49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo played better than you think in 2019

Many pundits looked negatively at how San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo handled himself late in Super Bowl LIV, but his efforts in 2019 were just fine. In fact, they were better than you think.

Sure, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t close out Super Bowl LIV in the way you’d expect a franchise-elite signal-caller should.

Whether it be his fourth-quarter overthrow intended for now-New Orleans Saints wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, a couple of painful interceptions or some missed targets, Garoppolo was far from perfect in the biggest game of his career.

So, considering the attention given to the Super Bowl, it’s no surprise the Niners’ loss with Jimmy G at the helm prompted all kinds of discussion San Francisco should seek a replacement this offseason, ranging from quarterbacks Tom Brady, Kirk Cousins and now, even the former Carolina Panthers star, Cam Newton.

Those who criticize Garoppolo have their merits. Throws like the one intended for Sanders are ones you’d expect a $137.5 million quarterback to make. He didn’t, plain and simple.

But when you look back at his entire season’s worth of work, it’s hard to deny Jimmy Garoppolo put forth one of the best campaigns in 49ers history.

Quite literally. After all, his 3,978 passing yards ended up ranking fourth all time among San Francisco quarterbacks. Don’t overlook that, especially considering Hall of Fame greats like Steve Young and Joe Montana are regularly on the single-season list.

Yet Garoppolo’s numbers go far beyond the sheer passing volume.

If you’re looking for completion percentage in 2019, Garoppolo is in the top five:

  1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints — 74.3
  2. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders — 70.4
  3. Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans — 70.3
  4. Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers — 69.1
  5. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings — 69.1

Sure, Garoppolo was tied with Kirk Cousins in percentage. But Jimmy G also had 32 more pass attempts.

If you want passer rating, Garoppolo’s in 2019 was 102.0, which was just over three points lower than the No. 7 qualifier on that list and the quarterback who beat him in the Super Bowl, the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes (105.3).

Garoppolo was also one of only six quarterbacks last season who had four-plus game-winning drives on the year, too, showing he’s more than adept engineering late-game comebacks when needed.

But the splits, not just the traditional stats, also tell us a lot about how effective Garoppolo was.

Especially on third downs, where Jimmy G was the league’s best in 2019 in this crucial spot, completing 50 percent (65-of-130) of his third-down pass attempts for a first down. In contrast, Mahomes ranked sixth on this list at 46.1 percent.

All this is pretty notable for a quarterback who started only 10 games before a full season under center.

Granted, it wasn’t perfect in 2019, especially early on, as KNBR 680’s Jake Hutchinson pointed out:

In many ways, Garoppolo actually exceeded what should have been expected of him. He looked every bit a man who lacked game experience and was coming off a serious knee injury through the first six games, when he was averaging 219 yards per game, and had a 7:6 touchdown-to-interception split with dozens of poor decisions that could have easily turned into interceptions.

Hutchinson was also referring to some notable quarterbacks’ numbers after their first full season as a starter, such as Hall of Famers like Montana, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, whose first-year starting completion percentages were all lower than Jimmy G last season.

There’s an important wrinkle to consider here, too, stemming from Garoppolo’s recovery from the 2018 ACL injury he suffered early that season. Early in 2019, Young predicted on KNBR the recovery would potentially hinder Jimmy G’s initial efforts:

It’ll be a year of, you know, they always say the second year from a knee injury, they’re great at the ACLs now, but everyone I’ve ever heard from from this year to 20 years ago, the first year you’re playing, but you’re not 100 percent, and then the second year you feel great.

If Young is right, Garoppolo might be able to avoid some of the mistakes and gaffes he flashed early in the regular season, then using the full year’s experience to his benefit this upcoming year.

Next: 3 ways Jimmy Garoppolo can improve his numbers in 2020

And maybe that’ll be enough to put all the chatter of Jimmy Garoppolo not being the right fit for the 49ers to bed for good.