An ode to Jimmy Garoppolo: Why the 49ers QB will finish 2020 as a top-10 fantasy option

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Before we get to the undeniable conclusion that Jimmy Garoppolo is the man, I’d like to note that I’m someone who names Jimmy G in my Twitter profile and owns this t-shirt and that I’m defending a QB who Rotoworld recently noted finished last in late-season fantasy points per game last year (even eliciting an “lol”).

While most feel Garoppolo is just a caretaker who’s last (lasting?) impression is missing Emmanuel Sanders with the Super Bowl on the line, I’m here to argue he’s yet another reason (along with Ryan Tannehill, Jared Goff, Joe Burrow and others) to wait on the QB position in fantasy drafts (if you haven’t yet advanced to the Superflex).

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To take it a step further, I’ll predict Garoppolo finishes as a top-10 fantasy QB in 2020 (his current NFFC ADP is the QB19).

My argument can be broken down by highlighting three important factors in fantasy value: Skill, Situation, and Schedule (a different sort of Triple S). Let’s get to it.

SKILL

This section could also be called “stats,” and talking from a purely objective view (as in, removing my affection), the picture is clear: Garoppolo’s numbers are extremely impressive to start a career. He’s 21-5 as a starter and was the only quarterback in the league last year to finish top-five in YPA, passing TDs and completion percentage (and if you really want to get advanced, was top-10 in CPOE). He got 8.7 YPA from a clean pocket, led the NFL in net yards per pass play (8.0) on the road and finished No. 1 in deep-ball completion% despite SF pass-catchers among the league-leaders in drops — all while recovering from a torn ACL and with fewer career starts than Baker Mayfield and fewer career passes than Sam Darnold.

Jimmy G also got 9.8 YPA(!) on first downs last season, which is a telling sign for future production, and if you want to argue he’s not clutch (can I also point out his play started declining in the Super Bowl after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit that almost certainly concussed him), he’s also posted a 113.3 Passer Rating (8.5 YPA) with a 7:1 TD:INT ratio in “Late & Close” situations during his career.

Jimmy G would be #3 all-time in Passer Rating and Adjusted Net YPA if he qualified, and while he also throws too many picks (although remarkably Garoppolo had more INTs last season tipped off the hands of his wide receivers than Jameis Winston, who had a recording-setting 40 adjusted interceptions), that’s arguably a net-positive for his fantasy value.

He's also impossibly handsome.

Jimmy G is a stud. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Jimmy G is a stud. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

SITUATION

If you want to give all of the credit to San Francisco’s system, that’s fine too, just realize it remains the same. During Matt Ryan’s second full year as a starter in Kyle Shanahan’s offense (like Garoppolo will be this season), he threw for nearly 5,000 yards with 38 touchdowns (9.3 YPA) and won MVP.

San Francisco also continued to add weapons to the passing attack during the offseason, trading up to draft Brandon Aiyuk, who led the nation in yards after the catch average (with a wingspan nearly on par to Calvin Johnson’s). George Kittle leads all receivers in YAC over the last two years, while Deebo Samuel led all wideouts in YAC and broken tackles as a rookie.

The 49ers’ new left tackle is a monster, while there are also legit wild cards in Jalen Hurd, whom Peter King predicted to win Offensive Rookie of the Year after visiting training camps last year, and in rookie seventh-rounder Jauan Jennings, who forced the most missed tackles by any college WR last year (just ahead of CeeDee Lamb) and was PFF’s 70th player on their draft board.

Moreover, Shanahan had big plans for the returning Jerick McKinnon, specifically as a receiver out of the backfield before injuries hit, and Raheem Mostert actually ranked #3 in DVOA as a receiver among RBs with minimal targets (Mostert also led the NFL in rushing DVOA by a wide margin). There are weapons to spare in SF.

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Having a big aDOT (IE, throwing the ball deep down the field) isn’t a requirement for big fantasy points (as Drew Brees has proven), especially when you have beasts like the ones mentioned after the catch. Relating this advantageous situation to fantasy terms, Garoppolo attempted the seventh-most red-zone throws last season despite playing for a team that finished second in rushes per game. He attempted the third-most passes inside the 10-yard line, so given his efficiency, system, and talent around him, Jimmy G is a real threat to lead the NFL in passing TDs.

Ironically, as a 49ers fan, I actually hope I’m wrong about this prediction, as it would mean their defense and rushing attack didn’t regress, leading to more pass volume, but the latter is a far safer bet. It’s hard for defenses to remain elite on a yearly basis (the Bears went from #1 in DVOA in 2018 to #10 last season), and the 49ers lost DeForest Bucker in a trade. They also figure to be more susceptible to injury while facing a tougher schedule thanks to coming off a deep playoff run. And while I’m as high on Mostert as anyone in the industry, unless you expect him to run for 25 touchdowns this season (he had 12 over the final eight games last year and had another two nullified by penalty), it’s safe to expect a more even distribution between rushing and passing scores moving forward.

SCHEDULE

A quick glance at the NFC West reveals warm-weather venues and three teams in the Rams, Cardinals, and Seahawks who should all have strong offenses (including two in the top-four in Pace last season) yet all with defenses that Mike Clay grades in the bottom half of the NFL. Getting projected divisional shootouts for 37.5% of their games (with other potential high-scoring matchups including the Saints, Cowboys, Eagles, Packers, and Giants on the schedule) looks like a beneficial setup that shouldn’t be ignored.

While it’s fair to argue that it’s foolish to try to project schedules (especially versus the run/pass) as far into the future as the fantasy playoffs, it’s also an area I’d argue is too often completely overlooked in rankings. The general idea behind the whole “defenses don’t matter” principle is that offenses are more predictive than defenses (which we have trouble identifying the right traits to look for anyway) when it comes to dictating game scripts. And the NFC West projects for a whole lot of high-scoring games in 2020.

It’s hard to be a top fantasy QB without running, but this year Jimmy’s gonna put the moves on the NFL.

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