How big a difference Jimmy Garoppolo will make for the 49ers in 2018?

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 31: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 31, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 31: Jimmy Garoppolo #10 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 31, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers appear to have landed their franchise quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo, prompting the question how big a difference-maker he’ll be in 2018 and beyond.

In case you didn’t notice, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is something of a big deal.

The Niners’ newest big commodity helped engineer a five-game win streak to close out 2017, one that included wins over three teams headed to the postseason. All this for a Niners squad that had started 1-10 before he took over starting duties in Week 12.

Garoppolo is a free agent this offseason, although San Francisco will ensure he’s back in 2018. Either on a long-term deal or under a franchise tag — whichever option seems best at the time.

San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco 49ers /

San Francisco 49ers

And while the hype around the Garoppolo-led 49ers is real, we have to ask the question what kind of impact he’ll have this upcoming season.

It’s pretty clear the Niners are better off with Garoppolo under center than either of the two options — Brian Hoyer or C.J. Beathard — they employed earlier during the season. And one would think this translates well into the team’s future.

ESPN took a look at the long-term projection (h/t James Brady of Niners Nation), ranking Garoppolo as the No. 2 QB to build a team around in 2018, saying:

"At 26, Garoppolo hasn’t yet entered his prime, but he showcases so many traits of an experienced, veteran quarterback. That’s the poise, decision-making and leadership in critical game moments. Plus, how can we not see the seamless fit with Shanahan? The middle-of-the-field throws, the deep-ball opportunities off play-action or the leveled targets when Garoppolo pulls the ball on boot action. With Shanahan’s playcalling, and Garoppolo’s advanced skill set to dice up coverages, the expectations should be sky-high in San Francisco. It’s why 49ers fans are pumped heading into 2018."

All good, right?

Reasons Why 49ers Fans Should Be Excited

There are a couple of stat breakdowns showing how big a difference Garoppolo made in the short time he handled starting duties in 2017.

Pro Football Focus‘ breakdown is enough to convince many he’ll be an impact player in San Francisco’s offense:

And then there’s this, compiled by Niner Noise’s own Chris Wilson:

Both charts show what the 49ers appear to have under center heading into 2018. Paired with head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense, plus some likely to-be-added offensive talent this offseason, there’s plenty of room to believe the Niners are a legitimate playoff contender.

But Garoppolo’s difference-making abilities extend well beyond those of just yards, completion percentage and other QB-related stats.

The best quarterbacks make everyone around them better, and Garoppolo showed signs of that too. Niner Noise recently explained how his presence actually improved what was a lackluster offensive line before his arrival:

"Before Week 13, this group ranked 19th in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency rating with a 76.8 mark. Over those final five weeks, though, the Niners’ 84.9 PBE rating was fourth best in the NFL.Why? Garoppolo."

You want the signs of an elite offense in the making? There you go.

Reasons to Be Skeptical

No, we’re not trying to rain on anyone’s hype parade here. All the best indications show Garoppolo is the real deal.

But with anything, it’s worthy to look at both sides of the equation.

Are there problems with Garoppolo’s game? Sure.

One of those, as PFF’s Michael Renner pointed out, is on deep passes. Here’s what Renner had to say here:

"Despite the preponderance of positives, there is one legitimate knock on Garoppolo to watch heading into 2017: the deep ball. Of his 12 deepest passes thrown, he completed only one. And through five games, he only notched three completions targeted farther than 20 yards down the field. That extrapolates out to only 10 deep completions over the course of a full season – an unsustainably low rate we’ve never seen for a productive quarterback over 16 games."

The question becomes whether or not this will be a problem in Shanahan’s offense. Garoppolo’s former teammate with the New England Patriots, Tom Brady, wasn’t much a deep passer prior to 2007 — a fact Renner points out — meaning the lack of a “big arm” might not be much of a concern at all.

Besides, Shanahan’s offense designs routes for receiving targets to get open in the intermediate areas of the field. You won’t need to see Garoppolo deliver home-run passes on a regular basis.

Opponents will try to scheme against this, though, dropping safeties down towards the box and trying to take away intermediate routes by a combination of man and zone coverages. That’s typically the response when facing QBs who target this level of the secondary frequently.

If Garoppolo handles this well enough, there’s no reason for concern. If not, you’re likely to see more plays like the one against the Los Angeles Rams below:

The Prognosis

The evidence supporting Garoppolo and his possible franchise fit far outweighs that of any legitimate concerns.

No NFL quarterback is perfect, and there are elements of Brady’s game, even at his prime, that were questionable. One also has to take into consideration Garoppolo was operating on a limited scope of Shanahan’s offense, not fully grasping the head coach’s system and likely not being fully able to until a full offseason is under his belt.

More from Niner Noise

Want a relatable comparison? During Shanahan’s first year with the Atlanta Falcons, quarterback Matt Ryan posted an 89.0 passer rating while completing 66.3 percent of his passes. A full year after learning Shanahan’s offense, those numbers jumped to a 69.9-percent completion percentage and an NFL-leading 117.1 passer rating.

True, the Falcons had far more weapons than the Niners currently do. But you can see how a notable jump is possible.

Putting it all together, there are few reasons to suspect Garoppolo turns into a bust. If anything, he’s on track to be one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL in the near future.

Next: 5 offseason roster moves the 49ers should make in 2018

Quantifying that as much as possible, it wouldn’t be shocking at all to see San Francisco ride this momentum towards a possible trip to the playoffs when 2018 winds to a close.