Could we see Jimmy Garoppolo throw downfield more in 2022?

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One of 49ers’ offense’s biggest shortcomings with Jimmy Garoppolo under center is its lack of a downfield passing game. If the quarterback has it his way, that’ll change in what could be his final stint as San Francisco’s starting signal caller.

Garoppolo on Thursday in a press conference told reporters he had more freedom when he stepped in for the final five games of 2017, and he’d like to see that return this time around.

“I’d love that,” Garoppolo said about pushing the ball down the field. “Yeah, there’s a lot of things that go with that obviously, but yeah, I love doing that stuff. In ‘17, there was a freedom where me, the receivers, tight ends, we had a good chemistry going. And when you get that with offensive skills and a quarterback, it makes for a tough offense.”

In that five-game stretch Garoppolo completed 67.4 percent of his throws and averaged a career-best 308.4 yards per game in his five starts. His highest-mark since then was 254 yards per game last season.

According to Pro Football Focus, 9.0 percent of Garoppolo’s attempts were deep throws (20-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage). He was at 32 percent on medium depth throws (10-19 yards beyond the line of scrimmage).

In 2019 those numbers dropped to 6.6 percent on deep throws and 25.8 percent on intermediate tosses. Last year 7.6 percent of his throws were deep, while his medium depth throws fell to 24.3 percent.

While Garoppolo said he felt like he had more freedom in his relief appearance in Week 2, he stopped short of saying the offense would continue operating the way it did Sunday. Though it sounds like he was lobbying for it.

“I don’t know, that’s a fair question,” Garoppolo said. “I think we’ll see that as we go forward, but I don’t know, the more freedom you have as a quarterback, obviously you play better, you’re more confident and good things will happen.”

Sunday he threw deep on 9.5 percent of his attempts in a small sample size of 19 throws. He went to medium depth on 19 percent of his attempts.

So, what changed between 2017 and 2021?

“In ’17 I was learning the offense, so Kyle would call some plays and I wouldn’t know exactly how to read it, but you’d kind of figure it out as you went,” Garoppolo said. “Just the more and more that you learn in the offense and get the knowledge of the offense, I start to figure out what Kyle’s thinking and vice versa, but there’s obviously just some back and forth between the play caller and quarterback.”

The 49ers may not aim to push the ball down the field more, but it’s interesting that Garoppolo credited a lack of familiarity with his more prolific downfield looks in his brief 2017 stint. That could come into play again, at least in the early portion of his new starting job since he missed all of OTAs and training camp while rehabbing his surgically repaired throwing shoulder.

He told reporters after Sunday’s game there were a couple plays he was running for the first time.

“Yeah, it was just some different stuff, but I mean, I’ve been a backup before, you don’t get the reps during the week,” Garoppolo told reporters after Sunday’s win. “You’ve just got to get the mental reps and make the best out of it.”

It’ll be fascinating to see how Garoppolo evolves throughout the final 15 games of the 2022 season. It would make sense as he adjusts that he reverts to some of the things that led him to throw deep more in 2017 before reeling it back in to the deep and medium passing rates he reached in 2019 and 2021.

It might actually behoove the 49ers and head coach Kyle Shanahan to let Garoppolo fire it deep more often. In his 47 games with San Francisco he’s completing a respectable 38.5 percent of his deep throws with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He’s been extremely efficient on medium and short throws, but the 49ers’ offense has been missing that downfield element.

Of course, with no years after this one on his contract, Garoppolo may decide to sling it more instead of trying to stay within the offense. He clearly wants to, and if Shanahan draws up some opportunities, we can expect the veteran signal caller to take some shots we haven’t seen him take in five years. It may not be dramatically different, but it may be enough to get the 49ers and Garoppolo over the hump.

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Story originally appeared on Niners Wire