• Al Sacco

Sacco: Why has 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo become so polarizing?


Coming into the 2019 season, the 49ers hadn't had a quarterback pass for more than 3,500 yards or 21 touchdown passes since Jeff Garcia in 2001.


For San Francisco, the position has constantly been one of instability and inconsistency since the team moved on from Garcia after 2003.


It wasn't until Jimmy Garoppolo's late-season arrival in 2017 that there seemed to be some hope behind center.


Unfortunately, it's well-documented what happened from there, as an ACL injury three games into 2018 caused Kyle Shanahan to have to play musical chairs at quarterbacks again. No one really knew how Garoppolo would bounce back, or what kind of player he was after just 10 career starts.


How did Garoppolo respond? By simply having one of the best statistical campaigns of any quarterback in 49ers history.


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Garoppolo's 3,978 yards passing were the fourth-most in franchise history, and good for 12th in the NFL. He finished in the top five in the league in touchdown passes (27), yards per attempt (8.4), completion percentage (69.1), fourth-quarter comebacks (4), game-winning drives (4), bad throw percentage (13.7) and on-target percentage (80.7). He was also eighth in rating at 102.0.


On top of that, he led his team to a 13-3 record, improving his career regular-season win percentage to 79.3. It's the highest for any quarterback with at least 20 starts.


So, given how well he performed coming off of major surgery, why does Garoppolo seem to be such a polarizing player?

Well, his detractors would point to the fact that his intended air yards ranked 31st in the NFL at 6.5, and that his numbers were a product of Shanahan's system. While the air yards were low, the Niners' offense is built on short passes that allow players to run in space. If you're looking for evidence of that, look no further than the fact that Garoppolo led all quarterbacks in yards after completions with 6.6.


Where Garoppolo does deserve criticism is his tendency to make head-scratching throws into coverage. His interception percentage (2.7) was tied for seventh-worst, and he had a total of 19 turnovers (13 interceptions and six fumbles lost).


The turnover issue was magnified for Garoppolo when the lights were the brightest, as he struggled with bad throws in the playoffs as well. While the stats would say he threw three interceptions on 58 postseason attempts, if you watched the games you know it could have been much worse.


He threw three interceptable passes against the Minnesota Vikings, with one being picked off in his own territory late in the first half. After almost throwing another early in the third quarter, he only attempted five passes the rest of the half.


Fast forward to the NFC Championship game, and Garoppolo was almost picked off early on in Green Bay territory. Whether it was because of the shaky throws or the fact that the Packers couldn't stop the 49er rushing attack, Garoppolo only had eight total attempts for the game.


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There were more scary throws in the Super Bowl, including a first-half interception on a ball that simply shouldn't have been thrown. Combine that with the fact that he missed some reads and overthrew Emmanuel Sanders late in the game on a pass that could have sealed the win, and the wolves were out.


The truth of that matter is, that while Garoppolo does have to clean up the turnovers, he's still a developing quarterback. Did you know that his 26 career regular-season starts are less than Baker Mayfield or Josh Allen have, and as many as Sam Darnold? Would anyone consider those three finished products?


Regardless, with the 49ers still poised to be a championship contender, all eyes will be on Garoppolo to see if he will indeed continue to improve, or if he's already hit his ceiling. Odds are, considering his limited amount of experience, the best days are still ahead for the 49ers franchise quarterback.




Media courtesy AP Images, USA Today Sports Images Follow Al Sacco and Fourth and Nine on Twitter

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