Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers loose and 'locked in' for NFC Championship Game

Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers loose and 'locked in' for NFC Championship Game

SANTA CLARA -- It might be the biggest game of Jimmy Garoppolo’s career, but it’s just another week for the 49ers' quarterback and his team. 

Just like it has for most of the season, the team went through the same exact routine of meetings and practice on Wednesday. The mood in the open locker room was as lively as ever, showing no change from the weeks prior. 

Music was playing. Emmanuel Sanders was shooting baskets at the hoop over his locker. Players were joking around with each other and Kendrick Bourne was going through his daily routine of customizing his practice gear. 

On the field, the usual suspects were dancing as calisthenics started. Players went through the same warm-ups and stretching order as they've had since OTAs. The younger players kept the atmosphere upbeat while the veterans brought out an underlying calm. 

“Definitely, you feel it in there,” Garoppolo said. “It’s definitely a loose atmosphere, but that's kind of how it's been all year. Guys are loose, but they are locked in at the same time. It's a unique combination. We have the guys that are able to do it.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan believes the challenge posed by the second half of the 49ers' regular-season schedule mentally prepared his team for the playoffs. He has kept the players’ schedules as similar to the regular season as possible. 

“Our players have handled it pretty good all year,” Shanahan said. “I know by this background and these helmets next to me there's a lot more dog and pony show and stuff, but hopefully our players know it's just Wednesday like it's been all year and tomorrow will be Thursday.”

Sanders, who has quite a bit of experience in the postseason, noted that he doesn’t feel any added pressure or stress. 

“I don't feel it ramping up,” Sanders described. “It's crazy. Doesn't even -- it just feels like another regular-season game. Like I said, I feel like even in the regular season it was like playoff football. It was so much pressure and us having to perform and trying to get the No. 1 seed that you just kind of get used to it, right? Every week has been a big week.”  

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Garoppolo, as usual, shared a few laughs at the podium before getting down to brass tacks when answering questions. He remained unflappable, never showing any signs of nerves or stress. 

“It's no different than any other week,” Garoppolo said. “We’re coming out here Wednesday, ready to roll and preparing our ass off. I think guys are locked into the preparation with the game plan going in today. Guys are locked in, they are focused up and we are in a good spot right now.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Wednesday and Friday)

Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 6:30 p.m.

49ers' need perfectly timed with loaded 2020 NFL Draft receiver class

49ers' need perfectly timed with loaded 2020 NFL Draft receiver class

Timing is everything.

The 49ers were arguably the most well-rounded team in the NFL last season on their way to finishing runner-up to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. San Francisco had the best defense in the conference, and the second-most productive rushing offense in the league. Jimmy Garoppolo finished 22 passing yards short of 4,000, and only five other teams finished the regular season with more takeaways than the reigning NFC champions.

When looking up and down the 49ers' 2019 roster, they were strong across the board. There weren't any holes, and certain areas were tremendous strengths. However, it goes without saying that some of San Francisco's position groups are stronger than others. While the defensive line is arguably the best of its kind, the wide receiver group, for instance, isn't nearly as dominant or impressive.

Deebo Samuel had an exceptional rookie season, and Kendrick Bourne emerged as a consistent contributor. But if the position group was strong enough entering the season, the 49ers wouldn't have had reason to make a midseason trade for Emmanuel Sanders. The 10-year veteran hit the ground running as soon as he joined San Francisco and immediately became one of Garoppolo's go-to targets. However, Sanders, 31, is an unrestricted free agent, and while Samuel would like for his mentor to return, there is no guarantee that he will.

Whether or not the 49ers re-sign Sanders, they couldn't have asked for a better draft to beef up their receiving corps than the one upcoming in April. The 2020 NFL Draft is absolutely loaded at wide receiver, with NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah going so far as to call the draft class the "deepest" he has ever seen.

In addition to giving 27 receiver prospects a top-three-round grade, Jeremiah also has nine receivers ranked among his top 50 prospects overall. The cream of the crop includes Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb, LSU's Justin Jefferson, Clemson's Tee Higgins and Colorado's Laviska Shenault, among others. Depending on what happens with Sanders, it's certainly possible one of those top prospects gets selected by San Francisco.

As things currently stand, after picking No. 31 overall in the first round, the 49ers won't be on the clock again until the fifth round, partly the result of sending their own third- and fourth-round draft picks to the Denver Broncos in the trade for Sanders. While San Francisco's receiving corps could use a boost, the team has additional needs that would make it difficult to rationalize using a first-round draft pick on a pass-catcher, especially if Sanders is re-signed. 

[RELATED: Why 49ers could look to add Gabriel to wide receiver mix]

As such, a more plausible scenario is the 49ers trading back out of the first round to acquire more draft picks. With those additional selections, they would still stand a great chance of having a great receiver prospect fall to them, as there inevitably will be a greater supply of standouts than the demand. While every team in the league would love to get their hands on a big-time playmaker, almost all of them have far more pressing and numerous needs than San Francisco does, and each team only has so many picks.

If Sanders is re-signed, the 49ers' need for improvement in the receiving corps will be severely diminished. But, given his age, one could argue San Francisco needs to draft at least one more receiver this coming April -- and if Sanders isn't re-signed -- probably more than one.

Lucky for the 49ers, the timing should work out quite well.

Why 49ers could be interested in adding Taylor Gabriel to receiver mix

Why 49ers could be interested in adding Taylor Gabriel to receiver mix

When the 49ers signed wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on the first day of free agency in 2017, coach Kyle Shanahan envisioned using him in a role similar to what he designed previously for Taylor Gabriel.

Now, Goodwin’s time with the 49ers appears to be coming to an end at the same time that Gabriel is set to become available. The Bears on Friday released Gabriel.

Gabriel was scheduled to make $5.5 million this season with the Chicago Bears for the 2020 season. Goodwin is on the books to cost the 49ers $4.5 million this year and is expected to be released in a cost-cutting move.

The 49ers could look to replace Goodwin with Gabriel, who has a valuation of $1.864 million, according to OverTheCap.com. But the move would have to be a low-risk deal, as Gabriel missed the final five games of last season after sustaining his second concussion of the season.

[RELATEDMore receiver depth needed around Deebo Samuel]

Gabriel, 29, played in nine games for the Bears last season. He caught 29 passes for 353 yards and four touchdowns. If the 49ers have interest in Gabriel, it would be to add him to the roster to compete for a spot as a part-time player to stretch the field.

Gabriel had the two highest yards-per-reception averages of his career with Shanahan calling the plays. In 2014 with the Cleveland Browns, Gabriel caught 36 passes for 621 yards (17.3-yard average). And in 2016, he caught 35 passes for 579 yards (16.5 average).