Pierre Garcon Gives the 49ers Exactly What They Need

With a lack of talent in San Francisco, Garcon has the talent and familiarity with Kyle Shanahan's system to be an effective piece in the 49ers' rebuild.

There’s a lot of work to be done by the San Francisco 49ers. They have a new general manager, a new head coach, and not a lot of talent on the 53-man roster.

At this point, the 49ers don’t even have a quarterback on the roster -- though reports now suggest that Brian Hoyer will be signed but maybe just as a backup. Whoever that quarterback will be in 2017 has a pretty good receiver to throw to as San Francisco will reportedly sign Pierre Garcon once free agency officially starts on Thursday.

Even as Garcon will turn 31 years old in August, he’s a complete receiver who can be a great asset to the next starting quarterback of the 49ers.

Filling A Need

Clearly the Niners have things to work out at quarterback, but let’s take a look at what they have at receiver. Even with players on the roster, the outlook is almost as bleak. Jeremy Kerley, who recently signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract to stay with the team, was the leading receiver in both targets (112) and yards (660).

None of Kerley’s nor his teammates’ performances were all that impressive when looked at by our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric.

Below is a table that looks at San Francisco’s wide receivers who caught a pass in 2016 by their raw stats, Reception NEP, Reception NEP per target, and Success Rate, which is the percentage of passes that positively impact NEP.

Receiver Receptions Targets Yards TDs Rec NEP Rec NEP/Target Success Rate
Jeremy Kerley 63 112 660 3 52.22 0.47 80.95%
Quinton Patton 36 62 391 0 25.41 0.41 80.56%
Torrey Smith 19 48 260 3 20.99 0.44 78.95%
Rod Streater 18 26 191 2 21.17 0.81 88.89%
Chris Harper 13 21 133 0 13.54 0.64 76.92%
Aaron Burbridge 7 16 88 0 7.64 0.48 85.71%
DeAndre Smelter 1 1 23 0 1.46 1.46 100%

Just about all of them were bad. While Kerley had the clear market share advantage, his efficiency was terrible. His 0.47 Reception NEP per target was 40th of 41 receivers with at least 100 passes thrown their way last season -- better than only Tavon Austin. The average among that group was 0.69, and the average among receivers with 50 or more targets was 0.66, a mark No. 2 receiver Quinton Patton was well below, too.

The only receiver who had any type of per play impact was preseason trade acquisition Rod Streater, who saw only 26 targets and played on just 24.3 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Both Patton and Streater are set to become free agents, and the underutilized Torrey Smith was released on Monday, as first reported by NFL Network’s Steve Smith. That leaves Chris Harper as the next leading returning receiver.

Carrying The Load

It’s safe to say Garcon is going to be heavily involved in the offense. Luckily, that’s something he’s not a stranger to doing. Since Garcon became a full-time player in 2009, he’s seventh overall in targets. Since 2010, the only season he didn’t have at least 100 targets on the year was 2012, when he missed six games with a foot injury.

Garcon was the leading receiver for Washington this past season in targets (112), yards (1,016), Reception NEP (90.42), and Reception NEP per target (0.81). Across the NFL, his Reception NEP per target was fifth among receivers with at least 100 targets.

New 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan also won’t be new to making Garcon a featured player of his offense. Shanahan was the offensive coordinator in Washington for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. While we mentioned Garcon was injured during 2012, in 2013 he led the league in targets at 183. While he was 13th in Reception NEP, he wasn’t exactly efficient. His Reception NEP per target of 0.60 was 29th out of 38 wideouts with at least 100 targets that season.

But still, there’s a familiarity there, and it should be safe to say both are better at what they do now than they were then.

Deceptively Deep

Earlier in the offseason, Garcon took to his Instagram to take issue with being pegged as a possession receiver. In Washington, many suggested DeSean Jackson was the deep threat while Garcon took over the possession duties. That’s not completely true.

Over the past two seasons, Garcon has two more “deep” targets and just three fewer "deep" catches than Jackson. While Jackson does dominate in yards (1,003 to 630) and touchdowns (7 to 3), Garcon has still made himself fairly valuable down the field.

Much of that is set up by his route running, which allows him to get behind defenders. Take this play against the Chicago Bears from Week 16, with Garcon at the top. (Video courtesy NFL Game Pass.)

No one is going to mistake Garcon for a burner, but labeling him a possession receiver is doing him a disservice.

Building Up A System

The 49ers entered the offseason with a lack of talent and a whole lot of cap space.

Their main goal of the next few months will be to set a foundation for what the team wants to become in a few seasons. Think of the 2014 Oakland Raiders, who paid up for some veterans like Justin Tuck during the transition period of their rebuilding process. At worst, that’s what Garcon could be, especially if the reports of him getting around $16 million in the first year are correct.

Pierre Garcon might not seem like a big splash, but he’s exactly what the 49ers should want going forward.