Barnwell: Jimmy G looks legit, and it changes everything in San Fran


Even in a year when teams like the Rams and Texans have turned into entirely different offenses overnight by virtue of swapping in a quarterback or a head coach, it has been shocking to see what has happened to the 49ers since Jimmy Garoppolo made his way into the lineup. The simplest number is four: Garoppolo took over a team that had gone 1-10 under the stewardship of C.J. Beathard and Brian Hoyer and has won each of his first four starts with the 49ers, punctuated by a 44-33 win over the Jaguars and their top-ranked pass defense last week.

It appears that 49ers general manager John Lynch may have accomplished one of the hardest things to do in sports: get one over on Bill Belichick. If Garoppolo is as good as he has looked in his first six starts as a pro in New England and San Francisco, the 49ers made out like bandits in acquiring the 26-year-old for a mere second-round pick. The entire trajectory of this franchise has been transformed in a matter of weeks.

Let’s take a look at Garoppolo and the 49ers after his first quarter of a season at the helm in San Francisco. Has he shown enough to already be considered a franchise quarterback? What happens from here on out with him and the 49ers? Let’s answer some questions that Lynch and Kyle Shanahan are very excited to be asking.

Has Garoppolo really been that great so far?

Well, yeah. Since he took over as the starter in Week 13, you can make a case that Garoppolo has been the best quarterback in football. He ranks among the league leaders over that time frame in both completion percentage (69.0 percent, fifth) and yards per attempt (8.7, third), and rates as the league leader in Total QBR (82.1), nearly 10 points ahead of Ben Roethlisberger in second place.

The 49ers haven’t been quite as productive on offense as those numbers would suggest by virtue of where Garoppolo has struggled. The red zone had been an issue for the 49ers in Jimmy G’s three starts before the Jacksonville tilt. The 49ers pushed the ball inside the 20 a whopping 13 times in three games and scored exactly three touchdowns, producing an average of 3.9 points per red zone possession. The Jets were the only team in the league to stay under four points per red zone trip last season. This is how your field goal kicker goes 15-for-15 over a three-week span.

Red zone performance tends to catch up to a quarterback’s performance over the other 80 yards of the field, though, and that’s exactly what happened last week. The 49ers made six trips to the end zone and scored four touchdowns, throwing in a field goal and a tipped interception for an average of more than five points per red zone possession. If Garoppolo plays great football outside of the red zone, chances are he’ll be great inside of it, too.

Think about who Garoppolo is doing this with, too. The 49ers are without Pierre Garcon, their presumed No. 1 receiver. Right tackle Trent Brown, one of the more underrated tackles in football, was struggling through a torn labrum before going on injured reserve on Dec. 15.

Garoppolo’s top receiver right now is Marquise Goodwin, who was the No. 3 target on the Bills last season. Rookie fifth-rounder Trent Taylor has emerged as a useful slot receiver. Garrett Celek, a rare holdover to the Jim Harbaugh days, has 160 yards and pair of touchdowns at tight end with Garoppolo in the lineup. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk, signed to a much-derided deal this offseason, had 120 receiving yards in nine games before Garoppolo’s arrival and suddenly has 176 yards in four games with the new quarterback. Garoppolo is making these guys look like superstars.

What’s most striking? Garoppolo looks remarkably smooth for a player who has been working underneath Shanahan for only a few weeks. There aren’t many of those frozen moments in which you see a young quarterback visually struggling with the progressions and frantically trying to find his open receiver. So much of what Garoppolo does feels on time and in stride. The two-minute drill he led to set up a game-winning field goal over the Titans was preternaturally cool and collected, a series of almost breezy completions over the middle. He looks every bit as good as his numbers.

How does he compare to other quarterbacks after six starts?

Going back through 2001, Garoppolo is just the third quarterback to start his career with six wins in six starts, joining Roethlisberger and Marc Bulger. Their careers obviously diverged in different directions, and both are possible for Garoppolo. Roethlisberger ended up on a perennial winner and has had consistent success for his entire career. Bulger struggled to stay healthy and went from playing in an excellent offense to struggling within a shell of a broken scheme on a roster stripped of talent.

In terms of performance, Garoppolo has the eighth-best passer rating (102.9) of any quarterback through their first six starts. Roethlisberger is on that list, which is a mixed bag. Let’s run out the top 10 and how they performed over their next season’s worth of starts:


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here