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.
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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.
The Carson Wentz head injury happened on this hit by Jadeveon Clowney pic.twitter.com/08VrYddOTV— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) January 5, 2020
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).
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.