All you regular readers of BTB know the drill by now - if there is a Cowboys game on the horizon, we speak to the enemy to get an idea of what is going on with the opponent. It’s our Five Questions segment. To kick things off this year, we venture over to Niners Nation to speak with David Fucillo, a long-time chronicler of the 49ers.
Bogging the Boys: So go ahead, gush about Jimmy Garoppolo. Is he all that? Describe his style as a quarterback.
Niners Nation: The optimist in me says he’ll be a top ten quarterback this year, and could climb into the elite level in short order. The realist in me knows he’s started 7 total games, and 5 with the 49ers. He was clearly better than Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard. His ability to start a game 34 days after being acquired in a trade and dumped in an entirely new offensive system speaks highly to his football IQ. He showed he could make a variety of throws. The 49ers won the five games he started and his receivers and offensive line all looked better than they had before he arrived.
All of that suggests to me it is reasonable to infer great things from Jimmy G. But it also means we have to wait and see if this is something he can pull off for a full season, and beyond. Critics will talk about teams having a full offseason to figure him out, and now having tape on him. What they don’t talk about is Garoppolo having a full offseason to learn Kyle Shanahan’s offense and what he needs to do in it. His ceiling is tremendous, and it feels like his floor is pretty high as well. It’s hard not to get excited.
As for his style, he’s a more traditional drop back passer who can make all the throws. He can maneuver well in the pocket, and while he’s not a big-time scrambler, he showed he can get out of the pocket and be at least a modest threat with his legs.
BTB: Besides Garoppolo, what the most exciting part of the 49ers offense? What are the worries on that side of the ball?
NN: Running back Jerick McKinnon will be a weapon to watch. People were surprised by his sizable year 1 guarantee in signing with the team, but he is a perfect fit for what Kyle Shanahan wants to do. Shanahan’s offense involves the running backs in the passing game in a big way, with the hope that position versatility can keep defenses off balance. McKinnon will be a pass catching machine. He won’t rush for a ton of yards, but I could see a 900 rushing, 600 receiving season, if not more on the receiving end.
Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin is another one to watch among the starters. He was viewed as more track star than football player in Buffalo, but in his first season with the 49ers, he showed he was more than just a go route receiver. He had career highs in every category, and would appear to be a favorite of Garoppolo. That being said, he is also ridiculously fast, and it’s fun to watch him blow past defensive backs.
The biggest worry is the offensive line. The 49ers made big changes this offseason, adding in a new right tackle and center, and then either welcoming back someone from IR at right guard, or having a name y’all would be familiar with: Jonathan Cooper. The 49ers line will be critical to Jimmy G’s success in 2018, and with so many new pieces after a shaky 2017, it’s hard to tell where this unit will settle.
BTB: What is most exciting about the defense? Where do you worry on that side of the ball?
NN: DeForest Buckner, the team’s top pick in 2016, is on the verge of something special. He was among the NFL’s defensive tackle leaders in QB pressures. He did not close the door on sacks, but he seems to be closing in on that breakthrough. So much so that his teammates have nicknamed him DPOY (Defensive Player of the Year). He is getting some work on the edge as well as the team looks for ways to get creative with him. I couldn’t be more excited about his potential.
The young talent as a whole is exciting. The team have a pair of starting safeties entering their second (Adrian Colbert) and fourth (Jaquiski Tartt) seasons, respectively. Colbert was a seventh round pick last year, while Tartt was a second round pick who did not get into the starting lineup until last season. Add in cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon and linebacker Reuben Foster, and there’s a lot to like.
The biggest worry is the pass rush. The team has some intriguing options at defensive tackle, but they have no clear answers at edge rusher. Cassius Marsh and Jeremiah Attaochu are two players getting an opportunity. Both are talented, but have never broken out in a big way as pass rushers. All eyes will be on the edge rushers this season.
BTB: Do you feel all the possible playoff talk for the team is warranted, or is it just preseason hype?
NN: The over/under on the 49ers is set at 8.5 wins, and I am not comfortable betting either side. I think the window for this team is somewhere in the 7-10 win range. Their young and still building, so the under makes some sense. On the other hand, even though they won’t win every game Jimmy G starts, he was impressive. With some new pieces added on defense, if the 49ers can come out out of a tough opening slate at 2-2, the playoffs are not exactly out of the realm of the possible. But so much depends on what Garoppolo does in year two, and also how the defense steps forward. Given the nature of the NFL, they have a shot at the playoffs, but how short or long that shot is remains to be seen.
BTB: What are the main things you’re looking for in the preseason game?
NN: 1. No injuries. This is always a pretty straightforward one.
2. How the offensive line plays together, even if Joe Staley gets the evening off.
3. Some semblance of a pass rush
4. What the cornerbacks look like.
Much thanks to Niners Nation for dropping some knowledge on us.