49ers' Training Camp Primer: How will QB Jimmy Garoppolo respond to last season's heartbreak?
Updated: Aug 3, 2020
This is Part One of an eight-part preview to the 49ers' 2020 campaign, breaking down all of their position groups heading into training camp. Each day, I will focus on a different group, analyzing their 2019 performance and laying out expectations for this upcoming season.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was all smiles as he arrived at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, sporting a shirt trolling tight end George Kittle and beaming as he was freshly named the 43rd best player in the NFL by his peers. The 49ers' third-year quarterback looked visibly bulkier as he spent this offseason working out in San Jose and Nashville, rather than learning how to walk again after an ACL injury.
In a COVID-19 shortened and virtual offseason, San Francisco's quarterback room will have the advantage of continuity having spent at least two seasons together. All three -- Garoppolo, backups Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard -- are familiar with Kyle Shanahan's playbook and can hit the ground running when training. Newcomer Broc Rutter is the only one that will have an uphill battle this Fall.
How did Garoppolo and the quarterbacks perform in 2019?
Kyle Shanahan decided to carry three signal-callers last season, much to the dismay of most fans, as it prevented the 49ers from carrying depth at other positions. Despite having two on the active game-day roster, Garoppolo was healthy through the entirety of the season and played all but seven snaps.
The question always comes up -- is Jimmy Garoppolo a top-10 quarterback?
Based on his one year of play, Garoppolo performed at a top-10 level. He finished in the Top-5 for completion percentage, yards per attempt, and touchdowns. He ended the season Top-10 in advanced stats such as expected points added per play, success rate and completion percentage over expected.
The major criticism that stems from his game was his lack of air yards. Garoppolo only attempted 31 "deep passes" (throws over 20 air yards) and only completed 12 of them all season long. That was by far the fewest of any full-time starter in the NFL.
Garoppolo also was dead-last in the NFL in percentage of yards before the catch. 52% of his passing yards came after the catch, which is a testament to his accuracy, the playmakers' running ability, and Shanahan's scheme. It's an offense working in conjunction.
In order for the NFC Champion quarterback to be universally considered one of the better signal-callers in the league, he needs to continue to make plays at a high level and limit the turnovers. Garoppolo's season featured 13 interceptions and 10 fumbles (not all were lost) and numerous other plays that had fans with their faces buried in their hands.
What can we expect from Jimmy Garoppolo in 2020?
San Francisco lost a key offensive stabilizer in wideout Emmanuel Sanders, but drafted another explosive option in receiver Brandon Aiyuk. They also will hopefully get the healthy return of Trent Taylor, Jalen Hurd, and Jerick McKinnon -- all speed-threats that can augment Garoppolo's accurate passing attack.
Garoppolo was on the verge of breaking 4,000 passing yards last year and it's fair to expect him to break that threshold this season. His TD:INT ratio was slightly over two and that number should increase to over three this upcoming season -- which means an increase in touchdowns and a decrease in interceptions.
Kyle Shanahan's offensive scheme has been designed to elevate Garoppolo's strengths of timing and accuracy, while not asking him to extend himself, so if he just executes, his numbers will be in the Top-10 again, spurring another offseason of debates about his status among quarterback elites.
Will this be Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard's last season? Will Broc Rutter make the roster?
After starting for the 49ers two seasons ago, Mullens has become one of the more valuable backups in the NFL, making $750k this season. He will enter restricted free agency in 2021, so the 49ers can tender him and potentially keep him next season or receive a draft pick in return.
The third-string C.J. Beathard will likely be spending his final season with the 49ers. Many would like to see him not make this year's 53-man roster, but given COVID-19 implications and the value of the quarterback position, I'd imagine that the 49ers want to maintain three quarterbacks on the roster.
But I doubt the 49ers will re-sign him after this year, likely letting him walk and trying to promote Rutter into a backup role.
Rutter was released earlier this offseason, but I think he's a prime candidate to land on the practice squad once the roster shuffle is complete.
Division III stud Broc Rutter set passing records during his time in college and will try his best to make a dent in the 49ers' quarterback room -- a tough ask given his limited time in the building. With his $279 signing bonus, Rutter's best bet is to make the practice squad this season and get elevated onto the roster in 2021.
The 49ers have one of the better quarterback rooms in the NFL, featuring a high-end starter and backup combination, with a third-string player that knows the playbook well. Health-permitting, this should be a position group that the 49ers should not have to worry about in 2020.
Akash Anavarathan covers the 49ers for Fourth and Nine. Follow him at Twitter @akashanav.
Graphic via Dillon Hiser.