Jimmy Garoppolo set a high bar in his first full season as a starter last year. As the 49ers prepare to open up the 2020 NFL season on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, it won't be easy for him to clear it, but history is on his side.
Kyle Shanahan's offense is considered to be one of the more complex systems in the league, both for the defenses that must go against it and the offensive players that must learn it. That process takes time, and while Garoppolo displayed a strong understanding of the offense in leading San Francisco to Super Bowl LIV, naturally he should be even more comfortable operating it in the season ahead.
And if Garoppolo can make the same kind of leap Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan did in his second season under Shanahan, well, the 49ers should be really, really good.
In 2015, Ryan's first season with Shanahan as his offensive coordinator, he completed 66.3 percent of his passes and tossed 21 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. The following season, he improved in all three areas, with a 69.9 completion percentage, 38 touchdowns and only seven interceptions on his way to being named league MVP.
Garoppolo's first season under Shanahan was statistically superior to Ryan's, so one could argue he has less ground to make up to get to an MVP level. And with a comparatively stronger supporting cast, Garoppolo certainly has the ingredients at his disposal to get there.
"I think that Jimmy Garoppolo has all the tools certainly to be an elite quarterback," Monday Night Football analyst Brian Griese said this week on a conference call with reporters. "I think he has a supporting cast, most importantly, in San Francisco, and he has a coaching staff and a head coach that will put him in position to succeed. I mean, this is a team that was on the doorstep of a championship and let it slip through their fingers in the Super Bowl, and I think you're going to get a hungry team. I think you're going to get a coaching staff that will anticipate the situations that they were in last year and be better in those situations this year.
"I don't think there's any question that this team is capable, and I'd expect to see a hungry Jimmy Garoppolo that learns from those situations that he experienced last year."
Fellow analyst Louis Riddick sang a similar tune.
"Look, they are set up from the offensive line to the structure of the run game to the reinforcements they tried to bring in on the perimeter," he said. " ... I think they really are set up as a football team offensively. And then defensively it really speaks for themselves. They have playmakers at all three levels.
"I think this football team is set up for success big picture. Jimmy is one of my favorite people at the quarterback position in the NFL, so I think individually he's set up, as well. ... I think they have so much motivation overall going forward, and I think Jimmy Garoppolo will acquit himself just fine in 2020."
As good as Garoppolo was in his first full season as a starter, he would be the first to point out that there are numerous areas in which he can improve. If he's able to do so to anywhere near the same extent that Ryan did, an MVP award and return to the Super Bowl are legitimate possibilities.