2014 NFL Draft: Jimmy Garoppolo headlines FCS Playoffs schedule

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

The name you should watch out for in the 2014 quarterback class is in action this weekend.

The pressure is building for Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He's in unchartered territory this season. The better he plays, the more eyes are on him. For a player who was passed over in recruiting, it's a new feeling.

But Garoppolo is ready for the attention. He's ready for the stretch run of the 2013 FCS Playoffs, where he and Eastern Illinois are two wins away from playing for a national title. He's ready for a shot the Senior Bowl, where the quarterback depth has taken a significant hit with injuries to Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray. And he's ready to go through the pre-draft gauntlet and emerge as a potential day two pick.

At least, he better be ready, because things are about to escalate quickly for Garoppolo.

For starters, more people will be watching him this weekend than ever before with the FCS Playoffs on national television. Not to mention, he already has plenty of people talking about his NFL potential.

"I know some teams have him as a mid-round guy, while others aren't as high on him," NFL Media draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "He won over some personnel guys with his performance against San Diego State."

It's hard to go unnoticed with 51 touchdown passes, regardless of the level of competition. Like Jeremiah mentioned, the San Diego State game was a big one for Garoppolo. He put up better passing number in that game than both Derek Carr and David Fales did against the same opponent. Statistics are one of the last things that should be considering when evaluating how a player will translate to the next level, but for a small school player, it's at least a way to get noticed.

Garoppolo has more than just impressive statistics against weak competition. He's a quarterback who has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL and one who has developed as the season has gone on. At 6-feet-3-inches tall and 222 pounds, Garoppolo has ideal size for the NFL. He also shows off the mobility to occasionally extend plays and even pick up yardage on designed runs.

It's his passing skills that will excite NFL teams, though. He has a quick release and plenty of arm strength to make every throw in the route tree. Eastern Illinois' offense runs a lot of vertical routes, and Garoppolo loves to take shots downfield. He has outstanding accuracy on deep passes and can drop the ball in the bucket even in tight coverage. He shows off solid anticipation, throwing receivers open. He leads his receivers well and isn't intimidated by coverage. He has a lot of confidence in his arm.

The transition from FCS to the NFL won't be an easy one for Garoppolo. Most of Garoppolo's big plays come on his first read. He doesn't always make much happen downfield after that. He also has a tendency to stare down his intended target at times, which leads Garoppolo to throw the ball into coverage when he shouldn't.

Garoppolo's biggest issue, however, is how he handles pressure in the pocket. He doesn't settle his feet and drops his eyes too quickly. It's not often we see Garoppolo climb the pocket to avoid pressure while keeping his eyes down field. He tends to scramble out of the pocket or try to shield himself with blockers when he does stay in the pocket. Whether he's unwilling to take a big hit or just not skilled at sensing or avoiding pressure, it's a red flag for him going forward.

For a variety of reasons, Garoppolo is tough to evaluate. His offense doesn't allow him throw the variety of passes he will be required to in the NFL, and he's also playing against a lower level of competition than most other draft-eligible quarterbacks. For those reasons, the Senior Bowl will be huge for his evaluation. Seeing him go up against some of the most talented players in the country will be a nice measuring stick.

It's not that Garoppolo isn't worthy of consideration on the second day of the draft as it stands, it's just going to be important for him to keep the momentum going through the pre-draft process. Teams will question him coming from a small school. One way to ease their concerns is to perform well at the Senior Bowl. First, he needs to make it there, of course. A strong finish to the FCS playoffs will help assure him an invite. The most important stretch of Garoppolo's career is in front of him.

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