brady and dissect the guru-type mind of Bill Belichick. The release, the footwork, the intelligence — all of the intangibles are present. Garoppolo can be taught a new offense and can flourish under one, he did more than flourish when he learned a new offense at Eastern Illinois.