It's too bad Jimmy Garoppolo didn't remain a well-kept secret instead of becoming one of the fastest rising players in this year's draft class.
If only the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Rolling Meadows High School graduate would have remained in the relative obscurity in which he toiled for most of his career at Eastern Illinois. Then the Bears could have snagged him as a mid-to-late-round developmental prospect and allowed him to mature behind Jay Cutler and under the tutelage of head coach and quarterback whisperer Marc Trestman.
Garoppolo broke most of Tony Romo's records at EIU and last season won the Walter Payton Award (top player in the Football Championship Subdivision) while throwing for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns. But he didn't gain national attention until he went to the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, where he outperformed most of the quarterbacks from the big-time schools.
If the Bears want to make Garoppolo the guy they groom behind Cutler, they'll probably have to draft him in the second round.
"The exposure (of the postseason all-star games) 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 on TV and everything like that, so every little bit of exposure like that helps me and helps get my name out there."
Garoppolo's name has become so well known that he's now mentioned just after the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) big three of Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater. A lot of NFL types even know how to spell Garoppolo now. His postseason experiences not only increased his profile but helped him improve as a quarterback after playing in a shotgun offense at Eastern.
"Just getting ready for that pro-style offense, NFL-style practice every week and all of that just adds up," Garoppolo said. "And mentally it helped me, too."
It would seem the Arlington Heights native had little room for improvement, according to Dino Babers, who was Garoppolo's coach the last two years at EIU.
"I watched Jimmy Garoppolo throw five passes at Eastern Illinois University, and the first thing out of my mouth was, 'Somebody screwed up big time' because he should have been at an FBS school," said Babers, now the head coach at Bowling Green. "Jimmy Garoppolo would have been the starter at Texas A&M. Jimmy Garoppolo would have been the starter at the University of Arizona. Jimmy Garoppolo is a big-time quarterback.
"Everybody's going to figure out real quick how good this young man is. It happens sometimes. It just happens that a lot of people miss on somebody that they have no business missing on. This guy is going to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League. The guy can play. He's intelligent, he's sharp, he's got one of the fastest releases I've probably seen (since) Dan Marino."
Some of that may be a coach bragging on his best player, but just about every NFL scout who has seen Garoppolo up close raves about his quick release. He also scores points for mechanics, intelligence and the ability to read defenses.
Former Washington and Houston general manager Charley Casserly doesn't have a dog in the fight, but he's had a lot of good things to say about Garoppolo as well.
Casserly told WDAE-AM in Tampa that the 22-year-old has probably the best tape and best release of all the quarterbacks in the draft. But Casserly admitted Garoppolo's level of competition was not comparable to that of the big three.
Nevertheless, the word is out, and Garoppolo could be the first or second quarterback to hear his name called after Bortles, Manziel and Bridgewater.
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