Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
Jimmy Garoppolo is still mostly an unknown; 13 starts over the course of six years give fans a small sample size to work with. Through the first three games of 2019, Garoppolo has 739 yards passing, 5 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Extrapolating that over a 16-game season and he’s on pace for 3,941 yards, 27 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. Not terrible, but also nothing that’s going to get your name in the Ring of Honor.
If we take Garoppolo’s first season in San Francisco, 2017, where he had 1,560 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions in five games plus one drive, and stretch that over a season you end up with 4,992 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions.
Aside from the extra 1,000 yards the two projected seasons look similar: mid-20s in the touchdowns category, with a per-game average of just over one interception.
Is this what we should expect from our franchise quarterback or is there more in the proverbial tank?
I’m always a glass-half-full guy, unless it’s my gin and tonic, so I’d be surprised if Garoppolo doesn’t exceed his projected numbers. Currently the 49ers’ running attack is averaging just over four yards per carry and chomping up 175 yards per game, good for fourth in the NFL. If the team was able to keep that pace it would place them as the 70th-best rushing offense of all time over the course of a season when adjusting for a 16-game schedule. It’s safe to say that in today’s NFL that’s highly unlikely to happen. Teams are passing more than ever before, and the 49ers should get into their fair share of shootouts throughout the season.
Garoppolo also has a large stable of pass catchers at his disposal. George Kittle set an all-time record for receiving yards by a tight end last year without Garoppolo. Rookie receiver Deebo Samuel looks like the real deal, second-year player Dante Pettis seems to be hitting his stride, and pulling the strings is master strategist Kyle Shanahan, who has already shown his rare ability to scheme players open over and over again.
Also working in Garoppolo’s favor is how quickly he seems recovered from his ACL injury in 2018. While recovering from knee surgery, Garoppolo missed OTAs and was limited in training camp. Because of all this he didn’t see his first preseason action until Week 3 against the Denver Broncos, and the results weren’t pretty. After three drives Garoppolo left the game with zero yards passing and an interception. While he bounced back in the final preseason game, it was still expected that he wouldn’t hit his stride until after the bye week or possibly by mid-season. But over the last two weeks, minus a poorly telegraphed interception and two others that bounced off the receiver’s hands, Garoppolo has played two of his better games while wearing the Red and Gold. If Garoppolo is able to keep the momentum through the bye week, then Shanahan may feel even more confident in opening the playbook earlier than anticipated.
The most promising stats come from a tweet by Pro Football Focus’ David Neumann: after three games Garoppolo has the second-highest percentage of positively-graded throws and is the third-most accurate passer based on ball location. While it’s safe to assume that those stats would likely decrease with increased pass attempts, it still suggests that Garoppolo hasn’t peaked as a passer.
In 2016, with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator, Matt Ryan had the best season of his career, resulting in his first MVP award. Ryan finished the year with 4,944 yards, 38 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. While I don’t see Garoppolo hitting some of those numbers, I think he’ll be in the ballpark. With a dominant running game, skilled receivers, and possibly the best offensive mind in the game running the show, I think some realistic numbers for Garoppolo would be 4,300 yards, 32 touchdowns, with 17 interceptions. That performance at quarterback added to defense that looks vastly improved from last season, and this team should be knocking on the door for the playoffs.
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