Will Garoppolo be an "All-time" quarterback?
Updated: Aug 24, 2020
Coming off a Super Bowl loss in which the 49ers had a 10-point lead with 6:13 on the clock and Garoppolo overthrew potentially the game-winning throw it led to a plethora of analysts criticizing the 28-year-old quarterback. However, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan showed his support for Garoppolo in a recent conference call with reporters where he said, “I believe Jimmy has the ability to be that [one of the best quarterbacks of all time]”. This is incredibly high praise for Garoppolo who in my opinion is not a top 15 quarterback in the NFL, yet, when you look at Jimmy’s career so far, it’s hard to deny he has potential.
Shanahan also spoke about Garoppolo’s understanding of the offense and defense in his conference call saying “Jimmy’s learned the offense. He’s fine with that. It’s just being automatic, it's understanding coverages, going through everything.” Although Shanahan stated Jimmy’s understanding of the offense, which was made even more impressive by a viral video of Shanahan with former offensive lineman and Fox Sport analyst Mark Schlerteh in which Shanahan showed off his longest play call “Y-short to strong-right clamp Ace; H 2-Y Bingo X comeback; cannon with roll-right B shallow on two” emphasising how impressive it is for Garoppolo to have a complete understanding of the offense, his comments on Garoppolo’s need to understand defences alarmed a lot of people in the media. However, when you look at the way the 49ers run their offense its very understandable for Garoppolo to have more struggles reading defences than it is for other quarterbacks. On ‘First Things First’ previous defensive co-ordinator for the New England Patriots and ex-NFL head coach Eric Mangini explained how the offensive system Garoppolo ran in New England is entirely to different to that in San Francisco, “In fairness to Jimmy when you shift and motion like San Francisco does, the coverage changes… and when it changes your making decisions after the snap as opposed to what your used to in New England when you come out you evaluate what’s happening and you have a pre snap decision.” Personally, I found Mangini’s comments quite eye opening into some of Garoppolo’s struggles, However, Garoppolo has still been in the league for 6 years and for him to still struggle reading defences is a cause for concern.
One aspect of Garoppolo’s career that is often overlooked is that despite being in the league for 6 years he has less than 2 years of experience as a starting quarterback. He started 2 games in 2016 for New England and 27 during his time with the 49ers. Despite his lack of experience Garoppolo is a proven winner. As a starter in the regular season Jimmy is 21-5 giving him a win percentage of 80.8. Although Brady has played 283 games compared to Garoppolo’s 26, Brady’s all-time regular season win percentage is 0.77 which currently ranks the best all-time, which highlights just how well Garoppolo’s career has started so far.
Despite winning games, Garoppolo’s stats don’t jump off the page, while in New England his touchdowns to interception ratio was 5-0, during his three seasons in San Francisco it is 39-21 along with 250.2 yards per game. So, although his standard stats may not correlate with winning when you look at his consistency of play it does not change when away or at home, in different quarters or on different stages which is a great trait for a quarterback to possess. Yet, most importantly is Garoppolo’s 3rd-down completion percentage. In 2019 Garoppolo led the entire NFL in 3rd-down completion percentage with 50% completing 65 of 130 attempts. Pairing Shanahan’s play-calling and formidable run game with Garoppolo’s completion percentage on 3rd down makes for an incredibly efficient offense, which when partnered with Robert Saleh’s elite defense will equate to a lot of wins in the NFL. So, while Garoppolo isn’t the pure reason the 49ers win games, he is the perfect quarterback for Shanahan’s system and without him they are 4-20 with Nick Mullens and C.J. Beathard at centre.
They only real stain on Garoppolo’s career is his 2019 play-off run which ended with a Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. San Francisco blew out both the Vikings (27-10) and Packers (37-20) on course to the Super Bowl but over the course of the two games Garoppolo attempted only 27 passes completing 17 of them for a total of 208 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Whilst it’s hard to fault Garoppolo as he did what was asked of him and the team won, it’s hard to see how Shanahan calling a passing play 27 times over 2 games results in him having the confidence that Garoppolo has the ability to become an all-time quarterback. Furthermore, in the Super Bowl when it fell on Garoppolo’s shoulders to make plays late and the play of the game to Emmanuel Sanders he was incapable of doing so, compared to Mahomes who despite having a bad game up to the 4th quarter put his team on his shoulders and drove down the field to reverse a 10 point deficit.
Whilst, Garoppolo could become the kind of quarterback who shoulders the load in big games, taking a similar career trajectory as Tom Brady, I think it’s very unlikely. I do not believe by any means that Garoppolo is a bad quarterback, in fact the opposite, I believe he is the 16th best quarterback in the NFL with the potential to eventually be a top 10 quarterback. However, so long as quarterbacks like Mahomes, Wilson and Jackson are around and surrounded with talent I don’t think Garoppolo will be able to win a Super Bowl as I can’t see him being able to elevate his play past that of those rival quarterbacks.
Image by: Casey McNeil