With the NFL season all wrapped and the draft as well as free agency still some time away from this point, I wanted to take a look at the newest quarterback, who got paid. Jimmy Garoppolo was traded to San Francisco for a second-round pick in the middle of the 2017 season and completely turned the franchise around, helping a 1-10 team win their next five games. That resulted in the front office making him the highest-paid player in NFL history, by giving him a five-year, 137.5 million dollar contract. After just seven career starts, it is fair to question if he is worth all that money. Therefore, I watched every snap of his time with the 49ers to offer an analysis on the young QB. I looked at his two games with New England as well, but decided to leave those out for now, since I’m judging him based on the system he will be a part of going forward, with Kyle Shahan signing a six-year contract himself, just a year ago. Let’s dive into the tape:
Jimmy Garoppolo certainly has the athleticism to run away from defenders on bootlegs and be a threat to draw eyes from the backside off handoffs. What I love about him is the fact that he can extend plays and throw on the run, but he is keeping his eyes downfield and only takes off if he doesn’t like what he sees. On this play versus the Bears, he has Carlos Hyde motioning out wide, with the receivers to that side running kind of a spacing concept. While Trent Taylor gets open eventually, Jimmy G feels pressure from his back-side, scrambles away from it and is looking for George Kittle running a post from the opposite side all the way. Once he realizes there’s not enough room to fit the throw in, he pumps once and then immediately turns upfield to pick up eight yards with his feet, plus another 15 on a late hit out of bounds.
I think he has an outstanding pump-fake in general, which he can use to fool defenders. A lot of quarterbacks think they sell the throw by showing a quick motion with their arm and then tucking the ball again. Well-schooled defenders won’t react too heavily against those kind of quick pumps, but if you look at Garoppolo, you can see him use the entire range of his shoulder and he has the hand size to hold on to the ball on his way down. On this play he uses it to move Texans linebacker Benardrick McKinney from the middle and open up a running lane to pick up another five yards.
While, Jimmy G clearly isn’t the kind of scrambler someone like Russell Wilson is, he can make some things happen sliding up and down in the pocket. He has the pure arm strength to deliver passes off balance and so if he does escape, he can still throw the ball down the field and make something out of nothing. On this next play, you can see him get pressure in his face from the looping end off a E-T twist on the right side. He initially moves to the left before spinning back to the right. Unfortunately, that’s right where the D-tackle is at that point. So what he does is spin back around and use his off-hand to keep himself from falling down. After escaping the rush, he takes off to the left and then decides to whip a pass into the hands of Aldrick Robinson, who is running towards the sideline. Despite the throw being a little wobbly, this should have been a catch and on some highlight reel.
One of Garoppolo’s most impressive attributes are his quick set and release. I’m not sure if there’s anybody in the league who can have his feet off platform and set them as quickly as that guy. Moreover, he is also near the top in terms of what I clocked from the start of his throwing motion to the moment the ball leaves his hand. It is phenomenal how quickly he can go from moving laterally to getting a throw off. Check out this laser to Marquise Goodwin on a slant. Usually this should be an easy throw if you have a single receiver on the boundary side running with a step on the corner. But the Jaguars have Telvin Smith, who is the fastest linebacker in the league. He reads the eyes of the quarterback perfectly, sprints out to the flat and if anybody with a slower release tries to fit that ball in there, number 50 probably picks that one off and takes it to the house. Here it results in a new first down.
Of course, Kyle Shanahan sees the same things as I do, because well, he’s an offensive genius. Therefore, he decided to use that ability his new franchise quarterback possesses and incorporated an extremely creative play. Here, versus the Titans in week 15, the entire offense moves as if they were running zone to the right, but on the backside, they once again have Marquise Goodwin running a quick slant against Adoree Jackson, who is using outside leverage. I’m not quite sure if the QB has the authority to check to that when he sees the right alignment by the corner or if that would be an option going forward, but this kind of design puts the same stress on defenses, as the run-pass-options does, which I talked about recently when analyzing the offense of the Philadelphia Eagles. If that backside linebacker steps up or, in this case, starts chasing the play down for just a split second, the receiver is open and there’s nothing the defense can do. I didn’t see anybody run this play all year long, but if you have a guy, who can get rid of the ball this quickly, why wouldn’t you use something like that?
After talking about the quickness and athleticism, let’s get to the power. Garoppolo definitely has the arm strength to fit throws into tight windows. Even while taking hits and not being able to fully step into throws, he can make some amazing throws down the field. Just take this beautiful sequence against the Jaguars. The newest 138-million-dollar man is lined up in the shotgun, with Carlos Hyde motioning into the slot. Jacksonville is running cover one with Tashaun Gipson as the single-high safety. Garoppolo checks the middle of the field, if that drag route off a little pick will be open for Hyde. Once again, Telvin Smith displays his closing speed and Jimmy’s eyes wander to the comeback on the outside. To complete the pass, he needs to release the ball right as Jalen Ramsey flicks his hips and his receiver cuts towards the sideline. Meanwhile Calais Campbell beats the right tackle on a bull- and rip-move and gets a shot at him. The ball comes out right as the hit occurs and Jimmy G throws a dart right underneath the Jags’ All-Pro corner.
He could not go through the full motion on that play and still threw a perfect ball. After seeing that and the rest of his tape, the old saying ‘he can make any throw you want’ truly comes to life. That confidence, to make any throw at any point, can get him into trouble as well though. I saw him make some ill-advised decisions at times and to be honest, he was bailed out by his receivers at least twice on throws that should have been easy interceptions for the defense or they simply dropped it. Just take this attempt versus the Bears. Jimmy has pressure in his face from Mitch Unrein beating the right guard off the snap. Instead of throwing it away in the direction of one of his receivers cutting to the outside, he tries to fit a throw in between three defenders over the middle. You can see a small window for a split second and if the timing is perfect, you can try fitting a ball in there. But Garoppolo is late and tosses the ball off his back-leg. If the linebacker had any awareness for when the ball is coming out, this should have been easy pick.
Let’s start with the positive here. If you look at Jimmy G from the belt up, he is beautiful to watch from a coach’s standpoint. He really loads up that backside by brining not only the throwing arm, but also the front arm to his back. The angles between the elbow and chest as well as the one between the forearm and biceps are perfect at 90 degrees respectively, when he brings the ball up top. He keeps the off-arm tight to his rib cage throughout the motion and uses all the torque he can muster up, to get some zing on the pass. Here I framed it all up a little to point out what I mean.
The problem is, way too many times, he just gets lazy feet and my biggest criticism of Garoppolo right now is the fact he doesn’t use his lower body properly. If you want to maximize accuracy and your throwing power as a quarterback, you need to pivot that front foot to allow yourself to open those hips and torque your upper body, while following through on your throwing motion and bringing the back-leg forward. While this current motion allows him to get the ball out in this ridiculously quick manner, it is also the reason he isn’t as consistently accurate as he could be. This way he can not put all that weight on the front-leg, he kind of drags his back-leg in the process and just doesn’t use all the torque he is capable of. On this play, he has Trent Taylor running a dig from right slot position and there is room to complete the pass to the inside. Looking at his front foot though, there is no way he can put it there because he doesn’t open up enough. In the process the ball arrives to the outside, where the defender can make a play on it, yet Taylor makes an unbelievable grab anyway.
Therefore, he also tends to fall back after releasing the ball, instead of really stepping into it. That is one of the very few things you can knock about number 12 in Foxborough as well. Brady tends to preserve his body by fading away from the pass-rushers in his face to avoid injuries. That’s a big reason he has been able to sustain that level of excellence for such a long time, but as a competitor, these kind of little details can drive you crazy. On the other hand, Andrew Luck has always been someone I love to watch because of his fearlessness to stand in that pocket and take shots, but he hasn’t picked up a football seemingly in years. So maybe general managers see that different, when talking about a 138 million dollar investment. However, with Garoppolo it’s not so much about avoiding shots, he is prone to that when the pocket is clean as well. So his feet aren’t only parallel to each other, but they are also matched with the out-of-bounds lines. On this next play, he has Kendrick Bourne running wide open on a deep crosser off a clearout route to the left. Jimmy misses him badly though, because of what he does from the belt down. Watch his front foot again, pointing straight forward instead of towards the sideline, and how little he shifts his weight onto it.
Once again, his release and throwing power are phenomenal, but those are some critical mechanical flaws, that are stunning, if you think that he sat almost four years behind Tom Brady, who offers teaching tape for quarterback coaches. If you watch those two plays, I just highlighted, you’d believe he wouldn’t be able to lead an offense up and down the field, but the crazy part is that he actually still is a very precise passer for the most part. He just gets away with things a 40-year old would never be able to overcome, since the physical abilities simply fade away over time.
What these deviations from the proper footwork lead to, is the fact that the new franchise QB in San Francisco tends to throw the ball high a lot, which can be a big problem on those routes over the middle. I’d like to see him keep it underneath the pads to avoid errors. The higher the ball goes, the higher is the potential that it ultimately ends in the arms of a defender. You have to protect your receivers not only by putting the ball right onto them instead of leading them into the hit, but also with ball-placement for them to not make themselves vulnerable.
The mental game
Jimmy Garoppolo throws with anticipation and timing. He understands exactly where and when coverage windows will open up and when to release the ball. What I don’t fully like is the fact, you see him at times being ready before he is supposed to start his throwing motion. That leads to stopping his feet and not staying true to his fundamentals. I think he would really benefit from true dropback plays, on which he can’t shorten anything. Then as soon as that back-leg hits the turf on his final step, he would start shifting his weight and initiate the forward movement. The 49ers ran a bunch of I-formation and shotgun in his first couple of starts, out of which he never really worked a traditional dropback. It was a lot of bootlegs off those zone- and off-tackle runs, plus spreading the field out of shotgun alignments and working the entire width.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want him to solely operate from under center. It would be silly to ask him to do that and to be honest. The way he functions out of spread-formations and attacks the entirety of the field, is one of his best attributes. Much like Tom Brady, Garoppolo loves to force the defense to cover a lot of ground and use motions to reveal some of their coverage keys. However, I strongly believe in making a quarterback work his way from the bottom up. Not only should his coaches be working with him on that in practice, Jimmy G should also be used that way in team drills and games, to get him into rhythm and avoid sloppy footwork. As the season progressed, he was asked to drop back from under center more and more, as well as using quick set-ups from the shotgun, which clearly put him into a nice rhythm and made him look much more dynamic.
That tendency to pre-occupy some throws and lock in on them, makes him lose some peripheral vision if he believes strongly in a play. Therefore, he completes some passes that look good on TV and on the stat sheet, but when you watch the All-22, you can see that there would have been easier and at times bigger plays to be made. Just takes this snap against the Texans. Jimmy G lines up in an empty-formation with a double-tight set to the right. Garrett Celek and Kyle Juszczyk are running vertical routes on different levels of the field, while Matt Breida is split out wide and runs a quick slant. On the opposite side, Marquise Goodwin runs a flanker fade and Louis Murphy the shallow post from the inside. The 49ers QB and his slot-receiver identify the quarters-coverage correctly and hook up for close to a 20 yard gain. If you can pick up that kind of yardage, there’s not much to criticize from the coaching staff, but if you go one step further and realize that the Mike linebacker is dropping towards the trips-side and completely opens up his hips, you can see Breida get wide open over the middle, on what would probably lead to an easy touchdown. That area between the safety and linebackers is where you want to attack cover-four and if you look at it from that standpoint, he made the right play. However, if you know where you want to go with the ball anyway, you should check the underneath coverage, because in this case the only one who could make a play here is McKinney, if he sank deep. Once you see him drift that far to the right, there is nobody to defend the area from that hash until the sideline for 30 yards. Garoppolo could have even pulled the ball down still and lofted it anywhere out front to his RB. Six plays later, San Francisco ultimately had to settle for a field-goal.
You can call me a nitpicker here, but this wouldn’t be a full analysis on the player, if I didn’t look at every single snap. However, there is a whole lot to get excited about when watching this guy on film. Jimmy is very methodical and takes what the defense gives him. While he has the arm to connect on shot-plays and keep the defense honest, it’s his work underneath with quick throws to the open areas, that make him a nightmare for defenses. When his eyes are on one key defender and that player commits too heavily for just a split second, Garoppolo will make him pay. Take this touchdown versus Jacksonville. Myles Jack is showing blitz to the right A-gap, but it is kind of a Tampa-2 coverage, which means he has to drop back quickly to take away anything coming into the void the safeties leave in the middle. His hips are turned to the trips-side and he would need to flick them completely around the make a play on the other side. Meanwhile, Telvin Smith is playing a hook-to-curl zone and is slighty drifting to the opposite side for two steps. With Jimmy’s ultra-quick release that is all he needs to fire the curl to his tight-end George Kittle in-between the two linebackers and he falls into the end-zone.
Moreover, he knows where everybody on the field will be eventually. Therefore, he doesn’t need to watch his receiver run their whole route and give away with his eyes, where he wants to go, the entire way. On this snap versus Tennessee, the Titans are in cover-three with a single-high safety look. I guess Jimmy G anticipated cover-one off the snap and looks at Marquise Goodwin as the single-receiver to the right, running a fade. Because of that, he didn’t have the opportunity to hit Louis Murphy running free in the seams from the slot. He then comes all the way back to his left to see if the underneath coverage was cleared and he had Logan Paulsen on the quick in-route. Since he sees the flat-defender cheat to the inside, he knows Carlos Hyde is open out there and takes the safe throw, which leads to a broken tackle and a six-yard gain. It doesn’t look like much, but he didn’t try to force anything and made the right decision for the situation.
I have a bunch of other clips of him, quickly diagnosing the coverage the opposing defense is in and just shredding it for what looks like such an easy completion. Whether that is drawing the middle-safety in cover-three with a seam route and then hitting a deep-in in front of him or splitting the safeties in cover-two with a quick read to his tight-end over the middle just as he gets a step on the linebackers in underneath coverage. You can tell he has been spending a little of time in the film room up in New England and with the clever play-designing of Kyle Shanahan, those two will pick some defenses apart over the coming years.
To sum this all up a little. Jimmy Garoppolo was phenomenal in his first five starts with the 49ers. While his footwork was sloppy at times and I believe there are some nuances, that should be cleaned up in his mechanics, his natural abilities and the way he plays the game from the shoulders up, signal an extremely promising career. If he wants to be somebody, who can play into his late 30s or even early 40s – and I believe he is capable of that – he needs to take some pressure off his upper body and use the proper foot action to make things easier for himself. This guy has something special and he needed to have that, if he wanted to pull off five straight wins, with a roster that was 1-10 before he arrived in the Bay Area. Watching his mic’d up stuff and understanding what kind of a guy he is, I have no doubt he will religiously work on himself and only get better from this point on. Should he be the highest-paid player in NFL history already? Of course not. But this is what the market looks like for quarterbacks right now. Once free agency officially starts, somebody will probably surpass his numbers. That’s also when San Francisco will add some more talent to surround their man at the helm, since the only pass-catcher on their roster, who earned more than two million dollars in 2017, was on injured reserve. I pointed out some of Garoppolo’s weaknesses, because I believe in him improving as a quarterback. The Niners have made the decision to build their franchise around him and trust me – the future is very bright for this young man.