I’m not sure there has been a stranger quarterback situation in recent memory than the one the San Francisco 49ers are currently experiencing.
In October 2017, the 49ers swung a trade with the New England Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo, a talented young signal-caller who was eternally stuck behind Tom Brady in Foxborough.
But San Francisco identified Garoppolo as its quarterback of the future and parted with a second-round draft pick to acquire him, a very cheap price to pay for a guy you think is your franchise quarterback.
Garoppolo made five starts that season and was impressive, landing a monster $137.5 million extension as a result. But last year, he tore his ACL in his third start of the season and ended up missing the remainder of the 2018 campaign.
He rehabbed and returned for training camp, where he lit up talk shows and forums and anywhere sports were discussed after throwing five interceptions during a practice session. The fact that he looked absolutely brutal in his preseason debut didn’t help matters, either.
Garoppolo kind of righted the ship in his second preseason outing, and now, he is getting set to enter Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in what he hopes will be his first full season as a starter.
So, just what should we expect from the quarterback we know virtually nothing about?
Well, that’s just the thing: we don’t know what to expect.
In eight starts with the Niners overall, Garoppolo has thrown for 2,278 yards, 12 touchdowns and eight picks while completing 64.8 percent of his passes and posting a passer rating of 94.1.
Not great numbers, but not bad ones, either.
No one can deny that the kid has talent, which is why the 49ers paid through the nose to lock him up long term, but will he ever realize that talent, and how much—if at all—will the knee injury affect him going forward?
Here is the thing: there is a quite a bit of pressure on Garoppolo from the get-go, as he not only needs to prove himself as an NFL quarterback, but he needs to validate that contract.
To be fair, San Francisco has an out after 2020, but still, all people are seeing right now is $137.5 million.
The problem is the 49ers don’t exactly have a ton of reliable weapons in the passing game. There is record-breaking tight end George Kittle, but outside of him, the Niners only have a bunch of unproven, albeit talented, young receivers; Dante Pettis, Jalen Hurd and Deebo Samuel to name a few.
Of course, there is a chance those wideouts develop into studs, but they have proven nothing at this point, particularly in the case of Hurd and Samuel, who are both rookies.
But Garoppolo doesn’t have any time to waste. He needs to produce, and he needs to produce now.
What I think will end up happening in the season opener is that Kyle Shanahan will do his best to take some of that burden off of Garoppolo’s shoulders by trying to utilize Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida in the ground game.
Not saying that he won’t ask Garoppolo to make plays, but you shouldn’t expect Garoppolo to throw 30 or more passes right off the bat.
Shanahan will likely keep things simple, running the football and having Garoppolo make quick, short throws to get back into the swing of things and to help him gain some confidence.
I don’t think you’ll see Garoppolo taking many chances downfield this early in the season. Remember: he is coming off of a devastating injury, so he needs some time to get his sea legs.
Expect a rather tame outing from Garoppolo, one in which he might complete a high percentage of his passes due to the distance of the throws. But he probably won’t rack up a ton of yardage.
I would be pretty surprised if Shanahan gives Garoppolo the green light to let it rip as soon as Week 1.