The 49ers have made a wise investment in signing Pierre Garcon, who is a wise pair of hands who can fill the void Anquan Boldin left.
The 49ers did not waste time in making waves in free agency, with Pierre Garcon’s signing the headliner among a host of deals.
San Francisco also signed quarterback Brian Hoyer, speedy wideout Marquise Goodwin, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, tight end Logan Paulsen, linebacker Malcolm Smith and kicker Robbie Gould.
They are also reportedly set to sign quarterback Matt Barkley and wideout Aldrick Robinson.
But it is Garcon who is the 49ers’ top acquisition and, while the report that the former Redskin receiver could earn $16 million in his first year — per Niners Nation — may raise some eyebrows, it is a reasonable price to pay for a wideout who is familiar with Kyle Shanahan’s offense and should be a reliable target for Hoyer or whoever is playing quarterback.
Garcon enjoyed his best season since 2013, when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator in Washington, in 2016, catching 79 of his 114 targets for 1,041 yards.
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Dropping just one of his catchable targets in 2016, per Pro Football Focus, Garcon has excellent hands and, though he is now 31, possesses a skill set that makes him worthy of the front-loaded contract the 49ers are giving him.
Having played nine seasons in the league, Garcon’s experience shines through in his route-running, which he relies on more than his speed to create separation.
Garcon is a decisive route-runner who commits to his break to give him ample room to make uncontested grabs, doing so on his comeback route against the Ravens to pick up a chunk of yardage:
He also has a clear understanding of route depth and when to break off his routes to gain the yardage for a first down.
In the same game in Baltimore, Garcon has a sizeable cushion from the corner and uses that to break off his route when he is beyond the first-down marker, making an easy catch on the sideline:
At 6-foot-0 and 211 pounds, Garcon has the frame and quickness to gain inside leverage against press coverage and only needs a step on the cornerback to make it count.
He wins inside on this play against the Bears and also flashes his ability to make things happen after the catch, picking up well over 20 yards:
Combine Garcon’s capability for beating defenders inside and making catches in traffic, which he does on the below play with three Packers defenders converging on him, and you have a receiver who excels on the short-to-intermediate routes over the middle:
But that is not to say Garcon is not a downfield threat, he may be more quick than fast but has enough speed to gain separation deep when afforded too much space by defenses.
The Packers paid the price in the Redskins’ Week 11 victory over Green Bay, Garcon using his yard of separation to burn them downfield for a touchdown with the defender unable to recover:
And when he is unable to win deep with his physical tools, Garcon utilizes that intelligence he has a route-runner, with this double-move he performs to free himself of a Bears defender a fine example of Garcon’s proficiency in that aspect of his game:
Perhaps the only area of Garcon’s game that is superior to his route-running is hands, he demonstrates exceptional ball-tracking and looks the ball into his hands, averaging a catch percentage of over 60 in each of his six seasons in Washington.
The last receiver the 49ers had who they could trust to win consistently at all levels was Anquan Boldin, who was allowed to walk last offseason:
Garcon is joining the Niners at almost the same stage in his career as Boldin did and fills the void left by the veteran Lions receiver in terms of dependability.
He is a target who can consistently be called on to come through and, after topping 1,300 yards in Shanahan’s offense in 2013, is heading back to that system along with a quarterback in Hoyer who is also familiar with it.
Garcon is not talked about as one of the top receivers in the league, but he is a safe pair of hands for the Niners and everything is in place for him to justify his contract.