INDIANAPOLIS -- Arlington Heights native and Rolling Meadows High School graduate Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 4,729 yards and 51 touchdowns while being intercepted just nine times at Eastern Illinois University last season.
Garoppolo was a four-year starter at EIU, and he threw 7 TD passes against Illinois State last season, but he didn't really create much of an NFL buzz until the postseason all-star games. His performance vaulted him solidly into the second tier of draft-eligible quarterbacks behind Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles.
The 6-foot-2¼-inch, 219-pound Garoppolo was offensive MVP at the East-West Shrine game, completing 9 of 14 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. He was impressive in the week of practice leading up to the game and later during Senior Bowl practices, where he displayed a quick release and enough arm strength to be considered a second- to third-round draft pick.
"The exposure really helps a small school guy like me," Garoppolo said. "It's tough for us to get our names out there. We're not always on ESPN and everything like that, so every little bit of exposure like that helps me and helps get my name out there. Playing well in both the games and throughout the week really helped me, and mentally it helped me, too. Just getting ready for that pro-style offense, that NFL-style practice every week and all of that just adds up."
Garoppolo spent most of his time prior to arriving at the Combine training in Los Angeles. He said he worked on his footwork, release and "fine tuning everything getting ready for this. Football is pretty much my job right now. I wake up at 7 in the morning, get to the facility soon after that and I'm there until 5 or 6 o'clock at night. It's just non-stop training for this, learning the game of football inside and out from my coaches. There's so much that I need to learn still."
Iowa's conservative offense isn't known for featuring the tight end, but Johnsburg's C.J Fiedorowicz still managed to catch 26 passes for 253 yards and a team-best 6 touchdowns last season, including the game-winner in overtime against Northwestern on Oct. 26.
Fiedorowicz is athletic enough to have played wide receiver at Johnsburg High School, and he measured 6-foot-5½ and weighed 265 pounds at the Scouting Combine, so he's big enough to handle the blocking aspects of the tight end job in the NFL, where he's expected to be a mid-round draft pick in May.
He would be the latest in an impressive line of Iowa tight ends in the NFL, including Dallas Clark (Colts, Bucs, Ravens), Wheaton Warrenville South's Tony Moeaki (Chiefs, Bills), Brandon Myers (Raiders, Giants) and Scott Chandler (Chargers, Cowboys, Bills).
As with most receivers, Fiedorowiz prefers catching the ball, but he learned at Iowa how to become more of a complete tight end.
"It (frustrated me) my freshman year a little bit," he said about his limited role in the passing game. "I was a receiver in high school. I didn't know what it was like to put my hand on the ground and actually block defensive ends. But Coach (Kirk Ferentz) said it's a mindset; you've got to want to block somebody. I kind of picked that up and I realized if I want to get on the field I've got to block."
The best guess is the Bears will use their first-round pick (14th overall) on a defensive lineman like Florida State's Timmy Jernigan.
But general manager Phil Emery says there's a lot of talent on the other side of the ball, and offense could be more of a focus for teams picking in the first half of the first round.
"I know at 14, I'm going to be sitting there, and there's going to be a lot of offensive playmakers on the board," Emery said. "This is a deep draft in offensive playmakers, and I'm sure my peers recognize that."
Emery also believes the elite talent in this year's draft reaches deep into the first round, and it's possible he might be receptive to trading down and acquiring additional picks.