Jimmy Garoppolo Is Playing Like the NFL's Best Quarterback

Garoppolo is putting up numbers that rank him as the league's best quarterback, and the future of the 49ers suddenly looks a whole lot brighter.

Coming into the season, the San Francisco 49ers' outlook for the immediate future was as dim as any team's in the NFL, including the Cleveland Browns (who quietly have a decent roster and a treasure chest of draft picks).

Since firing Jim Harbaugh after the 2014 campaign, the 49ers' franchise had gone a dismal 7-25 across the past two years, and they had holes all over their roster entering the 2017 season.

Kyle Shanahan was brought in as the third coach in three seasons, but with Brian Hoyer and C.J. Beathard as his top two quarterbacks, Shanahan got off to a predictably poor start. San Fran lost their first nine games on their way to an ugly 1-10 start, and there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

But a midseason trade brought Jimmy Garoppolo to the Bay Area for the cost of a second-round pick, and it's taken a mere four starts for Garoppolo to change the entire outlook of the 49ers' franchise, assuming the team can keep the soon-to-be free agent in the fold for the long haul.

What a Start

It's hard to know how much stock to put into a four-game stretch, but Jimmy G sure looks legit.

First off, the 49ers have won all four of Garoppolo's starts -- that's twice as many wins as they had in all of 2016, and it's the first time a quarterback has won his first six starts (he was 2-0 with the New England Patriots) since Ben Roethlisberger did it in 2004.

It gets better.

Going by our metrics, Garoppolo has been among the best quarterbacks in the league this season. Check that -- he's been the best.

Net Expected Points (NEP) is the metric we use to track the efficiency of both teams and players with the team side being adjusted for strength of opponent. A three-yard completion on 3rd-and-2 is wildly different than a three-yard completion on 3rd-and-4, and NEP helps account for that by tracking the expected points a player adds to his team's total over the course of a season.

There's the obvious small-sample caveat with Jimmy G as he has far fewer drop backs than most of this season's top-performing quarterbacks, but among passers with at least 100 drop backs, Garoppolo sits first in Passing NEP per drop back. The table below is sorted by Passing NEP per drop back, but Success Rate -- the percentage of drop backs leading to positive expected points -- is also included.

Quarterback Drop Backs Passing NEP Per Drop Back Success Rate
Jimmy Garoppolo 153 0.38 58.82%
Tom Brady 577 0.29 50.26%
Carson Wentz 468 0.25 47.65%
Drew Brees 525 0.24 50.86%
Philip Rivers 555 0.24 48.11%
Ben Roethlisberger 582 0.23 49.66%
Jared Goff 503 0.21 45.33%
Alex Smith 540 0.20 47.04%
Case Keenum 472 0.20 50.64%
Deshaun Watson 223 0.19 47.98%

In addition to taking the top spot in Passing NEP per drop back, Garoppolo is leading high-volume quarterbacks in Success Rate.

The last name in the top-10 is an interesting one because both Deshaun Watson and Garoppolo are inexperienced (in terms of NFL game action) quarterbacks with a small sample from which to draw set-in-stone conclusions. The football world was collectively losing its mind over Watson's scorching rookie season -- and rightfully so -- but Garoppolo is adding exactly twice as many expected points per drop back than Watson was prior to his injury.

For context, Garoppolo's clip of 0.38 Passing NEP per drop back currently ranks as the sixth-best season in our database, which goes back to 2000, among quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs in a season.

Going back to last year, the sample is a minuscule 67 drop backs, but Garoppolo shined in his two starts with the Pats, posting a dazzling mark of 0.41 Passing NEP per drop back.

Branching outside of our metrics, among guys with at least 100 pass attempts this season, Garoppolo ranks second in completion percentage (69.0%), seventh in quarterback rating (98.9), and fourth in adjusted net yards per attempt (7.69).

For his career, he's completed 163 of 239 passes (68.2%) for 1,958 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 3 picks with a mark of 7.51 adjusted net yards per attempt.

Any way you slice it, Garoppolo has been excellent.

A Big Statement

Garoppolo helped ease some small-sample concerns with a superb display in Week 16. He put together a solid day against the menacing pass defense of the Jacksonville Jaguars, the league's premier pass D, per our schedule-adjusted metrics.

By raw stats, he was 21 of 30 for 242 yards, 2 scores and 1 interception as San Fran pulled a 44-33 upset. That's nothing too special, but when you consider the opposition, it's all the more impressive. Here's what other quarterbacks have done against the Jags this season.

Of the 16 guys to throw at least 10 passes in a game against Jacksonville this year -- a group that includes the likes of Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, Jared Goff, Roethlisberger, and Watson -- only four quarterbacks have produced positive expected points. Not only was Garoppolo one of those four, but his performance lapped the field.

Moving Forward

As we've said, we're dealing with a small sample here, but so far, so good. Or, more accurately, so far, so great.

Garoppolo has been outstanding in his brief tenure with the 49ers, checking just about every box you could hope for, and he's done it with a cast of Marquise Goodwin, George Kittle, Kyle Juszczyk, Garrett Celek, Kendrick Bourne, and Trent Taylor as his pass-game weapons -- not exactly a group of studs.

In four weeks, Garoppolo has gone a long way toward locking in a place among the game's top quarterbacks, and he's completely reversed the fortunes of the 49ers.

San Francisco likely wanted to use the tail end of this campaign to test drive Garoppolo before he hit free agency this offseason. So far, he's done just about everything he could possibly do to land a lucrative long-term contract, and the Niners would be playing with fire to let him touch the open market -- you know, the market that resulted in Derek Carr getting $25 million per year.

The only negative in all this as far as the 49ers are concerned is that Garoppolo's price tag has shot up, but they should be more than happy to fork over the dough to lock up a guy who appears to be a top-notch quarterback, especially since they have the second-most cap space in the league.