No. 2: QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Including the 49ers quarterback on this list isn’t in any way an indictment on his play in 2019.
As noted at various times on this site and on the Niner Noise Podcast, Jimmy Garoppolo is more than capable of leading this team, and being the quarterback it needs to win the franchise its sixth Lombardi Trophy.
But after what the 49ers did to the Green Bay Packers twice last season and to other teams throughout the year like the Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings, Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns, the NFL is on high alert concerning the 49ers running game, no matter who is in the Niners’ backfield.
That puts a large target not just on head coach Kyle Shanahan to continue to come up with inventive ways to get the running game going in spite of that, but also on Garoppolo to succeed when rushing fails.
He acquitted himself nicely in such situations last season, such as the Nov. 17 matchup at Levi’s against the Arizona Cardinals where an early lead and a strong Cardinals defensive effort held the 49ers to just 34 rushing yards.
Garoppolo responded by throwing for a season-high 424 yards (though he netted just 408 due to sacks) and four touchdowns, leading the 49ers back from a 16-0 hole to win the game 36-26.
The quarterback was also strong in games against New Orleans in the Superdome, where he threw for 349 yards and four touchdowns, and in the regular-season finale against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field, where he threw for 285 yards and tossed just four incomplete passes.
This isn’t to say the 49ers running game and that the entire offense will be ebb and flow based on Garoppolo in 2020. But the law of averages suggests the team won’t always be playing with leads and that more teams will figure out at least somewhat how to stop the running game, meaning throwing more is a definite possibility.
And when those opportunities arise, it’ll be up to Garoppolo to step up and lead in ways he wasn’t asked to very often last season.