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Former Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is a quintessential riser in the 2014 NFL draft. The small-school product is among the four quarterbacks invited to New York when the selections start May 8.

A relative unknown as recently as January's East-West Shrine Game, Garoppolo will join the more heralded Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Central Florida's Blake Bortles and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater on Radio City Music Hall's red carpet.

Garoppolo's Dan Marino-esque quick release, tight mechanics and eye-popping production combined with his East-West MVP, strong Senior Bowl, combine and pro day performances fueled his trip as one of 30 prospects attending the draft.

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"I completely believe I'm a first-rounder," Garoppolo told USA TODAY Sports. "It's exciting, an honor to move up the charts the way I did. ... I feel I did a good job of showing the level of competition I played against doesn't have that much affect on me. I performed well at the all-star games, did well at the combine and the whole draft process."

The winner of the 2013 Walter Payton Award — the Football Championship Subdivision equivalent of the Heisman Trophy — threw for 5,050 yards with 53 touchdowns and nine interceptions, breaking all of Tony Romo's school records.

"The Romo comparison? It was almost in every conversation I've had with NFL coaches," Garoppolo said. "Our styles are very similar, athletic guys in the pocket who make and extend plays."

So does Garoppolo also have a long NFL career ahead of him?

"From his pocket mobility to his accuracy to his mental makeup, he has a lot of qualities you look for as someone you can develop at the next level," ESPN analyst Todd McShay told USA TODAY Sports. "A lot of young quarterbacks leave their feet behind when they check to their next progression. But not Garoppolo. By keeping his feet tied to his eyes, he's always in position, ready to pull the trigger."

Former Indianapolis Colts general manager Bill Polian says Garoppolo could be selected late in the first round.

"There's going to be a run on quarterbacks at the bottom of the first round," the ESPN analyst told USA TODAY Sports. "So if you're planning to take a guy at the top of the second, the likelihood is you're going to have to get into the bottom of the first via trade."

If they stay at No. 1 overall and select South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, the Houston Texas could trade back into the late first.

"I had pretty much an instant connection with coach Bill O'Brien," Garoppolo said.

"I met with the Texans a couple of times. They're just a blue-collar coaching staff. They mean business, and they're willing to work for everything.

"That's the way I am. That's how I've gotten to where I am."

The former NFL backup who helped revamp Garoppolo's footwork and release point seven years ago is Jeff Christensen, another Eastern Illinois alumnus.

"I raised Jimmy under the auspices of Dan Marino, whose feet were always at the right angle quicker than anybody else's so he could pull the trigger,'' said Cristensen, who works with Washington Redskins backup Kirk Cousins. "It's not even debatable. Jimmy easily has the quickest release in this draft. He's 10-15% ahead of where Romo was at 22.''

Garoppolo's competitiveness derives from being the youngest of three brothers raised on a blue-collar work ethic instilled by his electrician father, Tony and mother, Denise.

"I'm a quick learner and tell teams they're getting a passionate, hard-working football player,'' Garoppolo said. "I'm hoping for the first round. I'll be happy wherever.

"The draft is just your first step in the door. You've got to go make it happen after that.''

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