The focus of this NFL offseason has firmly been on players like Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes, two younger quarterbacks who are showing signs of being great. But there’s another quarterback who’s just as interesting, though mostly due to uncertainty about him going into the new season: Jimmy Garoppolo.
In the 49ers’ second preseason game, the highly-paid quarterback was back in action for the first time in 11 months. And Garoppolo looked more than a little rusty in his return from a torn ACL. He attempted six passes, completing only one of them for zero yards. He also had an interception. Two of the passes were batted at the line and one of them was nearly a second interception, but was dropped by a Broncos defender.
After three series and a 0.0 passer rating, his night was over. There wasn’t anything positive about Garoppolo’s performance, other than the fact he didn’t get sacked.
Garoppolo came to the 49ers with a ton of hype in a trade with the Patriots. He went 5-0 as a starter in San Francisco at the end of the 2017 season and was immediately given a massive five-year contract that offseason. He had a tougher start to his 2018, which ended due to his knee injury in Week 3.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan still believes in Garoppolo and the offense, telling reporters that it’d be “pretty irresponsible” to judge them on 10 preseason plays.
While that may be true, that brief, but disastrous glimpse at Garoppolo has us wondering what our expectations are for him and the 49ers this season. So three of us here are SB Nation NFL decided to weigh in.
His mechanics are too good to ignore
As a 49ers fan, my opinion will obviously be the most biased one here. That said, I’m not 100-percent all-in on Garoppolo as the next great franchise quarterback, but I have plenty of reason to be excited about what he has to offer.
Other than alarming handsomeness, Garoppolo’s throwing mechanics are pretty dang perfect. He looks at home in the pocket, he goes through his progressions well, and his quick release is a big asset. He has a good arm and really, the only questions pertain to him putting all of that together and actually running a good offense, which Shanahan should be able to provide.
I have no idea what to honestly expect out of the already-injury-ridden 49ers this season, but I do think the negative Garoppolo reactions will fade. Call me a sucker if you’d like. — James Brady
If the 49ers can’t keep him upright, it won’t matter
Garoppolo isn’t going to fall off a productivity cliff because he took eight months off to repair a torn ACL. But he might if he’s running for his life in the pocket like he was in 2018.
Garoppolo was sacked on a career-high 12.7 percent of his dropbacks last season, getting dropped 13 times in 12 quarters in the process. For comparison, he was only sacked eight times in his six-game run with the Niners in 2017 — a run that ended with five wins in five starts.
2018 first-round pick Mike McGlinchey was solid as a rookie and should improve in his second year, but the rest of the team’s blockers are less inspiring. Joe Staley remains a consistent presence at left tackle, but he’ll also be 35 years old this season. Laken Tomlinson and Mike Person return at guard, along with oft-injured 2016 first-rounder Joshua Garnett. That is ... not great. Either Ben Garland or Wesley Johnson will wind up taking the lion’s share of snaps at center if Weston Richburg’s injury woes linger, which is even worse.
Despite that grim outlook on the interior of the line, San Francisco mostly stayed put in free agency and the draft, opting to run it back with the starting lineup that got Garoppolo lit up last fall. Maybe John Lynch looked at Nick Mullens’ 5.8-percent sack rate and felt optimistic. Maybe he’s hoping the combined powers of McGlinchey and Staley will make the rest of the line better through human osmosis.
No matter what, if that line can’t improve it won’t matter how good or bad Garoppolo can be in the pocket. That’s a much bigger concern than one bad preseason game, no matter how awful it was. — Christian D’Andrea
We all know Garoppolo is talented, but he’s going to need some help
Garoppolo has shown that he has the chops to be a starter in this league. When Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers in 2017, he had a QBR of 80.7 in six games, which would have ranked first in the NFL if he played enough snaps to qualify.
But he’s probably not a guy who can carry an offense all by himself — and that’s okay. When Matt Ryan won the MVP in 2016 playing for Kyle Shanahan, the Falcons had a loaded supporting cast including Julio Jones, Alex Mack, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman.
This 49ers team may not have the same amount of talent as the 2016 Falcons, but they have playmakers who can make life easier for Garoppolo. They have a young, diverse group of receivers with a potential breakout star in Dante Pettis. Joe Staley and Mike McGlinchey are a fantastic tackle duo. And the versatile Coleman, who was reunited with Shanahan this offseason, can provide a boost to the ground game and be another target for Garoppolo.
Barring injury, there are enough skill players in San Francisco who can help Garoppolo put together a strong comeback season — and hopefully the first 16-game season of his career. Garoppolo has the ability to lead an offensive resurgence for the 49ers, but the supporting cast is going to be the key. — Charles McDonald
Update 8/25: Garoppolo rebounded in his second preseason game, throwing for 188 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Chiefs. Looks like the “don’t overreact to one catastrophic game” crowd notched a win in this kinda-sorta debate.