George Kittle

Why Jerry Rice says 'this is the year' for 49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo

Why Jerry Rice says 'this is the year' for 49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo

Count Jerry Rice among those who believe in the 49ers this season.

The 49ers legend and Hall of Famer thinks Jimmy Garoppolo and Co. can take the leap in 2019.

"I think Jimmy G, man -- we got to keep him up, right and we got to keep him safe and you know it's going to be a supporting cast," Rice told 95.7 The Game recently. "And with wide receivers, I think the most important thing now is to get Deebo signed and also Nick Bosa, signed. We got our kicker, he's all signed, he's ready to go. This guy was perfect last year, I think he was 38-39 and you know we got the pieces of the puzzle." 

"I think this is the year for the San Francisco 49ers."

We've heard it over and over again that the key to the team's success this season is Jimmy G. Before even putting on the red and gold uniform, Garoppolo learned invaluable lessons from Patriots star Tom Brady.  

But as Rice said, the 49ers have the additional tools to make something happen. Young wideout Dante Pettis is sure to make some noise and already has the respect of Garoppolo, and vice versa. Bosa will have all eyes on him and has been making strides in his recent workouts, and one of the league's best kickers, Robbie Gould, is ready to step up and make an impact.

And then there's George Kittle, who will try to build on his historic 2018 season, where he broke Rob Gronkowski's single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end.

And they all (hopefully) get an entire season with Jimmy G.

Rice knows the team has what it takes, but even if they don't win it all, a .500 season could have them still in the mix as a successful team.

[RELATED: Garoppolo says Kittle similar to Gronkowski

"If we go 8-8, that's a great season, but I'm sure their expectations are higher than that."

NFL preview 2019: How 49ers' offense stacks up against NFC West rivals

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AP

NFL preview 2019: How 49ers' offense stacks up against NFC West rivals

Despite losing their starting quarterback before the end of Week 3, the 49ers still managed to finish last season with a league-average offense, ranking 16th out of 32 teams with an average of 360.6 yards per game.

Jimmy Garoppolo says he's "good to go" and has zero restrictions. Head coach Kyle Shanahan remains one of the brightest offensive minds in the league, and he has several new weapons at his disposal in the form of running back Tevin Coleman and receivers Deebo Samuel and Jalen Hurd, among others.

All of this is to say that if -- and that's a big 'if' -- the 49ers manage to stay relatively healthy next season, the offense should take one or more steps forward, into the upper echelon of the NFL.

But will it be enough to vault them to the top offensive attack in the NFC West? There are three other teams banking on their own offensive progressions, including the reigning Super Bowl runner-up.

Based on the changes the teams have made since last season, here's how the NFC West offenses rank as training camp nears:

1. Los Angeles Rams

As good as Shanahan is, he might not be the best play-caller in the division.

If he isn't, that honor falls on Sean McVay, who in two seasons as the Rams' head coach has won 24 of 32 regular-season games and has led a top-two ranked scoring offense each time. It doesn't hurt that he has quite the offensive arsenal to utilize.

Behind center, Jared Goff has taken several steps forward in his development as an NFL quarterback under McVay, throwing 60 touchdowns to 19 interceptions over the last two seasons combined. At running back, no one has been more prolific in recent seasons than Todd Gurley, although the reports of arthritis in his knee give cause for concern. The Rams used a third-round draft pick on Darrell Henderson, a change-of-pace back that averaged 8.2 yards per carry over three years at Memphis, who should provide Los Angeles with some insurance and Gurley with the occasional breather.

The Rams lack a bonafide playmaker at the tight end position, but they more than make up for it with their talented receiving corps. Between Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, it might be the best receiver group in the entire league.

2. San Francisco 49ers

Again, health will be a determining factor, but the 49ers' offense is set up to leap forward this coming season.

Yes, Garoppolo is coming off a torn ACL, and yes, he's started only 10 games in his career, but there's a reason Shanahan identified him as his guy. He's a great intermediate passer who has shown an ability to make plays while improvising. His deep ball still needs work, but with the weapons at his disposal, he should be able to spread the ball around a ton.

At running back, the 49ers have the fastest group in the league. Coleman, Matt Breida and Jerrick McKinnon are all blurs in human form, and all have the ability to split out wide.

San Francisco used two draft picks to beef up its receiving corps, using second and third-round selections on Samuel and Hurd, respectively. They'll join Marquise Goodwin, Dante Pettis and others to present opposing defenses with nightmarish matchup problems.

[RELATED: Jimmy G has high praise for 'tremendous talent' Pettis]

Oh, and then there's George Kittle, who just set the NFL's single-season yardage record by a tight end. He might not reach 88 receptions and 1,377 receiving yards again, but given the improved options around him, it's going to be difficult for opposing defenses to throw any extra attention his way.

3. Seattle Seahawks

Outside of Russell Wilson, there's not a whole lot on Seattle's offense that is bound to keep defensive coordinators up at night. That said, Wilson is obviously quite good.

Entering next season, Wilson will have the second-highest career passer rating (100.3) in NFL history, behind only Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (103.1). He led the Seahawks to a 10-6 record in 2018, throwing a career-high 35 touchdowns to a career-low seven interceptions.

Unfortunately for Wilson, he's losing his most dependable target. Doug Baldwin has retired, leaving Tyler Lockett to lead an otherwise unproven receiving corps, featuring the likes of David Moore, Jaron Brown, Amara Darboh and second-round draft pick DK Metcalf.

At running back, Chris Carson was a pleasant surprise last season, but he overshadowed Rashaad Penny, who Seattle selected in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. Only the Ravens ran the ball more times than the Seahawks last season, and with several straight-line deep threats at receiver, expect more of the same to set up play-action.

4. Arizona Cardinals

Out of all the offenses in the division, the Cardinals' is the most difficult to predict, simply due to the number of unknowns at critical positions.

At head coach, Arizona brought in Kliff Kingsbury, he of the 35-40 career coaching record at the collegiate level. Still, Kingsbury is widely regarded as an offensive savant, and the Cardinals are counting on him to develop No. 1 overall draft pick Kyler Murray into one of the most dynamic offensive threats in the league.

Speaking of Murray, he's the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, but while he was playing behind an NFL-level offensive line at Oklahoma -- seriously, go look at the roster -- he wasn't consistently going up against NFL-caliber defenses. That will change, obviously.

He's not entirely without help, though. He's got one of the most dependable receivers in NFL history in Larry Fitzgerald. Christian Kirk looks to build off a productive rookie season, and the Cardinals selected three promising receivers in the draft. One could make the case, however, they should have invested more in the offensive line, which allowed 52 sacks and 109 quarterback hits last season.

It remains to be seen if running back David Johnson can regain his 2016 form. But if the offensive line doesn't take a big step forward, it won't matter what he, Murray or Kingsbury does.

Jimmy Garoppolo calls George Kittle 'very similar' to Rob Gronkowski

Jimmy Garoppolo calls George Kittle 'very similar' to Rob Gronkowski

Jimmy Garoppolo was teammates with Rob Gronkowski for three seasons as a member of the Patriots. The 49ers quarterback saw firsthand how dominant the tight end was on the field, and what a riot he is off it.

Now that Jimmy G has gone from New England to San Francisco, not much has changed when it comes to his team's tight end. 

"There are a lot of similarities -- on the field and a little bit off the field, too," Garoppolo said to Sporting News when asked about 49ers tight end George Kittle. 

Kittle and the now-retired Gronkowski both are forces with a football in their hands, creating mismatches all over the field. They both know how to have a good time, too.

Gronkowski has been notorious for his partying and dancing, going viral for more than his stiff arm. Kittle now finds himself in the same boat, as he made waves chugging a beer at a University of Iowa basketball game this offseason. 

When it comes to football, however, Kittle hasn't let any extracurriculars get in the way. 

"George is tremendous," Garoppolo said. "The energy he brings every day, how he goes about his business -- he's always having fun while he's doing it. Very similar to Gronk, they both enjoy what they do.

"It makes everything more enjoyable. It's fun to be around, and it's contagious. To have a guy like that makes our team so much closer as well as much better."

Garoppolo has been teammates with Kittle for two seasons and has clearly enjoyed it. After only playing in three games last year before tearing his ACL, he'll certainly enjoy throwing plenty of passes to him this season, too. 

[RELATED: Jimmy G 'good to go' as 49ers training camp approaches]

Kittle broke Gronkowski's single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end last season when he finished with 1,377 yards. Through two seasons, Kittle has 131 receptions for 1,892 yards and seven touchdowns. By comparison, Gronkowski had fewer yards (1,873) in his first two seasons but caught one more pass and had 20 more touchdowns than Kittle. 

If Garoppolo has his version of Gronkowski on the field in Kittle, and the 49ers have their own version of Gronk off the field, the team should be a lot of fun this year.