In 2019, Jimmy Garoppolo helped lead the 49ers to an appearance in Super Bowl LIV. Last season was a different story. Garoppolo suffered a high-ankle sprain in Week 2 and never looked healthy again, making four midseason starts before aggravating the injury. It marked the second time in three years that Jimmy G missed significant time; he has played in just 25 of 48 games during that stretch.
Beyond the mounting injury concerns, Garoppolo started to look like he was holding the offense back, similar to what the Los Angeles Rams were experiencing with Jared Goff — watching Aaron Rodgers earn MVP honors running a similar system was doubtless a wake-up call for head coach Kyle Shanahan, and there were reports that the 49ers made an offer for Rodgers when word of his unhappiness in Green Bay emerged. At its core, Shanahan’s system requires quarterback mobility to utilize the full playbook. He didn’t have it with Matt Ryan in Atlanta and certainly doesn’t get it out of Garoppolo. That’s not to say these pocket passers haven’t succeeded, but it has been in spite of their limited athleticism.
With a team built to contend now and positioned well for the future, the 49ers pushed their chips to the center of the table, packaging four picks, including three first-rounders, moving up nine spots and select Trey Lance third overall. In the aftermath of the pick there were rumblings the team was looking to deal Garoppolo, but nothing materialized on that front and, barring an 11th-hour move, it appears both will suit up for San Francisco in 2021.
Before we look at the two principles in the quarterback room, it’s worth refreshing a universal truth about Shanahan: He wants to run the ball. In 2019, San Francisco was one of three teams to run (498 attempts) more than they passed (478), and even that is a bit deceptive as the 49ers emphasize the short-passing game — among the 42 QBs to throw at least 100 passes in 2019 only two (then-Saints QBs Drew Brees and Teddy Bridgewater) averaged fewer yards traveled through the air than Jimmy G.
We’ve already discussed Garoppolo’s injury woes, but even when healthy his production has been middling, at best. Although the veteran is entering his eighth NFL campaign, he’s played more than six games in a season just once, passing for 3,978 yards, 27 TDs and 13 INTs in ’19. Eight touchdowns and 741 yards of that came in two meetings with Arizona, meaning he averaged 231 yards and 1.4 TDs per game in his other 14 starts.
What are you waiting for?!? It’s time to get into The Huddle! Sign up today.
Those numbers flat-lined during the Super Bowl run when he passed for 427 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in three postseason tilts. When everything stays on schedule and the 49ers can control a game with the rushing attack, Garoppolo does just fine. But as soon as the onus falls to him, things get dicey in a hurry. Between durability concerns, limited athleticism, and Lance looming, Garoppolo isn’t worth drafting outside of deep leagues as a fringe QB2.
In choosing Lance over Mac Jones, who was heavily linked to the Niners leading up to the draft, the team put a premium on raw talent and potential. “Raw” is the operable word here as the 21-year-old made just 17 starts at DI-FCS North Dakota State where the Bison averaged 45 rushes against 18.6 passes per game.
That raises questions about Lance’s development when it comes to going through progressions as opposed to one read and run. There’s also a massive jump in competition with Lance, who went 17-0 in college and faced just one second-half deficit. While he garnered praise for his competitiveness and poise, there remain some unknowns about how he’ll handle adversity at the highest level.
Of course, Lance boasts plenty of positive attributes as well, starting with a live arm that’s capable of delivering the ball with accuracy all over the field. He also features a blend of speed and toughness that should make him a dangerous scrambler the moment he steps on the field. If Shanahan makes the move to Lance, you can bet he’ll tailor the offense to maximize the rookie’s physical gifts while masking his inexperience as much as possible. Expect excessive play-action rollouts, naked bootlegs, and an overemphasis on not turning over the ball.
Sooner or later, Lance is going to be QB1 in San Francisco. His situation is unique, though, as he’s joining a team that went to a Super Bowl two seasons ago under the guy ahead of him on the depth chart. If the 49ers open strong under Garoppolo, there would be little incentive to make a change. As such, Lance is best left to be drafted in dynasty leagues.
In the event he enters the starting lineup this year, there is upside found in his mobility and the fact teams don’t have tape on him. San Fran has plenty of weapons in the passing game, and Shanahan’s creativity could make Lance an intriguing risk-reward matchup play some weeks. In 2021, his best worth will come in daily fantasy sports and best-ball setups.