For as impressive as Jimmy Garoppolo was for the San Francisco 49ers last season — and despite the comments from Niners fans that have come before this article and will surely come after, he was impressive — he still may not have been as good as the numbers or a 5-0 record suggests.
Playing on a very bad team, Garoppolo managed seven touchdowns in six games, which is only one fewer than Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard threw over 11 games. Garoppolo’s TD% of 3.9 was nearly double that of Hoyer’s (2%) and he did it without Pierre Garcon. Over his final four games, Garoppolo completed 66.2% of his 139 attempts, throwing six touchdowns with 8.99 Y/A and a seventh score on the ground. All the while, San Francisco went 4-0 in those starts and averaged 32.25 points per game. This for a team that had major holes along the offensive line and featured unproven weapons like Marquise Goodwin, Trent Taylor, George Kittle, and Kendrick Bourne.
I don’t discount the positive impact that Garoppolo had on the 49ers last season or the potential growth he could have in the future, but much like what we saw with Andrew Luck from 2012-2016, people still seem to be overlooking the negative plays produced by these star quarterbacks. Specifically when it comes to interceptions.
Garoppolo threw five of them in his five starts, which if he did for an entire season would of course amount to 16 picks. That’s the rate at which he threw interceptions in 2017 and only one quarterback threw more than 16 interceptions last season: DeShone Kizer with 22.
Cam Newton had 16 exactly, Marcus Mariota was at 15, and everyone else was at 14 or under. It’s fair to expect that interceptions happen to the best in the world, but turnovers are so costly that those picks have to be matched with at least double the number of touchdowns to even out the value of those plays. Ben Roethlisberger threw 14 interceptions, but he had 28 touchdowns. Kirk Cousins had 13 picks, but he threw 26 scores.
Of course, Kizer did not throw 44 touchdowns. Newton had 28 total touchdowns to go with his 16 interceptions and nine fumbles (one lost). Trevor Siemian had just 12 touchdowns to match his 14 picks. For Garoppolo to come close to expectations, he’s either going need to get his turnovers down or his touchdowns up, and ideally he’d do both if you’re on the side of the 49ers.
Garoppolo scored seven times in his five starts. That would put him at only 22 touchdowns over a 16-game season, which would put his TD/INT ratio somewhere between Jay Cutler and Dak Prescott. That’s pretty good for someone trying to making a living as a professional football player, but reminder that Garoppolo became the highest-paid player in NFL history and had $48.7 million guaranteed at signing.
However, maybe Jimmy G just got unlucky. Playing with a lesser-than cast of characters, perhaps he was weighed down by pressure at the line of scrimmage, tipped passes, dropped passes that turned into interceptions. Maybe that’s what drove up his interceptions.
Actually, the opposite is true.
FootballOutsiders published their adjusted interception rate this week, highlighting the times that a quarterback had a would-be interception dropped by the defense or an unlucky tipped/dropped pass that became an interception that should have been marked as his fault. For the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, he threw 11 interceptions on the season, but had five would-be picks dropped and one tipped throw that became a pick. His 15 “adjusted interceptions” raised his adjusted interception% to 2.3 from 1.7, but that still ranked as the 12th-best in the NFL.
Meanwhile, Garoppolo posted an actual interception% of 2.8 on the year, with five picks on 178 attempts. In actuality, FO noted three dropped interceptions and zero tipped interceptions, really giving him eight picks on the year for an adjusted interception% of 4.3.
The highest adjusted interception% in the NFL last year belonged to Siemian of the Broncos at 4.9%. Next were Arizona Cardinals teammates Carson Palmer (4.8) and Blaine Gabbert (4.3). Garoppolo threw more passes in Gabbert, so he technically had a bigger sample size too.
This season, Garoppolo gets a number of advantages that he didn’t have in 2017:
- He’s working with the 49ers all year as opposed to coming into the team midseason. That’s no way for a player to be expected to contribute — especially at quarterback — and Garoppolo went above and beyond expectations in doing so. This can not be understated. Matt Ryan’s first season with Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta included just 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions and his adjusted interception% was 3.3. The next year, he won MVP. You’re making a mistake (or not reading this far) if you tell me that I think Jimmy Garoppolo is bad or that he can’t be a superstar as soon as 2018. I’m just writing this to tell you that the season he had, the season that has hyped him up as one of the best quarterbacks in the league already, included more errors than the narrative would have you know. Just like Shanahan’s work with Ryan on the Falcons though, these things take time and Garoppolo could take a huge step forward next season. It’s just that the step forward is still sitting on the table.
- Garcon is back. Kittle and Trent are going into their second seasons. Goodwin has another year in the system. Dante Pettis was a second round pick. Jerick McKinnon may or may not be an upgrade from Carlos Hyde. Rookie first round pick Mike McGlinchey, free agent signee Weston Richburg, and former first round pick Josh Garnett look to upgrade the offensive line.
I really do expect Garoppolo to get better next season, though I’m not going to be sold on any quarterback being great or “elite” until he actually proves it on the field. Garoppolo is not there yet, he’s only shown signs that he could be headed in that direction. He’s also shown signs that as he heads in that direction, he could be more prone to turning it over more often than many of his peers in the last few seasons (Wilson, Prescott, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz) and that’s worth monitoring too.