While I didn't grow up a 49ers fan (I have the pleasure of rooting for the Browns), I can't deny they have built a potential playoff contender going into the 2018 season.
Since I've entered the football writing industry, I've written for a number of teams, including the Titans and Vikings, and while those two teams fascinate me, deep down I am a suffering Browns fan who likes to root other teams for as long as they struggle. In my quest to find that team, I found that the 49ers had one of the more intriguing teams of the offseason.
There's no denying the defense still has holes it needs to patch up, but the offense on paper is going to be fun this year. The offensive line has been upgraded, the receivers are young, but talented, and the backfield looks like it's going to be really good. This is an offense that is orchestrated by a promising, young head coach in Kyle Shanahan and a new quarterback in his first full season with the organization.
The 49ers traded for Jimmy Garoppolo in the middle of the 2017 season, sending New England a second-round pick in the process. When Garoppolo made his first career start, the 49ers were 1-10 on the season. Improbably, the team won their last five games, with Garoppolo starting all five, to finish the season at 6-10.
Garoppolo's role in that win streak resulted in a five-year, $137.5M contract extension. So, with that in mind, what made San Francisco give their franchise quarterback all that bank? Let's take a look and digest both the good and bad from Garoppolo's 2017 season. This is a look at the team's newest quarterback from an outsider's perspective.
It's pretty obvious Jimmy Garoppolo is going to be compared to the quarterback he backed up in New England for a while. Tom Brady is famous for his quick mind and mechanics. He's seen every type of coverage in football and processes the defense in seconds. He then knows where he wants to go with the ball and does it after the snap in the blink of an eye. It's what's made Brady such a special player in the NFL.
Garoppolo has yet to compare to Brady in the pre-snap game, but he shows a similar amount of brisk processing post-snap. This throw comes on a play action misdirection, where several defenders are loading in the box. This gives the left outside receiver, Marquise Goodwin, space to go over the middle.
This throw looks easier than it actually is because of the limited amount of time the open window has. Garoppolo can't make this throw relying on Goodwin to get uncovered; He has to throw with anticipation knowing that Goodwin will get open. If this ball is thrown slightly later, it's picked. Fortunately, Garoppolo times the pass perfectly, resulting in a 20-yard pass play and a first down.
You can bet that the 49ers also paid Garoppolo based on his ability to make plays outside of the pocket. The receivers are stonewalled on this play as the edge pressure forces the quarterback outside the pocket. He keeps his eyes downfield and points out an open receiver. The pass is perfect and the result is a touchdown. Garoppolo's mobility isn't groundbreaking, but it's above average for a quarterback and allows him to smoothly move in or outside the pocket with ease.
Garoppolo's accuracy in general is solid, at least it was in 2017. Last year, he didn't regularly force his receivers to adjust on inaccurate throws, and his downfield accuracy was surprisingly good.
This throw is delivered under heavy pressure. It looks like a bad throw, but in actuality the accuracy is spot on. Carlos Hyde (now in Cleveland) played the ball poorly, not realizing how far it was. In technical terms it's not a drop, but it is a play left on the field, one the blame can be placed squarely on the receiver for.
So, Garoppolo's got some substance in his game, but at the same time, he has things he must patch up on if he wants to give San Francisco their money's worth. His main flaw lies in his mechanics and decision making under pressure; He got away with a plethora of nearly intercepted passes for the sample size he played in.
I'm sure most of you remember this play. It's like a second-rate version of the Golden Tate touchdown against the Packers back in 2012.
Garoppolo's throw here is ill-advised and should be picked off. Marquise Goodwin makes an incredible effort, however, to comeback to the floating ball, winning the tug-of-war battle with the defensive back and hauling in the pass for the first down.
Quarterbacks play worse under pressure, we know this. The best ones can hold that decline to a certain halt so that the decrease in quality isn't significant. Quick processing and stable mechanics are required to succeed under pressure in the pocket. That was an issue for Garoppolo last season, and he was fortunate it did not show up in the stat sheet as often as it could have.
Garoppolo's footwork under pressure is extremely sloppy, as shown here. The Titans defense draws up a two-man blitz on a three-man rush. When Garoppolo sees the blitz, he doesn't give himself a chance to settle his feet, resulting in an off balance throw where he back pedals. The pass is under thrown and should be picked off. Incredibly, it isn't, giving the 49ers new life. They would eventually settle for a go-ahead field goal a few plays later.
Garoppolo has to cut down on the dangerous throws, because there isn't a good chance he'll be this lucky in 2018. Fortunately, with Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco as head coach, he's put in an environment that fits his skill set like a glove.
Kyle Shanahan understands that Garoppolo operates at his best when he gets the ball out quick. He, in return, got a quarterback that fits the offense Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard could not. Garoppolo's brain functions at a quicker level when surveying the field than either Hoyer or Beathard, allowing him to release the ball a hair quicker than those guys would. And that makes a big difference in the potential success of a play call.
The design from Shanahan on this play is nothing short of brilliant. Again, it's play action, but it's designed a little differently. The fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, is positioned to make it look like he's blocking for the running back, Matt Breida. In actuality, Breida is helping block for Garoppolo, and Juszczyk himself is running a wheel route, leaving him completely uncovered and giving the quarterback an easy downfield pass.
The 49ers offense was full of these play calls last season, and they increased exponentially once Jimmy Garoppolo became the signal caller. He and Kyle Shanahan compliment each other well. Shanahan gives him the quick passing offense he was granted with the Patriots, and Garoppolo gives Shanahan the quick passing quarterback he needs to conduct an efficient, explosive offense.
Garoppolo has his flaws, but if he cleans up his footwork and limits the dangerous throws, he has the skill set and the quarterback friendly situation to help turn the 49ers offense into a dominant unit. It's only a matter of when he does or if he's ever placed in situations where he has to depend on clean mechanics to elevate the players around him.
I'm intrigued by how far the 49ers can go under Garoppolo. If he's good, it'll put less pressure on the defense to step up and will allow them to be a complimentary piece to a team that will be driven by it's offense. With plenty of promise on said offense, the team's 2018 season is one of the more highly anticipated, and it will be fascinating to see if Jimmy Garoppolo can help deliver that promise.
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