Back in March, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said this about wide receivers: “You don’t go, ‘Hey we need a big guy.’ No, we need good receivers. They come in all shapes and sizes.”
That quote is striking and illustrates exactly why the 49ers hired Shanahan to be their leader. A forward thinking offensive mind, the second-year coach helped design one of the most explosive offenses in recent memory with the 2016 Falcons, and appears to be just beginning his work in San Francisco.
The desire for big receivers has become a cliché in the world of football, like the need for a quarterback with a big arm. Analysts believe that your height and size as a receiver will be the foundation for your skill set, but it means nothing without the ability to create separation or have consistent timing. This is why guys like Kelvin Benjamin and Dorial Green-Beckham have flopped in this league.
At 6'0” and 211 lbs., the 49ers’ Pierre Garçon is not the biggest receiver in the league, but he fits Shanahan's profile of being a good receiver, and a great one at that.
Garçon has been in the league since 2008, where he was drafted in the sixth round by the Indianapolis Colts. He's gone on to have a prolific career, with 604 career receptions for 7,568 yards and 37 touchdowns, amazing numbers considering where he was drafted.
In his first year in San Francisco, Garçon played only eight games before missing the rest of the season with a neck injury. Though he had zero touchdowns, he caught 40 passes for 500 yards, on pace for exactly 1,000 yards in a full 16-game stretch. And this was all without new starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, so there's a possibility his stats could've been boosted further.
Garçon was previously with Shanahan in 2012 and 2013 when he was with the Redskins, so Shanahan is familiar with his skill set. Garçon will turn 32 in August, and is entering the final year of his two-year contract with the 49ers. While his age might be concerning considering he missed half of 2017 to an injury, Garçon has a consistent, explosive skill set that should age well for the 2017 season.
Garçon's most recognizable trait is his tenacity. He plays as one of the toughest active receivers, and is a challenging player for defenders to bring down. This comes from strength, but it also comes from how he approaches defenders.
On this play, Garçon should be brought down for a seven-yard catch, but his awareness gets him the upper edge. As soon as he hauls in the pass, he ducks down, slipping by the defender's grasp. This allows him to break the open field, where he eludes another tackler and picks up an impressive number of yards after the catch.
Garçon also has the route running speed that's made him a threat at the vertical level for years. He constantly showcases great concentration in tight coverage that makes him the perfect receiver for these situations. His mechanics are polished, and he rarely misses a beat when he's thrown to.
Garçon has some of the strongest hands from an outside receiver in the active league. On contested catches, such as the one above, he is as consistent as they come. The quarterback's pass is thrown behind him, but Garçon makes an amazing effort to prevent the ball from being disrupted as he hauls in one of his more impressive catches on the year.
Of course, this is the most impressive catch Garçon made all of last season. The concentration, ability to get his knee in bounds, and arm extension are all beautiful. Despite winning their last five games of the year, this was what the 49ers were missing after Garçon went down.
Last year, Garçon was more of a fundamental receiver than a guy that consistently makes highlight reel-worthy plays, but what he lacks in being consistently spectacular he makes up in being spectacularly consistent. The quarterbacks he played with, Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard, were extremely lackluster, and he never got an opportunity to shine with Jimmy Garoppolo or as a red zone option.
On a team with young, raw receivers, Pierre Garçon's value is high. He is a high quality receiver with the speed, toughness, technicality, and awareness to put up big plays without breaking a sweat. We will finally be able to see what a healthy Garçon can do with a full season of Garoppolo, one of more anticipated things I can't wait to see for the 2018 49ers.
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