QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Knockout

For illustrations of the Standing Fetal Position Variation in the pocket, read on. Photo by Steven Mileham.
For illustrations of the Standing Fetal Position Variation in the pocket, read on. Photo by Steven Mileham.

Jimmy Garoppolo’s draft stock in the media is gaining steam, but the quarterback is a player whose whole does not equal the sum of his parts.

In this week’s Futures, I wrote that scouting quarterbacks remains an untamed wilderness for the NFL. While easier for scouts to identify details like height, weight, arm strength, base accuracy, and mobility, it’s more difficult to quantify – or even qualify – that amount of sophistication that a player has when it comes to integrating these details on the field.

Reading defenses, pocket presence, touch, and placement are examples of this kind of sophistication. They aren’t easy to grade because they involve multiple variables that differ on every play.

Even so, if a team is honest and vigilant about identifying what it can – and should – spend time coaching, then it will do a better job scouting prospects. Having this kind of accurate self-assessment of its skills and priorities should help them elevate or reject prospects.

They should focus more on “knockout factors” in their scouting. Even if it’s not formalized in a scouting report or on paper, the better teams have a core identity that each player must match or he’s not on its draft board. The Ravens have it. I believe the Steelers have it. I suspect to some degree the Patriots and Seahawks do, too.

I’ve always considered having “knockout factors” in my scouting reports. Now that I’m almost 10 years into the RSP, I’m closer to incorporating them into my process. The reason I’ve waited is that a knockout factor has to be obvious.

I wouldn’t hire a musician with stage fright for a live performance. I don’t care how great his or her tone, range, rhythm, and phrasing is. I don’t care if he or she won a Grammy and an Oscar. If that person takes the stage, forgets the words, and begins hyperventilating, my decision was a huge mistake.

Certain elements of a quarterback’s game that are supposed to be the glue that hold the details together. If a quarterback lacks these elements, then I don’t care how many individual components of his game are impressive.

Ryan Riddle told On the Couch listeners this week that there tends to be more coaching of technique in college football than in the NFL. He explained that any finishing school of technique that happens in the NFL is based on peer and independent study.

It explains the existence of consultants like Chris Weinke and George Whitfield.

Just how realistic are teams about what it teach a player?  Footwork, velocity, and knowledge of defenses? Sure.

How about learning not to freeze like a statue when a 320-pound defensive tackle tosses a guard aside like a lawn bag of leaves? Different story.

I fear that the way that Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo responds to pressure could be a fatal flaw for his NFL prospects. If I’m right, Garoppolo is a player whose whole does not equal the sum of his parts.

Phantom Pressure Haunting Garoppolo’s Process

This is a two-point conversion attempt in the first quarter versus a four-man front with one safety deep to the trips side of this 3×2 empty shotgun set. You’re going to see the quick drop and pump fake that are hallmarks of his game.

However, watch the pressure that circles behind Garoppolo. Although the tackle has this play under control, Garoppolo flushes left to an open space, throws the ball to the back of the end zone, and it’s too high of target for a reception in bounds.

There are two things that Garoppolo did to the detriment of this play. First, he reacted too fast to the pressure looping to his left. I shouldn’t even call this pressure, because the tackle has his opponent under control.

It’s phantom pressure and he reacts too fast and dropped his eyes from the end zone. At the same time, Garoppolo’s movement is to an open throwing lane, which is a good thing.

Additionally, this perception of pressure doesn’t prevent Garoppolo from returning his eyes to the receiver. However, the second problem with his reaction to the pressure is that he rushed his process to deliver the ball: he threw the ball too soon, too hard, and too high.

This is an example of a player who often executes these individual details with precision, but his perception of pressure triggers him to rush his process. To be fair, this is a minor example. Even top quarterbacks can rush their process after sliding to an open lane.

Here’s more muddled thinking on a 12 personnel twin receiver set with a thorough read-option fake. Garoppolo looks up the right hash and slides a step to his right before he feels pressure from the inside.

At this point Garoppolo reverses his field to the left and his plan of action lacks clarity. The quarterback sees the safety working up the hash from seven yards away, but never squares his hips and shoulders to throw the ball to the open man. When he realizes he can’t make the throw from his current position he is only option is try to get outside the safety.

The initial hesitation to square his body is another symptom of Garoppolo lacking a clear plan on the field when the initial play doesn’t work.

Here’s a more glaring example that concerns me. This is a  play-action pass thrown 36 yards from Garoppolo’s release point to the receiver running the sideline fade. The pass lands outside the boundary and the root cause is Garoppolo’s release. The stance is wide enough, but notice how the quarterback never drives through the target.

Not only does Garoppolo fail to transfer his weight through his release, but he also delivers the ball leaning away from the line of scrimmage. If I could photoshop Jared Allen in a lunging position three steps from Garoppolo, the quarterback’s form would make sense.

This is the type of movement that I see from quarterbacks who are in a tight pocket, a hit is imminent, and there is no room to step through the release without the defender altering the throw and forcing an altered throw. Yet on this attempt, Garoppolo didn’t have a defender within range of making contact.

It’s another manifestation of a player who sees phantom pressure.

The Standing Fetal Position

The next play is one of the more damning examples of Garoppolo having brain freeze. It’s a first-quarter pass from an empty shotgun.

Garoppolo sets his feet within two steps after the snap while he’s looking up the left seam. Pressure turns the corner on the right tackle and eventually sacks the quarterback, but I don’t believe Garoppolo even feels the edge rush.

After multiple viewings, I believe the quarterback drops his head and shoulders into a crouch because he’s bracing himself for the oncoming bull rush from the defensive tackle.

There are three first reactions a quarterback can have in the face of middle pressure. The most common is to retreat – either turn tail and run or put it in reverse. The more advance option – when available – is to slide left or right while keeping the eyes down field and then climb to open space, if necessary.

Garoppolo exhibits the third option – the fetal position.

Standing Fetal Garoppolo

Granted, the quarterback opts for the standing variety as opposed to the full-blown, “put-my-thumb-in-my-mouth-and-read-me-a-bedtime-story,” fetal position. But even when Garoppolo realizes that he’s a beat away from a turf-nap and spins to his right, the initial frozen reaction affords the edge rush to reach the quarterback for the sack.

This isn’t an isolated play. These are three plays from the same quarter. I wish I could tell you this was a bad day from Garoppolo, but these are consistent tendencies in other games. 

Here’s one of two I’ll show from the Tennessee State game (and there are more). This is a 10 personnel shotgun set with 2:47 in the first quarter with a three-step drop and shoulder fake to the inside trips receiver at the line of scrimmage.

Can you tell when Garoppolo senses the pressure on this play?

Yup, it’s another game of freeze tag – except most kids get tagged and claim they weren’t. Garoppolo has the opposite problem. The pressure arrives outside the left tackle and the push up the middle forces the quarterback to drop his eyes and slide to the left.

Garoppolo checks down, the receiver juggles the ball and makes the catch, but he’s dropped for a loss. Another panicked pay.

The standing fetal position is almost as common as Garopplo’s penchant for pump fakes, but I’d rather see the ball fakes.

Here’s another strong example of this unfortunate maneuver after dropping from an 01 personnel shotgun set. Garoppolo feels the pressure from the defender working inside the left guard.

On this play, Garoppolo  does a good job flushing to his right, but it’s a short-lived reaction. Once he sees the depth that the defensive end gets on the right tackle, Garoppolo drops his head and shoulders and freezes.

Unlike the previous play, he has time to work past that first reaction and spin outside his right tackle. Garoppolo reaches the edge and delivers the ball to the right sideline.

Garoppolo avoids the bad result, but his tendency to freeze first-react second is a red flag.

Coming Up Short On Potential Big Plays

As I said, it’s not just the NIU game where Garoppolo freezes like a deer in headlights. Here’s a red zone play against Tennessee State that should be a flashing red light of caution to NFL decision makers about giving this quarterback a top-100 grade.

This is a 3rd-and-goal with 8:54 in the first quarter from the opponent’s 2. Double A-gap pressure is working through the pocket as Garroppolo looks left after a one-step motion from the snap to set his feet.

Watch how early Garoppolo ducks his head and shoulders before the pressure arrives.

Not a good look. While better to take a sack than throw a red zone interception, it’s also far better to throw the ball away or climb the pocket and find an open man.

With 6:34 left and trailing, Garoppolo anticipates contact on a 2nd-and-16 at EIU’s 18. NIU sends six players – two off right guard.

Garroppolo executes a play fake from center, but as soon as he finishes his turn from the fake exchange, he anticipates contact and goes into the standing fetal position before moving into the full fetal soon after.

I understand “live for another play,” but this is the end of the game and it’s time to fight; not give up.

Here’s a red zone play in the fourth quarter from 20 personnel. Garoppolo throws the slant, but the edge pressure forces Garoppolo to alter his release and the ball comes out funny.

A clear case of Garoppolo rushing his process. I feel bad highlighting this play in today’s football environment, because don’t referees tell boxers to protect themselves at all times? Still, you don’t see this behavior among most NFL starters.

To be fair, Garoppolo will take a hit. However, I believe he only follows through with any consistency on two set conditions. Here’s a shotgun pass with a three-step drop facing five-man pressure.

Garoppolo looks to the right hash and just gets the ball off as he’s hammered off the edge. The receiver makes the catch and earns yardage as a runner.

It is an example of Garoppolo taking a hit, but there are two conditions in play: The impending hit is coming off the edge so Garoppolo doesn’t see the hit coming and the route was wide open.

More Eyes; Less Body

Garoppolo often wins because of his pace and misdirection. His drops and releases are touted first and foremost.

Combine this pacing with a play fake or a pump fake, and he can put defenders on their heels in the short game. But Garoppolo needs a change-up or teams will catch on and know that the pump fake is the quarterback’s substitute for looking off the opposition.

This 4th-and-8 pass with 2:11 in the first quarter is a shotgun pass were Garoppolo uses a pump fake before delivering the slant, but he stares down the receiver and the trailing corer undercuts the pass for an interception.

Here’s another with 5:07 in the half. Garoppolo takes two steps to set his feet and pump fakes to the shallow cross. Only one of the two linebackers bite on the pump fake and when Garoppolo targets the deeper cross, the defense deflects the target. 

Pace and manipulation are excellent tools for an NFL quarterback, but even what Peyton Manning does is often predictable. The difference is that a lot of teams lack the total defense to stop him. Garoppolo is not Peyton Manning and he’s not facing a defense the caliber of the Seattle Seahawks.

Is it impossible for Garappolo to address his pocket presence? Of course not. Have I ever seen it when the issues are this dramatic? Not in recent memory.

As critical as I am about what I perceive to be a critical lack of nuance to his game, I want Garoppolo to succeed. However, if I were a decision-maker for a team I’d rather be proven wrong with him playing elsewhere.

No matter how high the sum of his total of parts may be on some scouting reports, he wouldn’t be on my board.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available to pre-order now, and for download April 1. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge and available for download within a week after the NFL Draft. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

10 responses to “QB Jimmy Garoppolo: Knockout”

  1. I understand the problems with Garappolo’s pocket presence that you are making light of. But if I may ask you one question. If an NFL team spends a late 1st or early 2nd round selection on him, are they incapable of noticing the deficiencies that you have just pointed out or do they see something you and I do not?

    • It depends on the team. They may feel it’s a trait that can be overcome. There may be one decision-maker who is so enamored with the player that he’ll overrule the opinions of others in the process. The Rams GM wanted Alex Smith so much that he put together a hit clip of 20 completions and told his scouts to view it and use it for their grading AFTER he had scouts who had watched 7 games and had a mid-round grade. This type of thing happens with some organizations. The Titans were split on Young/Leinart/Cutler. It was rumored the coaches and scouts wanted Cutler, the new offensive coordinator at that time wanted Leinart and the owner wanted Young . . .

      It’s not so much that the scouts miss what’s on tape. This can happen, but it’s more about the team not having a strong process to prioritize what’s vital and what’s not so the results are communicated upward to the decision makers.

      As for scouts, they’re like any other profession. There are great ones and there are horrible ones. What many NFL teams lack more than anything is a process to take what the great ones do and figure out how to create a trainable process that helps everyone get better.

  2. Great read!

    I’m a big fan of Jimmy. I can see what your pointing but isn’t this as much an issue that jimmy is used to getting hit too much by a lot of bad blocking from the offensive line. I think if he goes to a team like Cleveland and sits behind Hoyer for a year and gets used to actually having protection from a good offensive line(I believe that line will be great after the 2014 draft) he will recover from it.

    Also, is it not true that they also teach the QB’s to use that fetal position to wrap up the ball and keep it safe from becoming a fumble when they know they are going to get hit and can’t avoid it?

  3. The kinds of problems brought up here need to be considered much more than they do in the NFL because I believe this is possibly the biggest red flag a QB prospect can have. It reminds me a lot of martial arts films that have a common theme that once the fear is in them, they are gone. The defenses will know how to rattle them and its nearly impossible to remove that fear from their psyche. The QB starts to become a liability more than an asset, no matter how good they are at other things.

    This also is another thing that makes Teddy Bridgewater the #1 QB in this draft. He knows when actual pressure is coming, reacts to it accordingly and efficiently, gets back into a proper throwing motion and makes the play. He looks like he couldn’t give a shit that an unblocked All-American LB is charging right at him, a situation where Jimmy Garappolo might soil himself.

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