Jimmy Garoppolo has gotten better in all the ways the 49ers needed

Jimmy Garoppolo’s improvement in 2022 is hard to quantify via the eye test or traditional box score stats. While he isn’t a wholly different signal caller than the one that came up short in Super Bowl LIV and the NFC championship game last year, he’s gotten better in a handful of key areas that could make the difference for San Francisco’s offense this season.

It’s always been hard to judge Garoppolo through traditional stats because of how much the 49ers offense is centered around yards after the catch. San Francisco leads the league in YAC per completion and Garoppolo is frequently asked to simply deliver short throws in an area that allows his receiver to get upfield, break some tackles and create a big play. That style of offense lends itself to inflated yardage, completion rate,  yards per attempt and quarterback rating.

The traditional box score stats will tell us Garoppolo is just the player he’s always been. His 67.0 percent completion rate is right below his career average. He’s at his fourth-highest yards per game and his fifth-best yards per attempt. Even his 7.4-yard average depth of target is right at his career ADOT of 7.5 yards.

Garoppolo has always been undeniably efficient within head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense. The problem is how many crucial mistakes would litter his otherwise fine performances. In 2022 he’s started limiting his mistakes.

His 1.5 percent interception rate is by far the lowest of his career. Last season and 2019 he was at 2.7 percent in both years. His sack rate is also his lowest as a full-time starter. Pro Football Focus has his 4.3 big-time throw percentage – which is “best described as a pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window,” per PFF – at its highest since joining the 49ers. PFF also has his turnover-worthy play rate at 2.6 percent, which is his lowest in any season with 200-plus dropbacks.

More simply put, Garoppolo is finding ways to remove negative plays from his game. He’s throwing fewer interceptions and taking fewer sacks. Part of this has been his increased mobility in the pocket and willingness to create a few plays outside of structure. More importantly though has been the presence of running back Christian McCaffrey, who operates as a checkdown option that Garoppolo has never really had. McCaffrey also creates more space for other pass catchers and allows Garoppolo room to make throws that aren’t into heavy traffic.

By limiting turnovers and bad sacks, Garoppolo allows the 49ers to stay ahead of the sticks and maximize the deception that makes Shanahan’s “positionless” roster so difficult to defend. Even two negative plays per game turning into positive ones could be the difference between a win and loss for the 49ers in a big playoff game.

The fact is Garoppolo is never going to be a quarterback in the stratosphere of Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. His ceiling is within the 49ers’ offense and achievable through the limitation of backbreaking mistakes. He’s accomplishing the latter so far this season, and it’s much more conceivable to see the 49ers going toe-to-toe with some of the teams with superstar QBs with Garoppolo playing like he has in 2022.

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Story originally appeared on Niners Wire