Top Five Reasons to feel Optimistic about Jimmy Garoppolo in 2020
Make or break season for Jimmy Garoppolo with the 49ers.
If the league catches up to him and he regresses, the 49ers might feel he’s not worth his $27 million price tag and trade him. High stakes.
But there are reasons to think Garoppolo will improve and play better in 2020 than he did in 2019.
Here are the top-five reasons to feel optimistic about Garoppolo heading into the upcoming season.
1. New left tackle.
Nothing against Joe Staley -- he might be the greatest 49ers offensive linemen ever. But he showed his age last season. Didn’t play particularly well, and missed nine games.
Now, the 49ers left tackle is Trent Williams, who’s only 32. And he hasn’t played since 2018, so he’s fresh. He should improve both the 49ers run blocking and pass protection, meaning he should make Garoppolo’s job much easier.
2. New slot receivers.
When the season starts, Garoppolo won’t have his two starting wide receivers from 2019 -- Emmanuel Sanders is on the Saints now, and Deebo Samuel has a broken foot which could sideline him until October.
But Garoppolo doesn’t throw lots of passes toward the sideline, anyway. He’s more comfortable and confident throwing over the middle. And he should have three slot receivers he didn’t have in 2019: Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd and Jauan Jennings.
Taylor led all 49ers in catches during last year’s training camp before breaking his foot. He just might be Garoppolo’s favorite pass-catcher on the team, even though he’s only 5’7”.
Hurd is much taller -- he’s 6’5”. But he’s also a slot receiver, and he used to be a running back. So when he catches short passes over the middle, he can run for long gains after the catch.
Ditto for Jennings, the rookie slot receiver. He’s 6’3”, and specializes at catching passes over the middle while taking hits from all directions.
Garoppolo will love his new trio of slot receivers.
3. The return of Jerick McKinnon?
Any quarterback who loves throwing over the middle needs a quality running back who catches passes out of the backfield.
Theoretically, that’s McKinnon. He caught 51 passes for the Vikings in 2017, the season before he signed with the 49ers. Since then, he’s had two surgeries on his ACL and played zero games, but he seems healthy now. If he remains healthy, he quickly could become one of Garoppolo’s favorite targets.
4. More game experience.
For an inexperienced quarterback, Garoppolo has been tremendously successful. His career win-loss record is 21-5.
But in 26 starts, he has thrown 21 interceptions. And he threw an interception in the Super Bowl, something Joe Montana never did.
Garoppolo needs to commit fewer turnovers. And as he plays more and gains more experience, learns what he can and can’t do and how opposing defenses want to attack him, he should become more careful with the football. That’s how most quarterbacks mature.
If Garoppolo commits fewer than 10 turnovers in 2020, the 49ers will have a great chance to return to the Super Bowl.
5. Two years removed from the torn ACL.
This is the most important factor.
Before Garoppolo tore his ACL, he had a strong arm. His passes had lots of zip and he could fire them on a line to the sideline when he needed to.
Last season, his passes floated. It seemed he was protecting his left plant foot, so he didn’t use his lower body much when he threw -- he primarily used his arm and wrist.
This season, he should use his lower body again. He shouldn’t worry about re-injuring his knee -- it’s as healthy now as it ever will be. He should let the ball rip.
If he doesn’t let it rip, he might have a long-term issue.
But we all expect his arm strength to return. And the 49ers will be so so happy if it does.