49ers

Jimmy Garoppolo ranked 19th-best QB by NFL coaches, execs due to health

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AP

Jimmy Garoppolo ranked 19th-best QB by NFL coaches, execs due to health

When it comes to criticisms of 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, they almost always seem to fall into one of two categories: his health and his experience.

It makes sense. Garoppolo has made just 10 career NFL starts, with eight of those coming in a San Francisco uniform. Only three of those starts came last season, and one was cut short after he suffered a torn ACL in a Week 3 loss to the Chiefs.

So when The Athletic's Mike Sando on Monday released his quarterback tiers survey -- which included input from 55 anonymous coaches and executives ranking the QBs into five tiers -- the discussion surrounding Garoppolo came as no surprise.

Garoppolo was ranked the No. 19 overall quarterback in the NFL, firmly in Tier 3 between Jacksonville's Nick Foles and Oakland's Derek Carr. Garoppolo was ranked in the bottom of Tier 2 a year ago, and the drop can be attributed to his latest injury. Still, though, voters remain optimistic that Garoppolo will be able to fully realize his potential.

"He is really accurate, he is smart and he is athletic, but he hasn’t played a lot of football, and you see it at times,” one GM said. “I just think he’s got everything if he can stay healthy. It sounds like he will have a better cast this year, and he’s got the coach."

[RELATED: Harbaugh credits Shanahan's offensive creativity with 49ers]

The better cast being referred to includes running back Tevin Coleman, as well as two wide receivers selected within the first three rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft. If Garoppolo can remain healthy enough to utilize it, voters believe he's destined to put together a great season.

"Injury does not mean he is worse,” a quarterbacks coach said. “His skills are the same. He needs to stay healthy and all those things will show."

49ers' Richard Sherman motivated by academics to support youth team

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AP

49ers' Richard Sherman motivated by academics to support youth team

Richard Sherman was awarded as the NFL Players Association’s Community MVP on Friday just days after he helped a youth football team from Compton raise enough money to participate in a national tournament in Florida.

Sherman donated $5,000, and the attention he brought to the team enabled the group of raise twice as much as its $15,000 goal. He was also recognized for restocking shelves at three food banks in Washington.

The weekly Community MVP winners will also become eligible for the NFLPA Alan Page Community Award, which is the highest honor that the NFLPA awards to a player. The NFLPA makes a $10,000 donation to the foundation or charity of choice of all players who win the weekly award.

[RELATED: Sherman's unconventional path led him from streets to NFL]

Sherman said the reason he chose to support the youth football team was because of a requirement that each player on the 6-and-under squad had to achieve good grades in order to be on the team.

“I think the thing about the youth football team that jumped out was the 3.1 GPA that they needed to be on the team,” said Sherman, who finished second in his class at Dominguez High School in Compton. “I think when any organization, especially sports, focuses on academics first, I can get behind that. I think academics will take you further than sports will ever take you, and I think at the end of the day, there’s no limit to the amount of information that you can attain as a person and how smart you can get and how much intelligence you can achieve.

“Your athletic ability can peak. You can hit a ceiling. How fast, how strong, how big, you know, how much you are able to do in a career. But in terms of attaining information and intelligence in the world of academia, I don’t think there’s a limit. I think encouraging those kids to get their education and focus on that early is something that I respect a ton.”

49ers' Jimmie Ward player he is today thanks to long, difficult road

49ers' Jimmie Ward player he is today thanks to long, difficult road

SANTA CLARA – Jimmie Ward experienced a lot of bad breaks, literally and figuratively, since coming to the 49ers as the No. 30 overall pick in the 2014 draft.

It is possible that all the adversity he endured has enabled him to reach this point in his career where he is a better player on the 49ers’ best team since he has been in the league.

“It was really tough, and I was just fighting to survive in the NFL,” Ward said. “Even though I was a first-round pick, I didn’t feel like I was first round because – I don’t know – I barely got drafted in the first round, and it wasn’t like I was playing safety.

“I had to play where I was needed. When I got here, they already had two safeties, so I never really felt like that guy.”

Ward always has been considered one of the 49ers’ best 11 defensive players, but there was no room for him initially at his preferred position because the club already had Antoine Bethea and Eric Reid entrenched at the safety positions.

In his first four seasons, Ward had four different head coaches and four different defensive coordinators and four different defensive systems.

He had no stability and no chance to get comfortable in one spot. In his first five seasons, Ward bounced from nickel back to safety to cornerback to safety and back to cornerback while also finishing four of those seasons on injured reserve with foot, collarbone and two forearm fractures.

“Whenever you go through what Jimmie’s gone through, all those tough times, I believe it’s going to do two things to you: It’s either going to make you fold or it’s going to make you stronger,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “Jimmie’s gotten nothing but stronger through all of this.

“He’s become smarter, he’s become more versatile, he’s become more relentless because it’s very important to him. Take a guy off the field for any reason and I promise you they’ll do everything they can to get back on the field. Being on the field, he doesn’t take it for granted.”

Things seem to be settling down for Ward as he settles into the position he loves more than any other.

Finally, Ward seems to have found a home at free safety. And the 49ers have turned the corner this season to emerge as one of the NFL's top teams, featuring one of the league's top defenses. They meet the Green Bay Packers in a key NFC matchup on Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers sit in the top spot in the division and conference with a 9-1 record. The Packers are 8-2.

The tough times, the constant shuffling of positions and the nature of his injuries all have contributed to Ward playing the best football of his career as the 49ers appear destined for the postseason.

“If you don’t fail, you don’t learn,” Ward said. “If you don’t get beat in this game, you don’t learn. We lost a lot of games, and I got beat at multiple positions.

“My rookie year, coming in, I had to learn how to play certain wide receivers. Playing corner, something I didn’t do, I had to learn different techniques with different coaches. But each coach and each defense brought something new to my game. And when I finally got back to safety, that was home.”

Still, Ward believes there is more out there.

“I’m getting better each week. Hopefully, I end up playing safety next year,” Ward said, laughing. “I’m not doing too good. I’m not doing too bad. I feel like I’m in the middle right now. The defense is so good right now, everybody is making plays.”

Ward said he is having a lot of fun this season, but he is keeping all of the team’s success in perspective. He faces a huge challenge against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but there will be more important challenges ahead, too.

“Sunday is not the Super Bowl,” Ward said. “It’s not even the playoffs. I get excited each game when I go out on Sundays, but I’m just saying, it’s nothing to get too high about, and it’s nothing to get too low about.”

Ward has been important to the 49ers’ defense because he fills the role of the “eraser.” His job is to make sure the 49ers’ defense does not surrender big, game-changing plays.

But Ward expects himself to make more big plays of his own, such as creating takeaways. He has not registered an interception since 2016. It will be difficult to pick off Rodgers, who has 17 touchdown passes and just two interceptions this season.

[RELATED: Kittle doesn't want to miss 'massive' game vs. Packers]

Ward's job is to prevent the opposition from connecting on big plays resulting in touchdowns. The 49ers have surrendered an NFL-low 18 pass plays of 20 yards or more, so Ward is doing his job.

"He's incredibly versatile. He’s a really smart player," 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. "I think sometimes when you play that many positions in a complex defense, it puts you in positions where you’re not able to be successful, but I think it gave him experience, poise and confidence to be able to play all over the field, to play man coverage, zone, and it’s allowed him to thrive in the scheme we’re in now."

Ward has kept a measured approach to all of the adversity he has faced in his career, including the early portion of this season, as he fought to get back on the field.

He also fully realizes how quickly things can change.

“Those were some tough years,” he said. “I’ve been through some things. I stuck it out through the storm. Now, there’s a little sunshine.”