The San Francisco 49ers aren’t an overnight success. Their rebuild has taken years and will culminate in their first Super Bowl appearance since 2012 and 13-win season since 2011.
The catalyst has been Kyle Shanahan’s offensive overhaul and a vastly improved defense but at the center of it all, one question remains: Is Jimmy Garoppolo a franchise quarterback?
He certainly is their franchise quarterback but if he was plucked and placed in the pass-happy Atlanta Falcons organization or his Super-Bowl foe’s system, the question remains.
Would Garoppolo be a franchise quarterback?
Patrick Mahomes faces his own slew of questions in the NFL championship game: Can he put an exclamation on the high-powered attack he’s led for two seasons? Can he overcome the NFL’s best defense? Can he build his legacy with a Super Bowl win and a presumed Super Bowl MVP award?
Both quarterbacks are playing in their first Super Bowl. But as far as legacies go, Mahomes’ has started. Garoppolo? His can start by toppling one of the most electric signal-callers we have ever seen. It can start with him being trusted to compete, and win, in a high-scoring game — a high-pressure, the highest-pressure game.
Garoppolo has certainly delivered wins — even if he’s completing only six passes for 77 yards.
But Brooks went on to say:
"These special signal-callers can play without the support of a star receiver or a sturdy offensive line, and they don't need an elite play caller to elevate their game. They are viewed as 'trucks' in the Truck-vs.-Trailer QB debate (trucks carry the squad; trailers need the squad to carry them). When you sit down and watch the tape, trucks are the guys with transcendent games that would allow them to shine with any franchise."
He listed Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson as examples. I’ll throw in Mahomes and we can all agree each player fits the bill. But by this definition, Garoppolo is not a franchise quarterback.
I pegged Garoppolo as the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year, and still stand by that. (If another person says Ryan Tannehill, I will scream.) After returning from a season-ending ACL injury, leading a previously woeful team to a 13-3 record and clinching a Super Bowl berth, Garoppolo has earned at least that honor. But Garoppolo in any other — most other — systems would be average. In Shanahan’s run-heavy offense, Garoppolo will look like a star if and when he executes a big play.
Of the 13 quarterbacks that played a full season, Garoppolo has the second-fewest pass attempts (476) — only Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen had fewer attempts (461). Sure, Garoppolo’s statistics stand out with his 102 rating and 8.4 yards per attempt but the ball hasn’t been in his hands enough and in Shanahan’s system, it doesn’t need to be. Maybe that places a veil over Garoppolo.
According to Football Outsiders, he ranks 12th in defense-adjusted yards above replacement — yards above replacement’s cousin which represents the total value of a quarterback — and 11th in DVOA or defense-adjusted value over average. These are all above-average marks. In no way is Garoppolo a bad quarterback but he hasn’t done enough to show he “can play without the support of a star receiver or a sturdy offensive line, and they don't need an elite play caller to elevate their game.”
Yes, Garoppolo wins. He is now 21-5 as the 49ers' starter. Yes, Garoppolo passes. He completed 69.1 percent of his throws for 3,978 yards with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2019. In the big games, however, he has looked to the 49ers’ rushing attack, throwing for just 208 yards with one touchdown and one interception in two playoff games.
There’s a number of statistics to throw in that could tilt the scales either way. Garoppolo throws a bad pass nearly 14 percent of the time, ranked 29th of all signal-callers. Garoppolo's 69.2 completion percentage on third down ranks No. 1 among qualifying quarterbacks — passers who have 50 or more attempts.
It hasn’t been Garoppolo that has propelled the 49ers to the biggest stage in footba—err—sports. It’s the system he is in. Mahomes might have more to prove in the moment, but Garoppolo is playing for more than a championship.