When Jimmy Garoppolo was preparing for the NFL Draft back in 2014, 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan scouted him closely.
Though Garoppolo played his college ball at Eastern Illinois, an FCS school, he was widely regarded as one of the top passers available thanks to his impressive arm strength, pinpoint accuracy and ability to process the game. Garoppolo possessed the size and intangibles to play quarterback in the NFL, but there were concerns about how he would be able to transition from the small college ranks to the big stage.
The impression Garoppolo made on Shanahan, who was the Browns’ offensive coordinator, during his pre-draft process stuck with the 49ers’ rookie head coach, and played a role in San Francisco’s interest in acquiring the former Patriots’ backup. On a conference call on Tuesday, Shanahan admitted that while he paid a lot of attention to Garoppolo as a passer, the 26-year-old has surprised him with his ability to make off-schedule plays.
“No, it has pleasantly surprised me,” Shanahan said. “You saw it in college, but you see a lot of that from everyone in college. Also, they just ran a scheme where they got rid of the ball so fast, so you didn’t get to see it as much as you’d like. Saw it a couple times in the few games that he played in New England, and since he’s been here, he’s been great with it. So it’s been nice.”
Garoppolo’s improvisational skills have helped the 49ers to a 4-0 record under his lead, as he’s showcased an incredible ability to evade pass rushers, scramble from the pocket and make plays on the run. While many quarterbacks have the arm strength and processing skills to succeed when a play goes according to plan, the game’s elite passers are able to turn something out of nothing and generate positive yardage when a play collapses.
The 49ers’ offense has gone three-and-out just twice in the month of December, and Shanahan credits Garoppolo’s ability to extend drives and plays with his off-schedule playmaking skills for the team’s success.
“We’ve got a number of three-man rushes in the red zone,” Shanahan said. “When you get that, very rare are people open in rhythm. So it’s going to go to off-schedule and he’s done a real good job of creating a few down there and getting us some points.”