Jimmy Garoppolo’s impact on 49ers 2018 Draft Plans
49ers General Manager, John Lynch is nothing if not bold. After being told Patriots backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo wasn’t available for a trade during the offseason he inquired about the availability of living legend, QB Tom Brady. Perhaps it was that boldness that helped Lynch coax Garoppolo away from the Patriots on the eve of the trade deadline…though the (then) 0-8 record, with little hope of landing outside the top 3 picks in the 2018 draft and Belichick’s willingness to spite the Cleveland Browns at any opportunity may have helped convince New England the trade would be worth their while. In any case, the high second-round pick the 49ers gave up in the trade is a bargain for acquiring a highly sought 27-year-old QB with a couple NFL starts under his belt and a skill set that was literally used as the example of what Head Coach Kyle Shanahan wanted scouts looking for in a franchise quarterback.
Now that the 49ers have found their franchise quarterback ahead of the 2018 NFL Draft, their biggest need is a game-breaking talent who can bring the sputtering engine that has been the 49ers offense roaring back to life. As bad as the 2017 season has been, this isn’t a new problem. The 49ers haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver since 2014 with Frank Gore (1106 rushing yards) and Anquan Boldin (1062 receiving yards) both topping the century mark at ages 31 and 34 respectively. While Boldin and Gore are not the types of talent that can be so easily replaced, it’s far past time that they try. The last time the 49ers used a first round pick on an offensive skill position player was 2012 when they used the 30th overall pick on WR AJ Jenkins.
An epic bust like Jenkins could make any front office wary and it’s not as if the 49ers haven’t found meaningful production from Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner, but a lack of offensive weapons and poor quarterback play often go hand in hand…just ask Alex Smith who spent years trying to make due with a rotating receiving cast of guys like Josh Morgan, Arnaz Battle, and Jason Hill. The 2018 receiving class looks promising with Alabama’s Calvin Ridley leading the way and looking like an ideal fit for Kyle Shanahan’s offense. Ridley has good size, great hands, explosive speed and is already a polished enough route runner to make an immediate impact as a WR1. Ridley would demand a defense’s attention, allowing Pierre Garcon to exploit more one on one match-ups on the other side and let Marquise Goodwin maximize his potential as a mismatch down the field, similar to how Shanahan deployed Taylor Gabriel in Atlanta.
While I’m obviously very high on Ridley’s potential he currently ranks outside the top 10 on most analysts big boards and the 49ers are currently heading for the 1st overall pick and it’s unlikely they pick outside of the top 5. This opens up the possibility of trading down, collecting picks and still landing a game-changing offensive player which sound pretty appealing, but there is another game-changing skill position player that the 49ers will likely be studying very closely in the months to come: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. While Barkley failed to gain over 100 total yards in back to back weeks against Ohio State and Michigan State, he remains in the conversation as a potential top 5 pick thanks to his rare blend of size, speed and pass-catching ability out of the backfield. We’ve seen the impact three down backs like Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette and Kareem Hunt can have and that’s the type of impact you are talking about with Barkley. It will be hard to turn down if he’s available when the 49ers go on the clock in May.
Finding Garoppolo a go-to playmaker, be it Barkley, Ridley or anyone else should be the 49ers top priority, but it is by no means the only one. As good as the 2017 Draft class looked and has performed, it was also the first time since 2009 that the 49ers didn’t draft at least one offensive lineman…and it shows. While injuries have certainly made the line look worse than it did heading into the season the interior of the offensive line has struggled since parting ways with Center Jonathan Goodwin after the 2013 season. Goodwin’s backup, Daniel Kilgore, has been below average at best since taking over as the starter and is in the final year of his contract making it the perfect time for an upgrade. Arkansas Center Frank Ragnow should be of particular interest as a dominant pass blocker who hasn’t allowed a sack in 41 career games who can still get nasty and punish defenders in the run game. Ideally, Ragnaw will be waiting for the 49ers at the top of the third round.
There should also be a vacant spot at guard as Laken Tomlinson, acquired early in the year in a trade with the Lions, has failed to show any of the promise that made him Detroit’s first-round pick in 2014. His low cost might make him worth keeping on the roster, but it might be too little too late. Ideally, the 49ers are looking for someone with positional flexibility, as we’ve seen this year desperate times and sometimes call for desperate measures and Jimmy Garoppolo will sleep easier knowing there’s no chance he winds up with Zane Beadles protecting his blind side. Florida’s Martez Ivey is the ideal as he’s athletic enough to permanently move outside to Tackle once Joe Staley retires. Michigan’s Mason Cole will be another name to watch as he’s built his reputation on versatility.
If Lynch and his staff are able to provide Jimmy Garoppolo with playmakers and an improved offensive line, the 49ers will find their way out of the NFC West basement sooner than later. They have their foundation, now it’s just a matter of continuing to build, brick by brick.
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