With Jimmy Garoppolo ruled out for the rest of the season the 49ers playoff hopes look like they are fading, but what is in store for the future?
Coming into the season, the San Francisco 49ers were viewed as this year’s potential breakout team. With rising star Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm last season, the team finished 5-0 over their last five games, which was the best record in the NFL during the stretch.
Garoppolo’s stats during the stretch weren’t overly impressive. He averaged 260 yards per game while completing 67% of his passes, but he had just eight total touchdowns with five interceptions.
However, it wasn’t the stats that made Garoppolo special, it was the results. He turned a team that was 1-10 when he took over as the starter into one that felt it could compete with every team in the NFL. They proved this in their impressive victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, who ended up being just one game from the Super Bowl.
That’s what makes this injury so devastating for the 49ers because they felt like they were ready to compete for the playoffs this season. Now that Garoppolo is out for the season with an ACL tear, there is virtually no chance they can make the playoffs in the loaded NFC.
Although the 49ers felt they were close to contention, they were going to have an uphill battle just to capture a Wild Card spot. Winning division was going to be very difficult with the Super Bowl favorite Los Angeles Rams looking the way they did in their first three games.
Additionally, the early season schedule made it unlikely that the 49ers could get off to the fast start they would need to keep pace with Los Angeles. After playing games in Minnesota and Kansas City the past three weeks, the 49ers look to play the Chargers, Green Bay, plus a home game against the Rams this month.
This is why the Garoppolo injury could end up being a blessing in disguise. San Francisco’s roster simply isn’t talented enough right now to live up to the expectations they had because of the way last season ended.
There are holes all over this roster, most notably at pass rushing defensive end. The 49ers used the third pick in the draft in 2017 on Solomon Thomas, but he is starting to trend towards bust territory. He had a Pro Football Focus grade of 55 as a rookie and a 64 thus far, which ranks 54th amongst qualified edge defenders.
Other than DeForest Buckner who has 3.5 sacks (half a sack off the league leaders), the 49ers simply don’t have any other pass rushers that can get any consistent pressure on quarterbacks. They rank in the bottom half of the league with only seven sacks this season. This contributes to why their secondary has struggled as well.
When the quarterback is able to survey the field for so long, the secondary is put in a terrible position. Football Outsiders has the 49ers ranked 29th against the pass, but in reality the secondary has played better than this number would suggest.
Prior to leaving the game on Sunday with a calf injury, Richard Sherman looked like he was close to 100%. Through two games, Sherman ranked first in the league after allowing only one catch in 99 coverage snaps.
On the other side was supposed to be second-year pro Ahkello Witherspoon. Witherspoon posted a very respectable 74.5 PFF grade as a rookie and was a key part of the 5-0 run to end the season. However, he has taken a huge step back in year two with a 37.5 grade thus far, which ranks 106th out of 107 qualified corners. His production has taken such a nose dive that he only played 40 snaps in Week 3. Witherspoon’s regression is in part due to the pass rush, or lack thereof.
Another area the 49ers must address going forward is another red zone target for Garoppolo to throw to. San Francisco’s offense had little trouble moving the ball within the 20’s. They are one of six teams who have been in the red zone 12 or more times, but of those teams they have the lowest scoring percentage. The 49ers need to add another big bodied threat that can help them when they get close so they aren’t settling for field goals as often as they have to start the year.
PFF) September 19, 2018
There are plenty of positives on this 49ers roster as well. The offensive line has battled injuries, but still ranks amongst the best in the NFL. Their first-round pick this year Mike McGlinchey has been as good as they could’ve asked for. In Week 1, McGlinchey was forced to play out of position after both guards were injured in front of him and he struggled. However, if we look strictly at how he has performed at tackle, he ranks as the fourth best RT in the NFL.
The offensive line’s success has reflected on the running game. The 49ers rank second with 458 yards. Second-year undrafted free agent Matt Breida took over the starting role when Jerick McKinnon tore his ACL during training camp. He is tied for the league-lead in rushing yards with Ezekiel Elliott despite having 16 less carries than Elliott.
Furthermore, the 49ers have a few young defensive studs that look like they could be future Pro Bowlers. As stated earlier, Buckner has 3.5 sacks this season already, which eclipses his total from all of last year.
Reuben Foster’s suspension opened the door for rookie linebacker Fred Warner to take over the middle linebacker position and even though Foster returned last game, Warner remained the starter while Foster transitioned to outside linebacker.
Warner has been excellent in rush defense, where Football Outsiders has the 49ers eighth. Warner has the second-highest run stop percentage of all linebackers through three games. If Foster plays at the same level he did as a rookie when he posted an 81.2 PFF grade, the 49ers could find themselves with a linebacker duo that is reminiscent of the Patrick Willis-NaVorro Bowman era.
Here are the Jimmy Garoppolo cap hits per year and how the 49ers front loaded his deal— John Chapman (@JL_Chapman) February 9, 2018
2022- 27m@49ersHive @FPC_NFL @DylanADeSimone @Capology101 @49ersfangirl @jenniferleechan #49ers #JimmyG #JimmyGaroppolo #GoNiners pic.twitter.com/7QQNcZwntr
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan did an excellent job of planning ahead when negotiating Garoppolo’s contact. They made Garoppolo’s contract front loaded because they have the third most cap space available in the NFL right now. By front loading the contract, it’s going to give them more space next offseason to sign big-name free agents and give players like Buckner contract extensions in the coming years.
The 49ers roster wasn’t good enough to compete with the best teams in the NFL this season anyways. Now, Garoppolo’s injury has opened up the door for San Francisco to have a very high draft pick to go along with their cap space that will allow them to improve their pass rush and red zone woes.
Although this injury feels like the end of the world, by next season when Garoppolo and McKinnon are back healthy, the 49ers will have a new and improved roster ready to compete at the highest level.
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