How 49ers' Jimmy Garopplo, Eagles' Carson Wentz stack up among NFL's elite

How 49ers' Jimmy Garopplo, Eagles' Carson Wentz stack up among NFL's elite

Jimmy Garoppolo brought the 49ers to the NFL’s biggest stage in 2019. A 13-3 regular season culminated with two dominant playoff wins followed by San Francisco taking a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV, before quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs roared back to stun the 49ers in Miami Gardens.

Garoppolo received the majority of the criticism for the 49ers’ fourth-quarter collapse, as the signal-caller made several costly miscues, including an overthrow of Emmanuel Sanders on third-and-10 that almost assuredly would have been a touchdown.

The debate continued Thursday on ESPN’s First Take, as the topic “Is Jimmy Garoppolo ready to be an elite QB?” came up. Somehow Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz popped up during the discussion, and some contentious discourse ensued between commentators Max Kellerman and Damien Woody.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

Wentz was the No. 2 draft pick for Philadelphia back in 2016, just behind Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff. Unlike Garoppolo, Wentz was thrown directly into the fire as Philadelphia’s starter during his rookie season, and he led the Eagles to a 7-9 record. The following season, Wentz was the MVP front-runner before suffering a torn ACL in Week 14 (ironically against the Rams) ended his season prematurely. Backup Nick Foles went on to lead the Eagles to a thrilling Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots.

Wentz got the Eagles into the postseason once again in 2019, but he went down early in the wild-card game on what pretty clearly was a dirty hit from then-Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney during a scramble.

When you compare stats between the two signal-callers from 2019, Garoppolo seems to stand above Wentz on the surface as far as efficiency goes. Jimmy G’s completion percentage and passer rating were superior to Wentz, while the Eagles QB threw for more total yards and fewer interceptions (Wentz had 607 pass attempts compared to Garoppolo’s 476).

Wentz is a far superior athlete to Garoppolo when it comes to being a dual-threat in the run game, as Wentz has rushed for 150 or more yards in three of his four NFL seasons, including 243 a season ago. Garoppolo’s legs never have been his strength, especially after he tore his ACL in 2018. Jimmy G rushed for just 62 yards last season, but Wentz also didn’t scramble much in the year following his ACL tear.

Garoppolo had a superior supporting cast this year according to most experts, as the Eagles’ offense dealt with numerous injuries across the skill positions and on the offensive line. Wideouts like Nelson Agholor were cast out of Philly due to their propensity to drop passes, and inspired some pretty iconic memes in the process. However, Philadelphia dropped the same number of total passes as the 49ers did in 2019, and it’s not like San Francisco had a bunch of All-Pros lining up at running back and receiver outside of tight end George Kittle. In fact, the 49ers had a higher percentage of dropped passes per Pro Football Reference (6.0) than the Eagles (5.0).

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Wentz only has gotten two full seasons under his belt as a starter for the Eagles, because Philadelphia has had no problem allowing Wentz to use his legs frequently and the QB took some painful hits as a result. The Eagles won a combined 16 games over those two seasons with Wentz at the helm the entire year, while Garoppolo won 13 in his only full season as a starter.

Both have been on Super Bowl-winning teams despite not playing a snap in the big game, although you can’t argue that Garoppolo had the same effect on getting his team there that Wentz did. Both are products of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision, although their paths to the NFL were very different. Wentz starred for FCS powerhouse North Dakota State (winning a national championship in each of his five college seasons), while Garoppolo starred at Eastern Illinois and won the Walter Payton Award in 2013 as a senior (FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy).

So where does all of that leave us? Garoppolo was more consistent in 2019 as Kellerman noted and was available for the postseason, where he performed very well through 11 quarters of playoff football. But Wentz was the No. 2 overall pick for a reason, and when healthy, is one of the NFL’s more dynamic quarterbacks. Just ask NBC Sports’ Chris Simms, who has Wentz tabbed as his No. 6 signal-caller in the league for 2020, while Garoppolo comes in at No. 20 on the list. The gulf between the two isn’t quite that steep, but Wentz is the better player.

However, coach Kyle Shanahan thinks Garoppolo is primed for improvement after in his second full year as a starter, and the 28-year-old could surpass plenty of quarterbacks and cement his “elite” status in 2020. Wentz has 30 more career stats than Jimmy G, so another full season in Shanahan's scheme could expedite Garoppolo's development and prove that the 49ers made the right decision by spurning Tom Brady and other free-agent quarterbacks this offseason. The offense is expected to revolve around Garoppolo significantly more in 2020, so this year will be a more true test of where he stands among the NFL's top quarterbacks.

But for now, Wentz remains firmly above Garoppolo in the NFL’s quarterback echelon.

49ers' Fred Warner not surprised peers consider him one of best in NFL

49ers' Fred Warner not surprised peers consider him one of best in NFL

Linebacker Fred Warner was a solid 16-game starter as a rookie for the 49ers in 2018.

Last season, he broke out.

Warner was selected as the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November. He led the 49ers for the second straight season in tackles, returned an interception for a touchdown, broke up nine passes, forced three fumbles, registered three sacks and had seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He capped his season with an interception of Patrick Mahomes in the team's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV.

Recently, Warner was announced as the No. 70 player in the game in a vote of players on the NFL Network.

"I wouldn't say I was surprised at all,” Warner said. “I felt like I competed at a high level last year. I think my peers saw that. It probably wasn't reflected in the awards last year when it came to All-Pro and those sorts of things, but obviously we got to the Super Bowl.

“That’s all I care about and continuing to be the best player I can for this team so that we can make it back to that game and make sure the outcome is how we want it.”

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The 49ers are in the early stages of training camp. Despite all the restrictions and changes to the typical camp routine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Warner said the 49ers are intent on remaining focused on preparations for the regular season, which begins Sept. 13 against the Arizona Cardinals.

“I don’t think a lot has changed,” Warner said. “When we get out there, it’s all business. We’re all hungry to get back at it and get going.”

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The NFL canceled all preseason games this summer. Teams generally do not tackle in practices. But for someone who makes his living tackling, Warner said he is not concerned about lacking precision once the season begins.

“I’m not worried about that one bit,” Warner said. “The way we practice and we prepare is all you need. We do thump in practice, but we’re not bringing guys to the ground. We’re working on our technique and tracking, making sure that we’re working that technique in practice, so that when we do come to the games it’s all natural.”

How Jalen Hurd's physicality has stood out to 49ers' Raheem Mostert

How Jalen Hurd's physicality has stood out to 49ers' Raheem Mostert

Jalen Hurd only played in the preseason last year before a back injury ultimately cut short his rookie season, but the 49ers wide receiver nonetheless flashed intriguing potential with a two-touchdown performance against the Dallas Cowboys.

But Hurd's potential as a blocker is what most excites 49ers running back Raheem Mostert.

"[He's] gonna go out there and he's gonna put his all, especially with what I've seen these past couple years when he's been healthy," Mostert said of Hurd on Wednesday when he was asked about the 49ers' big receivers and their blocking ability. "Going out there, and trying to de-cleat somebody. That's inspiring in itself as a running back because you know that he's gonna do his job to the best of his ability, and he's gonna put his body out there on the line. Why not do the same as a runner?"

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Listed at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Hurd certainly has the measurables to be an effective run blocker. He also played running back at Tennessee before transitioning to wide receiver when he transferred to Baylor, checking the important "positional versatility" box for coach Kyle Shanahan.

The 49ers spoke openly of how much they value blocking contributions from skill-position players all along the way to Super Bowl LIV, and the role their wide receivers and tight ends played in San Francisco rushing for more yards (2,305) than any team but the Baltimore Ravens in the regular season. Shanahan said George Kittle set the tone in that regard.

“I mean, he had more yards in the pass game as a tight end in the history of the NFL [in 2018],” Shanahan said of the tight end in January. “So, any time you have a guy like that who's one of the best players on your team who's always just talking about running the ball and playing the physicality in the game and giving everything you can, it helps you hold everyone else a lot more accountable, and rarely do you have to."

[RELATED: Mostert knew he would remain with 49ers 'no matter what']

Can Hurd provide similar value during his first full NFL season in 2020? He has the size, and Mostert believes Hurd definitely has the skills.

"It's nice to see those guys out there coming back, especially Jalen, because he is a bigger receiver and he's more physical," Mostert continued. "He's one of -- probably the most physical receiver I've seen, tape-wise and even going out there practicing. It's nice to see him back."