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In the FCS Huddle: What to believe about Jimmy Garoppolo

<p>The draft scenario surrounding Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is quite unique. He is so highly regarded for an FCS prospect that an NFL team can't afford to swing and miss with him.</p>

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The draft scenario surrounding Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is quite unique. He is so highly regarded for an FCS prospect that an NFL team can't afford to swing and miss with him.

A quarterback taken in the first two rounds - and Garoppolo is mostly regarded as a second-round selection - is counted on to become a franchise performer.

The question is, is that asking too much of the 2013 Walter Payton Award recipient?

The only franchise quarterbacks in the NFL who came from the FCS are Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens, and he was an FBS transfer from Pittsburgh to Delaware, and, ironically, Eastern Illinois graduate and 2002 Payton winner Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys.

Garoppolo was not your typical FCS signal caller after FBS programs clearly undervalued his talent, and that was to EIU's benefit. But considering the lack of success of former FCS quarterbacks in the NFL, a team must not overvalue him and now decide in the next week if it wants to stake some of its future on Garoppolo when the draft is held in New York from next Thursday to Saturday.

It's a tantalizing decision. If any of the quarterbacks generally pegged for the first round - Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater - slide out of it, that could knock down Garoppolo's spot. If they go in the first round, teams will feel a need not to let Garoppolo slip past the second round, along with some of the other quarterbacks like Derek Carr, A.J. McCarron and Tom Savage.

"As a GM, I'm not drafting anyone in the first or second round who I don't see helping early on," said Josh Buchanan, one of the leading voices in small school draft evaluation and the small school scout for the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. "Developmental starters are supposed to be in the third to fifth round and I think some people reach out of fear they won't be there and oftentimes miss on players. I think some people have (Garoppolo) as a fifth-, sixth- rounder while others say late first or second round. I believe he comes off the board in the second round, but I have him valued as a fourth-, fifth- rounder."

The talent is there with Garoppolo, although he doesn't possess a cannon for an arm, which has to be considered by NFL teams. He also has good, but not great size at 6-foot-2, 226 pounds, and he has to improve in reading pass rushes.

But Garoppolo has terrific touch on his passes and releases the ball as well as any quarterback in the draft. He commands the pocket well with both his quick vision and release.

And after the end of his huge senior season, he raised his stock even more in the all-star games, NFL Combine and his pro day. He was offensive MVP at the East-West Shrine Game, then went on to the Senior Bowl, where he didn't do as well against the better talent.

All the comparisons for him seem to come back to Romo, which is not a knock considering the Cowboys veteran has enjoyed an excellent career. It's just that Romo needed to develop over time, and he was afforded that luxury as an undrafted free agent. The clock on Garoppolo to be game-ready won't last as long.

NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Thursday he wouldn't want any of the rookie quarterbacks to be starting this year, although he adds Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Georgia's Aaron Murray, if he is healthy from a knee injury, are the most ready for it.

"I think just about every other quarterback in this draft class needs a redshirt year, including Garoppolo," Mayock said. "And I like the kid, I fell over (for him) because I watched a bunch of his tape before the East-West (Shrine) Game and I knew he had a quick release and good feet. And that's what really just kind of hit me the first time I saw him drop back to pass: really good feet, quick feet, I think he fits a West Coast offense. I just think speed of play, the East-West game he got a little bit better each day, Senior Bowl he got a little better each day. I think this is a smart kid that is going to get better and better; it's just he's going to have to learn a little bit about the game."

The risk seems to be worth taking considering how much talent scouts have recognized in Garoppolo. He is going to have to be a quick study on the next level and perform well when his opportunity comes.

Otherwise he will be buried by the expectations that have grown around him in the last half year.

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