49ers

Is Jimmy Garoppolo elite? NFC offensive consultant questions 49ers QB

Is Jimmy Garoppolo elite? NFC offensive consultant questions 49ers QB

The 49ers are the NFL's last unbeaten team, but some questions persist.

Can 8-0 San Francisco hold up against a much more difficult second half of the schedule? When will mounting injuries become too much? Is quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo good enough?

One unnamed NFC offensive consultant would answer "no" to that last question, telling NFL Media's Bucky Brooks that Garoppolo lacks the skills to be considered an elite quarterback.

"He is as talented as they come as a thrower," the unnamed consultant told Brooks. "He doesn't have elite arm strength, but he spins it well and puts the ball on the mark when he knows where to go with the ball. The big thing for him is knowing where to go with the ball. ... He misses some big-play shots because he doesn't see the entire field or he is a little late finding his second or third read in the progression. Plus, he's prone to throw one or two to the other team each game because he gets fooled or tricked by coverage.

"Overall, he's a good player in that system, but I don't know if he's a transcendent player. ... I don't know how much is him and how much is [Kyle] Shanahan doing what he does."

The consultant's -- and Brooks' -- point is not that Garoppolo is a bad QB. Instead, they wonder whether or not he's elite, and if the 49ers are better off spreading his money elsewhere.

Garoppolo signed a record-setting contract with the 49ers in 2018, putting pen to paper on a five-year deal worth up to $137.5 million. Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan since have surpassed Garoppolo's total contract value, but Garoppolo's deal has the ninth-highest fully guaranteed money.

In other words, the 49ers are paying Garoppolo to be an elite QB, even if they're not necessarily asking him to be one in their offense. As Brooks noted, the 49ers have run the ball on 54.8 percent of their offensive snaps this season, relying on the running game to establish the tone.

[RELATED: Why Goodwin soon could be option for 49ers again]

Though the 49ers can get out of Garoppolo's contract this offseason, it's clear his teammates, his coach and his general manager hold him in high regard. Garoppolo is coming off the best performance of his 49ers career in Week 9, and he has a chance to build upon it in Monday night's pivotal NFC West showdown with the Seattle Seahawks. 

If he can't, the questions won't stop any time soon.

Enjoy NaVorro Bowman's birthday by reliving iconic 'Pick at the Stick'

Enjoy NaVorro Bowman's birthday by reliving iconic 'Pick at the Stick'

If NaVorro Bowman gets a birthday present half as good as the going-away gift he gave Candlestick Park, he's in line for a memorable day.

The former 49ers linebacker turned 32 on Thursday, just shy of a year after announcing his retirement from the NFL. Bowman made three Pro Bowls and was First Team All-Pro four times during parts of eight seasons with San Francisco, but his most memorable moment in red and gold came on Dec. 23, 2013.

That day marked the 49ers' last game at Candlestick Park before moving to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, and Bowman sent the Niners' former home out with a bang. Bowman intercepted Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's pass and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown to seal the 49ers' 34-24 win on "Monday Night Football," giving the home of some of the most iconic moments in NFL history one last taste of glory with the "Pick at the Stick."

Bowman chose a good time for the first -- and only -- TD of his NFL career, clinching the 49ers' third straight playoff appearance with the return. To date, that streak is the 49ers' only stretch of (at least) three consecutive postseason berths this century.

[RELATED: Where Jimmy G ranks among NFL starting quarterbacks]

The linebacker's 49ers career was more than just one moment, however, and Bowman was pivotal in the 49ers' 2010s resurgence. NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco named Bowman one of the five best Niners of the decade, and San Francisco's run of three straight NFC Championship Game appearances simply doesn't happen without Bowman's steadiness.

What do you get the man who gave the 49ers everything? I don't envy his friends and family trying to buy presents.

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

49ers offense would be more potent with these players returning from injuries

49ers offense would be more potent with these players returning from injuries

Kyle Shanahan’s offense was never at full strength in the first three seasons as 49ers head coach.

Even when Shanahan’s offense ranked second in points scored and fourth in total yards last season, it was accomplished without three components who were expected to be major factors on offense.

The 49ers had situational roles envisioned for running back Jerick McKinnon, and receivers Trent Taylor and Jalen Hurd. But injuries kept each of those players off the field for the entire 2019 season.

Those players could give Shanahan and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo a lot more options, especially on third downs and in the team’s two-minute offense. An offense that needs only a tweak could get a major boost if McKinnon, Taylor and Hurd are healthy.

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

RB Jerick McKinnon

He missed his first season with the 49ers when he sustained a torn ACL one week before the start of the season. Last year, his season ended before it started when the surgery from his graft did not fill in properly.

McKinnon was an elite route-runner before all of his knee issues. Shanahan made a priority to sign him as a free agent in 2018 because he envisioned flooding the middle of the field with McKinnon, tight end George Kittle, a slot receiver and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. Shanahan felt those players would cause all kinds of matchup problems.

McKinnon looks good in his workouts, and the 49ers are cautiously optimistic he will finally provide what they were expecting when the signed him two years ago.

Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida were good backs. But none had the route-running skills of McKinnon.

The 49ers’ best route-runner out of the backfield last season was Jeff Wilson. His ability to juke a defender in man coverage was the reason Shanahan called upon Wilson to run the route that won the game against the Arizona Cardinals. Late in the first half of the Super Bowl, Wilson went in for the season reason and caught a 20-yard pass.

Mostert is working hard on his route-running, and he is likely to make improvements in that area. McKinnon is not likely to be considered for every-down duties. But he will have opportunities to make a considerable impact on third downs.

[RELATED49ers' Raheem Mostert expects Jerick McKinnon to 'surprise everyone']

WR Trent Taylor

Taylor had an impressive rookie season. He and Kittle tied for third on the team with 43 receptions apiece. But Taylor had a difficult time bouncing back in 2018 after offseason back surgery. Then, he had one setback after another following surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his foot last summer.

Taylor hopes to be ready for when the 49ers get on the field to begin preparations for the 2020 season. Taylor’s best attribute is his ability to get open quickly with Shanahan's favorite route. Depending on the matchup, Garoppolo can lock onto Taylor and rely on him get open in order to convert third downs on what Shanahan calls "choice routes."

Emmanuel Sanders was the 49ers’ main slot receiver after coming to the team in a midseason trade. But the slot was never a big part of the 49ers’ offense. The 49ers had big hopes for Taylor last season. Nobody on the team would benefit as much from Wes Welker’s coaching as him.

WR Jalen Hurd

Shanahan likes some players for specific roles. But with Hurd, Shanahan sees a player who can be used in a number of different ways. Hurd can line up outside. He can line up in the slot, at tight end or in the backfield.

Hurd’s versatility would be especially useful to the 49ers on their two-minute drill when the opposing defense is unable to make substitutions after every play. Hurd could be moved around the formation to create exploit certain matchups Shanahan wishes to exploit.

General manager John Lynch said last month that Hurd had been cleared for on-field work after he was forced to sit out his rookie season due a stress fracture in his back. Hurd is not likely to post huge numbers, but he has the potential to play a vital role in key situations.