Why 49ers might need first-round QB to return to playoffs

Jimmy Garoppolo, Kyle Shanahan

Kyle Shanahan believes Jimmy Garoppolo will be the 49ers' starting quarterback next season, and general manager John Lynch seems even more certain. But if they hope to return to the playoffs in 2021, a QB switch might be necessary.

Why? Because if the 2020 playoffs are any indication, quarterback draft position appears to have a determining impact on postseason participation. The vast majority of teams that qualified for the playoffs this season have quarterbacks who were drafted in the first round. In fact, of the 14 starting QBs in the playoffs, only three were selected after the first round and only two were selected after the No. 32 overall pick.

Garoppolo was the No. 62 overall pick in 2014, so if the same pattern holds in 2021, the 49ers might be on the outside of the playoffs looking in. Of course, there remains a possibility that San Francisco could have a first-round pick under center next season, whether acquired through trade, free agency or the draft.

The 49ers have the No. 12 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and could snag one of the top QB prospects with it. Of course, nine of the 14 playoff teams have starting QBs who were taken earlier in their respective drafts, so San Francisco might be forced to trade up to get one. But even if the 49ers don't select a QB in the first round, that doesn't mean they can't get one who was.

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If the 49ers decide to move on from Garoppolo for another veteran, there are a few former first-round picks that might be considered, such as Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. There also likely will be some former first-round QBs available in free agency.

Where Garoppolo was picked in 2014 will have little to no bearing on how the 49ers evaluate him. But clearly, there's a reason why QBs tend to get drafted as high as they do.

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