Jimmy Garoppolo and the Future of the 49ers
After two and a half years of terrible football, the San Francisco 49ers are starting to look like a real team again. The team is loaded with young talent at key positions, and perhaps none are more important than Jimmy Garoppolo. He was acquired in a midseason trade with the New England Patriots, in which the 49ers gave up just a second-round pick in the draft.
This deal has turned into highway robbery for the 49ers. The Patriots could have gotten so much more for Jimmy if they traded him in the offseason, or to someone in the AFC, and ultimately they sent him to the best offensive mind in the NFL, Kyle Shanahan. Shanahan has made several quarterbacks thrive in his system, from Matt Ryan to Matt Schaub, and now finally has his own head coaching job. While this is his first year with the team, he worked with first-time GM, John Lynch, to gut the roster and bring in guys who could fit in Shanahan’s system. The roster still was not good, regardless of the amount of young talent on the defensive side of the football, and was missing one key piece to the puzzle, a franchise quarterback.
The team went into the season with Brian Hoyer as their starter, who was familiar with Shanahan’s offense from his time with the Cleveland Browns, and looked to provide some stability until the 49ers found their franchise guy. Hoyer was not good, and led the 49ers to an 0-6 start, and he was removed from the starting spot in favor of C.J. Beathard. Beathard also wasn’t great, but he did go on to win a game, and showed that he might be a decent backup in the NFL. After a couple games of Beathard, John Lynch managed to pull of a trade for the highly-touted Patriots backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, who was brilliant last season when Tom Brady was suspended.
Ever since Garoppolo has stepped into the starting role, the 49ers are undefeated, and look like a competent team. Through four games (three starts and one drive in a blowout loss) he has passed for 1,026 yards while completing 68.7% of his passes. His completion percentage is second in the NFL right now, behind Drew Brees. He is averaging 256.5 yards per game, and if you take out the game in which he only played for one drive, he is averaging 336 yards per game. Jimmy also leads all current starting QBs in yards per attempt, which is extra significant because he does not have incredible talent in his receiving corps. He is also the first 49ers QB to throw for 300 yards in back-to-back games since Jeff Garcia.
Garoppolo’s arrival has brought life to one receiver in particular, Marquise Goodwin. Since Garoppolo took over, Goodwin has averaged 8 catches and 106 yards per game, and has played like a WR1. He has totaled 24 catches for 319 yards with Garoppolo starting, and has gotten better with each week. The offense is full of life, and are ranked number one in time of possession since Jimmy took over, averaging 35:23 minutes per game. As the offense is able to maintain possession for as long as they do, the defense gets to rest, and that helps them stay energized and lets their young front seven play to their potential.
While the Jimmy Garoppolo succeeds and leads the 49ers to wins, it does end up hurting their position in the draft, but now that the team has their quarterback, draft position is not nearly as important as building confidence and chemistry. It also allows for the 49ers to build an offensive line through the draft. The offensive line is terrible right now, and Jimmy G can make up for that with his quick passes and ability to avoid pressure and throw on the run, but it is important to protect him with guys so he can avoid taking a beating and getting hurt. Offensive line is probably the most underappreciated position in all of football, and no great team has a bad offensive line. We have seen this time and time again, like this year with the Seattle Seahawks. Russell Wilson gets sacked 2.6 times per game, and 3.7 times in each of the last three games. Both of those numbers would be exponentially higher if Wilson was not as mobile as he is, and as the season goes on, he becomes less and less mobile, leading to the higher sack total from the last three games as mentioned above. One of the reasons that Dak Prescott was as good as he was last year was because of how little pressure there was on him by the opposing defensive line. The Cowboys had the best offensive line in football, and partnering that with Ezekiel Elliot made sure that the opposing defense had to worry about the run game, which led to the Cowboys ranking 9th in QB sacked per game with 1.8 times per game.
Looking to the future, the 49ers are going to need to build the offensive line to protect him, and Carlos Hyde has been good enough to keep the defense guessing. The Niners have some decent talent in the receiving corps with Pierre Garcon, Kyle Juszczyk, and now Marquise Goodwin, but a couple other guys have emerged as reliable targets. The tight-end duo of Garrett Celek and George Kittle have both been playing well this season, combining for 681 yards and five touchdowns. A player I have been really impressed with has been Trent Taylor, who has become Jimmy G’s go-to guy on third down, and I think he could become the player that Wes Welker and Julian Edelman are for Tom Brady, and it’s not just because he's a small white guy.
Going back to the impact that offensive time of possession has had on the defense, in the three weeks that Garoppolo has started, the 49ers defense has ranked fourth in opponents yards per game with 262.0. Now, they have played three mediocre teams in the last three games, but the number is impressive nonetheless. DeForest Buckner has turned into a pro-bowl defensive end, and has racked up 43 tackles, three sacks, and a forced fumble. Reuben Foster has been incredible and the steal of the draft, while leading all rookies in tackles per game, and has totaled 51 tackles. Solomon Thomas has also been solid, making 28 tackles and two sacks. Elvis Dumervil has showed that he can still be an effective pass rusher at age 33, picking up 5.5 sacks this season. While the 49ers definitely have areas to address this offseason on defense, primarily in the secondary, they have pieces that they can build around.
The fact that the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan managed to find their franchise quarterback in the first year of their of their management still feels absurd to me, but it is a testament to the intelligence of the duo of Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch. The Cleveland Browns have sucked for a decade and haven’t been able to find a single good quarterback, and there are several other teams trotting out guys like Blaine Gabbert and Trevor Siemian every week.
Jimmy Garoppolo is the QB of the future for the 49ers, and potentially the next great QB in the NFL. The league better get used to Gucci Garrop kicking their asses on Sundays, and I can’t wait to see the torch get passed from Tom Brady to Jimmy G in the 2019 Super Bowl.