Does Jimmy Garoppolo Have What it Takes to Be a Franchise Quarterback?

Jimmy Garoppolo dazzled despite limited exposure in 2016. If the Patriots trade him and he gets more playing time, can he produce like a top signal-caller?

What if I told you that a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback who was going on just 26 years old was available on the trade market? If you ran a team without a franchise passer, how much would you trade for that player?

Of course, I should probably let you know this quarterback has attempted no passes in a championship game, and has just 103 career drop backs in the pros.

That player is New England Patriots third-year backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who was selected 62nd overall in 2014. Garoppolo is entering the final year of his rookie deal in 2017, and with Tom Brady expected to play another three-to-five years, the young and talented “Jimmy G” looks perfectly suited for trade fodder.

But there are so many questions abound for the untested prospect passer: Which NFL team should want Garoppolo? How much should the Patriots expect in return?

And is Garoppolo even good enough to be a franchise quarterback?

What You See

It's hard to grasp what Garoppolo is capable of or if he's made tangible progress during his time in the pros because 103 drop backs is a ridiculously small sample size.

Fortunately, that won’t stop us from trying.

Our signature metric at numberFire -- Net Expected Points (NEP) -- can help us check some of our perception of Garoppolo. NEP describes the contribution a play (or player) makes to their team’s chances of scoring. By adding down-and-distance value to standard box score information, we can see just how much each play and each team as a whole influence the outcome of games. For more info on NEP, check out our glossary.

When we look at Jimmy G’s NEP production over the last three years, it’s tough to find a linear pattern. The table below shows his value by Passing NEP and Passing Success Rate -- the percent of drop backs converted for positive NEP.

Year Drop Backs Pass NEP Pass NEP/P Pass Success %
2014 32 -7.29 -0.23 40.63%
2015 4 -4.27 -1.07 25.00%
2016 67 27.62 0.41 50.75%

If we were to chart his three years of Passing NEP per drop back, it would not be conclusive in any direction, with only three data points to compare. This is part of the issue with small sample size: it encourages randomness in the data results.

It looks like Garoppolo had a ridiculous improvement in his skills from 2014 to 2016, but really, odds are his production is somewhere in-between those two years. For what it’s worth (because it’s fun to dream), Garoppolo’s 0.41 Passing NEP per drop back would have put him tops among quarterbacks with at least 50 drop backs in 2016, better than league MVP Matt Ryan, Super Bowl MVP Brady, and Rookie of the Year Dak Prescott.

In fact, his rate stats this year do back this up. On just 63 passing attempts this year, Garoppolo churned out 502 passing yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. The table below shows the rankings he achieved in his per-attempt rates among the 48 other quarterbacks to attempt at least 50 passes.

Player Comp% TD% Int% Yd/Att
Jimmy Garoppolo, 2016 4th 5th 1st 7th

Garoppolo has a ridiculously good production profile, but we have to be cautious about extrapolating this year out directly. The Patriots had a great offensive line this year, a mastermind play-caller in offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and a strong philosophy that didn’t force too much onto Garoppolo’s plate when he started.

There’s no guarantee any of these factors will be in place wherever Garoppolo goes when he departs Foxborough.

What You Give

Garoppolo has had success in -- and might be best suited to -- an offense like the Patriots’ West Coast style, with timing routes and options. The teams who should ideally come a-courting would be ones working in precision passing schemes.

Really, though, the teams who have simply had the worst production under center are the most likely to aim for Garoppolo on the trade market.

The Houston Texans may be a good landing spot, as head coach Bill O’Brien cut his teeth in the NFL with the Patriots, and holds many of the same offensive philosophies as the team Garoppolo would be coming from. Brock Osweiler and Tom Savage helped lead the Texans straight to the gutter with the second-worst team by adjusted Passing NEP per play (-0.04).

New San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan liked Garoppolo in the 2014 pre-draft process, so there’s a chance he springs for a new franchise passer with Colin Kaepernick leaving in free agency and Blaine Gabbert doing Blaine Gabbert things. The Niners were fifth-worst in adjusted Passing NEP per play last year (0.00).

The Chicago Bears could cut long-time starter Jay Cutler this year, and have discussed a trade for Garoppolo; even with Cutler, they were just 12th-worst in the league by adjusted Passing NEP per play. The seventh-from-bottom Cleveland Browns are another potential destination; Robert Griffin III is barely even rosterable anymore, while Cody Kessler may not have enough upside to carry a team.

Any of these franchises would be happy to get Garoppolo, if he is what they expect. But how much will they have to give in order to acquire him?

What You Get

Garoppolo is unique in his situation with the Patriots.

When we search (per Pro Football Reference) for quarterbacks with between even 50 and 300 passing attempts in their first three years (Garoppolo has 93), but an Adjusted Yards per Attempt of 7.00 or more (Garoppolo’s is 8.40), we see just 13 other quarterbacks since 1970.

Hall of Famer Roger Staubach is there, but he's the only Hall of Famer on the list. Gary Kubiak (who backed up Hall of Famer John Elway) makes the list, as does Jason Garrett (who backed up Hall of Famer Troy Aikman) and Jim Sorgi (who backed up future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning).

The through-line here, though, is that only one of these players went on to start more than 20 games in their career; none became long-term starters.

As we look at the last 16 years, there have been 31 trades involving quarterbacks age 26 or younger. By PFR's Approximate Value (AV) metric, only six of those deals yielded a quarterback worth more than 15 AV for their career after that trade. The table below displays these trades, along with the net draft value of picks sent, per the Jimmy Johnson draft value chart.

Year From Traded To Received Net Draft Value
2009 DEN QB Jay Cutler, 2009 5th round pick CHI QB Kyle Orton, 2009 1st round pick, 2009 3rd, 2010 1st +2251
2009 NE QB Matt Cassel, LB Mike Vrabel KC 2009 2nd +560
2007 STL QB Ryan Fitzpatrick CIN an undisclosed 2007 draft pick 0
2007 ATL QB Matt Schaub, 2007 1st HOU 2007 1st, 2007 2nd, 2008 2nd +1030
2004 SD QB Eli Manning NYG QB Philip Rivers, 2004 3rd, 2005 1st +1465
2001 GB QB Matt Hasselbeck, 2001 1st SEA 2001 1st, 2001 3rd +580

The average draft capital return on these deals comes out to be something around the value of the 16th overall pick in the NFL Draft. If we assume Jimmy Garoppolo’s career will fall somewhere between that of Ryan Fitzpatrick and Eli Manning, then there seems to be a decent chance the New England Patriots’ expectation of a first-round selection for their player is fulfilled.

But, given his lack of experience, that’s a pretty broad assumption to make.

There is almost no player precedent for Garoppolo, along with little trade precedent. His inexperience could mean the fair asking price is more of a late-first or early-second rookie pick. The Patriots might also be willing to hang onto him and receive a compensatory pick in 2018 if they can’t get someone to overpay. One report stated the Patriots would need to be blown away to move such a good backup, with Brady tipping into his unpredictable 40’s -- see Manning, Peyton -- this year.

There’s no telling what will happen here; we’re in uncharted territory. Garoppolo has sky-high upside, but no one knows what his floor is.