"Jimmy had a real good year last year," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told The Athletic's Tim Kawakami on "The TK Show" earlier this week. "I expect him to continue to get better. I don't think he has achieved his ceiling yet. Last year was his first year ever going through a full season as a quarterback. He hadn't played longer than five games, I think, in a year prior to that.
"He had some ups and downs, but I think he finished the second half of the year playing so much better than the first half of the year. Didn't have to do a lot in the playoffs, but I can't wait to get back, where he's not worrying about an ACL all offseason either."
Garoppolo took some time to shake off all of the rust, but he was in top form by the time the 49ers reached the midway point of their 2019 season. From Week 8 on until the end of the regular season, he threw for 2,489 yards and 18 touchdowns, with only six interceptions. Shanahan expects him to continue improving in 2020, and there's reason to believe Garoppolo could make an MVP-like leap based on past history.
Before Shanahan led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, he did the same in his second season as the Atlanta Falcons' offensive coordinator in 2016. His quarterback there, Matt Ryan, significantly improved from his first full season under Shanahan's tutelage to the next.
As Pro Football Focus' Jeff Deeney noted, Ryan's numbers improved across the board in his second season with Shanahan, throwing for nearly 400 more yards, 17 additional touchdowns and nine fewer interceptions, while posting what was by far the best quarterback rating and yards-per-attempt average of his career. He was named a First-Team All-Pro.
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Though it's not necessarily apples to apples, it wouldn't be surprising if Garoppolo took a similar leap forward in 2020. While he will have significantly less experience under his belt than Ryan did entering his second full season with Shanahan, one could make the case Garoppolo doesn't have as large of a jump to make.
While Garoppolo threw for about 600 fewer yards compared to Ryan in their first full regular-seasons with Shanahan, he also produced a significantly better passer rating (102.0 to 89.0), averaged nearly one full yard more per attempt (8.4 to 7.5) and threw for six additional touchdowns, despite attempting 138 fewer passes. He also was two years younger than Ryan was at the time.
Now, one could argue that Garoppolo was supported by a better rushing attack, not to mention a better defense, which could have put him in a better position to be more effective. That's a fair point, but there's no reason to expect San Francisco's rushing attack to be any worse in 2020. And given the loss of DeForest Buckner and the additions made on offense, it's certainly possible the 49ers' offense will be more potent this coming season, partly out of necessity.
Garoppolo took the 49ers as far in his first full season under Shanahan as Ryan did in his second.
If Jimmy G can make a Ryan-like leap in 2020, perhaps that can push San Francisco over the hump.