49ers

Garoppolo, 49ers face daunting challenge vs team with 'Super Bowl qualities'

Garoppolo, 49ers face daunting challenge vs team with 'Super Bowl qualities'

SANTA CLARA – With his quick release and surgical accuracy that enables his receivers the ability to turn upfield and run after the catch without breaking stride, Jimmy Garoppolo welcomes the opportunities that open when he sees a blitz coming.

On Sunday, the Tennessee Titans blitzed on more than half of Garoppolo’s dropbacks. He completed 16 of 23 passes while the Titans brought more than four pass-rushers for 214 yards and a 98.8 passer rating, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Every time you blitz, it leaves a hole somewhere,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “When you don’t blitz, sometimes you’ve got to wait on those holes to get open longer.”

And that is the challenge that awaits the 49ers on Sunday, as the Jacksonville Jaguars – owners of the No. 1 defense in the NFL – come to Levi’s Stadium to continue their quest for the AFC South title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The 49ers and Jaguars ride into Sunday's game on three-game win streaks.

The Jaguars lead the NFL with 51 sacks. (The Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers’ opponent to close out the season, are second with 47 sacks.) The impressive part is that few teams blitz fewer times than Jacksonville under second-year defensive coordinator Todd Wash.

“It shows that you can get to the quarterback with four and that allows you to play much more sound, aggressive coverage,” Shanahan said of the Jaguars.

The Jaguars’ defense is loaded. Their top-ranked pass defense features two of the best cornerbacks in the game, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye. Defensive lineman Calais Campbell is an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate with 14.5 sacks.

“I think every week is a different challenge in the NFL,” Garoppolo said. “Every team is a good team, no matter what their record is. These guys have a very talented defense. It’s just a different type of scheme. A lot of teams are adapting the scheme that these guys run and it’s becoming pretty popular in the NFL.”

The Jaguars’ defense is an off-shoot of the Seattle defense. It’s similar to the system Robert Saleh has implemented in his first season with the 49ers after spending the three previous years as linebackers coach with the Jaguars.

But what distinguishes Jacksonville’s defense is the number of standout players at every level of the defense.

“It’s not that unique,” Garoppolo said. “A lot of teams are adapting to this and so you see it all over the league now. Seattle started it and now teams are adapting it. I think the players that they have make it unique. They have very talented players on every level of the defense. It’s going to be a good challenge for us on Sunday.”

Said Shanahan, “I do believe that they have as much qualities as anyone that it takes to win a Super Bowl -- a top defense, a very good running game, a good offense, good special teams. When you see a team like that on tape that you believe has that ability, it’s a good thing, it’s a good challenge for your team to go against them and see where you’re at.”

NFL Draft 2020: Clemson's Isaiah Simmons designed to stop George Kittle

simmonscombineusa.jpg
USATSI

NFL Draft 2020: Clemson's Isaiah Simmons designed to stop George Kittle

INDIANAPOLIS -- George Kittle: Pass-catchers want to be like him, defenders want to contain him.

Kittle, three years removed from taking part in the NFL Scouting Combine, is now a transcendent player with the 49ers. He has become a standard for players who aspire for pro football stardom on either side of the ball.

In the case of do-everything Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons, he sees his value in the NFL as a player who can be an antidote for the way Kittle can control a game. After all, Kittle is a force in the passing game or as a run-blocker.

Why do NFL defenses need players like Simmons?

“If you know who George Kittle and Travis Kelce are, then that explains it all,” Simmons said Thursday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Stopping tight ends, and linebackers playing man (coverage) on running backs.

“The game is no longer a 250-pound linebacker. It’s more guys that are able to run side to side and are able to cover. It’s just a necessity now with the tight ends and running backs.”

Simmons is a safety in a linebacker’s body. Or is he a linebacker in a defensive end’s body? Or is he something entirely different. When asked what position he plays, Simmons' standard answer is "defense."

“I would do everything I did in college,” Simmons said. “Just kind of like a Swiss Army knife. Move me around because then I’m able to show what I can really do. I wouldn’t say I’m really tied down to one position.”

Simmons measured in at 6-foot-3 5/8, 238 pounds with a wingspan of 81 7/8 inches. He could be a top-five pick in the draft. What's certain is this: When Simmons and Kittle are playing in the same game for the first time, it will be as competitors. The 49ers' first pick is at No. 31 overall.

As a junior, before declaring for the NFL Draft, Simmons registered 104 tackles in 15 games with eight sacks, three interceptions, eight passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

He compares his game to that of Kansas City defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who is more than 6 inches shorter and nearly 50 pounds lighter than Simmons.

“I know years ago it wasn’t good to be a positionless guy,” Simmons said. “But, now, it’s become a benefit for me just because of all the versatility. I’ll be able to do, play linebacker, play safety, whatever it is, I feel like it just helps me out.

“Mentally, I feel like there isn’t anything I can’t do. I played every position except for a nose or 3-technique. When it comes down to it, I’m going to try with my best ability to do everything I can.”

[RELATED: Five defensive players 49ers should watch at combine]

And that includes matching up with the top tight ends in the NFL -- the guys who are difficult for any other player at a standard position to defend. Kittle, for instance, is too fast for linebackers and too strong and aggressive for defensive backs. Even Randy Moss' son, Thaddeus, is identifying Kittle as the player he tries to emulate

“The game is evolving so, the name of the game now is stopping tight ends,” Simmons said. “So something has to be done to stop these Travis Kelces and George Kittles out there.”

Kittle was voted the All-Pro tight end after his second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season. He set the single-season NFL record for tight ends with 1,377 yards in 2018. Kelce registered his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019.

NFL Draft 2020: Five defensive players 49ers should watch at combine

arnetteap.jpg
AP

NFL Draft 2020: Five defensive players 49ers should watch at combine

What a difference one year can make.

Last year, the 49ers entered the NFL Scouting Combine with the No. 2 pick in the draft and had their eyes on defensive end Nick Bosa. This time around, San Francisco has the No. 31 pick after losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. Bosa was named Defensive Rookie of the Year after a dominant season.

While the 49ers have fewer needs and holes to fill than this time last year, there still are areas they can improve on through the draft. We already highlighted five receivers they should be watching throughout the combine. Now it's time to turn to the defense. 

Under coordinator Robert Saleh, the 49ers' pass defense improved by leaps and bounds last season. They allowed the fewest passing yards per games in the NFL at 169.2, but ranked just 16th in touchdowns allowed (23) and tied for eighth with 12 interceptions. Their pass defense benefitted greatly from a dangerous D-line, and the defensive backfield still could use some help. 

Safety Jimmie Ward is set to hit free agency, cornerback Richard Sherman turns 32 years old in March and is a free agent after 2020, and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon took yet another step back in his third pro season. 

Alabama's Xavier McKinney could be the perfect draft prospect for the 49ers, but likely will be gone by the time they're on the clock. Cal product Ashtyn Davis also would have been a name to watch at the combine, however, the former track star isn't competing in drills as he rehabs from surgery that left him out of the Senior Bowl and the Redbox Bowl. 

LSU safety Grant Delpit fell to the 49ers in our latest mock draft before the combine, but won't perform in drills as he comes back from an ankle injury.

[RELATED: Shenault compares self to Deebo]

With that being said, here are five defensive backs for the 49ers to keep their eyes on in Indianapolis. All of the players below are expected to be available near the end of the first round of if the 49ers trade back to the second round.

C.J. Henderson, CB, Florida

Henderson is expected to test well and could be really impressive in drills. He's a lanky cornerback at 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds, who looks smooth in coverage. 

Henderson didn't have any interceptions as a junior but did produce 11 passes defensed. Over his three-year college career, he had six picks and 20 passes defensed. 

It might be a surprise if he's still available at No. 31. 

Damon Arnette, CB, Ohio State

Jeffrey Okudah stole the spotlight in the Buckeyes' secondary, but Arnette is rising up draft boards. While Okudah figures to be a top pick, Arnette should be available for the 49ers. 

That doesn't mean Arnette is a player to look past, though. He can play press or off the ball and got better and better at Ohio State. 

Arnette has plenty to gain at the combine, and could find himself on the 49ers' radar. 

Trevon Diggs, CB, Alabama

There are serious concerns about Diggs' ability as a tackler. He is a converted receiver and it really shows at times. But, his skills could convert well to Saleh's Cover 3 defense.

Diggs is the kind of long corner at 6-2 and 207 pounds that Saleh covets. The athleticism and ball skills are there. There also are reasons to worry about him if he's asked to do what doesn't fit him best. 

A.J. Terrell, CB, Clemson

One bad outing doesn't change everything. Terrell was roasted for giving up multiple touchdowns in the national championship game, but many of those were from being slightly too aggressive with his hands and a technique issue that easily can be changed. 

Terrell is a handsy corner who really knows how to jab. If he falls down boards, the 49ers should take advantage of that. 


Antoine Winfield Jr., S, Minnesota

Winfield is a firecracker. The 5-10 safety might not dominate the 40-yard dash but he makes plays. As a redshirt sophomore, Winfield recorded 83 tackles, seven interceptions and forced two fumbles. 

Winfield might not be the 49ers' first option at safety, however, they could take a long look at him if he falls. His tape speaks louder than his size or straight-line speed.