Eyeing the inevitable future without Tom Brady, the New England Patriots selected quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo with the 62nd pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. This is the first time they've picked a quarterback this high in the draft since Drew Bledsoe was the No. 1 overall pick in 1993.
Twenty years from now, Patriots’ fans might not remember May 9th, 2014 the way they remember April 25th, 1993, the night the franchise changed forever, but it’s worth noting the historical significance of what transpired Friday at Radio City Music Hall in the second round of the NFL Draft.
With the 62nd overall pick, New England selected Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, a talented, yet somewhat immobile, 22-year-old, 6-foot-2, 226-pound righty with a quick release and tremendous leadership. The first player from the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA) drafted this year, Garoppolo threw for 5,050 yards in 2013 with 53 touchdowns and only nine interceptions to win the Walter Payton Award as the most outstanding offensive player in the FCS.
Garoppolo isn’t the first quarterback drafted by New England in the Tom Brady era – six have come before him, and all but one are gone – but he’s the first to be drafted higher than the third round during that stretch and, more importantly, the first one drafted higher than the third round since Drew Bledsoe, who was the No. 1 overall pick in 1993. Brady himself was a sixth-round pick in 2000.
There’s a stark contrast between where the organization sits now and where it was 21 years ago when Bledsoe was on the board. The Patriots bottomed out in 1992, losing 14 games and finishing below .500 for the fourth consecutive season as it continued to struggle in the post-Steve Grogan era. They needed a franchise quarterback who could pay immediate dividends and Bledsoe was the obvious choice.
The Patriots aren’t asking Garoppolo to do what Bledsoe did in ’93 when he played 13 games and threw for more than 2,000 yards, but it’s clear they value him as a realistic successor to Brady, who will turn 37 in August. The other quarterbacks drafted in the Brady era – Rohan Davey, Kliff Kingsbury, Matt Cassel, etc. – were meant to be backups used only in case of emergency. Of the six quarterbacks drafted between 2002 and 2013, only one attempted more than 20 career passes during his time with New England, and that was Cassel, who had to sub for Brady in 2008 when the two-time Super Bowl MVP tore his ACL in the season opener.
Garoppolo isn’t here to be a pawn or a fresh arm to take some weight off Brady’s shoulders during training camp. They wouldn’t waste a second-round pick on someone they didn’t think had a future with the franchise in lieu of filling other gaps. The Patriots see something in Garoppolo they didn’t see in the other quarterbacks on the board, high-profile players such as A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray or Tom Savage. There’ve been rumors about the Patriots trying to shop current backup Ryan Mallett, but they weren’t going to pull the trigger unless they found a suitable replacement in the draft. Now they can flip Mallett for more picks in future drafts if they feel it's the right move.
Garoppolo is no guarantee to stick in New England or even be Brady’s replacement when Brady’s contract expires in 2017. Anything can happen between now and then. For what it’s worth, Matthew Stafford will also be a free agent in 2018 – provided he doesn’t sign another long-term extension with the Lions – and he’ll only be 29 when he potentially hits the market. Again, a lot of things can happen between now and the time it takes New England to groom Garoppolo under Brady’s guidance. Brady might not even play out the remainder of his latest contract extension. Garoppolo might turn out to be incapable of grasping the system.
Depending on who and what you read – or follow – on social media, the jury’s out on whether or not this is a smart move by the Patriots. Some consider it a tremendous gamble for a player who did not compete at the D-I level. Some think Garoppolo’s quick release makes him a perfect fit in the Belichick system, which is predicated on getting rid of the ball quickly and reading multiple options, even if his pocket presence needs work. Either way, Garoppolo will need time to adjust to the NFL, perhaps more so than other college quarterbacks because he didn't play in a pro-style offense at Eastern Illinois. With Brady presumably a few years away from retirement, he should have as much time as he needs to learn the ropes. And it's not unprecedented for a FCS quarterback to succeed in the NFL. Joe Flacco played college ball at Delaware and eventually led the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl title in 2012. The late Steve McNair, an alum at Alcorn State, threw for more than 31,000 yards in 13 NFL seasons. There's hope for Garoppolo if he's as good as New England thinks he is.
Heading into 2014, there’s no way of knowing for sure whether or not the Patriots will have the confidence to hand over the reins to Garoppolo sometime in the next five years, but it’s clear they like him now, enough to make him New England’s highest-selected quarterback since the man who changed the face of the franchise for good more than 20 years ago. That’s saying something.
A quick look at the quarterbacks drafted by the New England Patriots since selecting Tom Brady with the 199th overall pick in 2000.
Name: Jimmy Garoppolo
Selected: 2nd round, 62nd overall
Total NFL pass attempts: 0
Notes: Highest-selected quarterback by New England since Drew Bledsoe, 2013 Walter Payton Award Winner
Name: Ryan Mallett
Selected: 3rd round, 74th overall
Total NFL pass attempts: 8
Notes: Attempted all eight passes in 2012; hasn’t played in an NFL game since
Name: Zac Robinson
Selected: 7th round, 250th overall
Total NFL pass attempts: 0
Notes: Spent three years on Bengals' roster; currently a free agent
Name: Kevin O’Connell
Selected: 3rd round, 94th overall
Total NFL pass attempts: 6
Notes: On the Jets' roster in 2011; no longer in the league
Name: Matt Cassel
Selected: 7th round, 230th overall
Total NFL pass attempts: 2,298
Notes: Started in place of Brady in 2008; also played for Kansas City and Minnesota Vikings
Name: Kliff Kingsbury
Selected: 6th round, 201st overall
Total NFL pass attempts: 2
Notes: Spent one season as Jets' backup; now the head coach at his alma mater, Texas Tech
Name: Rohan Davey
Selected: 4th round, 117th overall
Total NFL pass attempts: 19 pass attempts, 88 yards
Notes: Played from 2002-2004; no longer in the league
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