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Ranking most important 49ers in 2018: No. 1 Jimmy Garoppolo



Happy Training Camp Week, 49ers fans. We are just one day away from the start of training camp, scheduled to begin Thursday, July 26, marking the beginning of a six-month-plus marathon that spans the NFL season. KNBR has counted down the days by highlighting San Francisco’s most important players, from No. 14 to No. 1, accompanied with coach bios for each day preceding camp.

Let’s highlight quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, our most important 49ers player in the upcoming season.


Yep, you guessed it. The savior of the 2017 season, the man of the offseason, and the poster child for the current 49ers regime, Jimmy Garoppolo is the 49ers’ most important player for the 2018 season.

The reasoning is simple: they would suffer more from his absence than anyone else’s.

As long as he plays for the 49ers, essentially everything they do, from offensive game-planning to free agency spending, is operated with Garoppolo as the reference point. This offseason, he signed a (momentarily) record-breaking $137.5 million deal that keeps him under contract for the next five years. The 49ers saw no need in using the franchise tag on the 26-year-old quarterback. If the opportunity to secure him long-term was there, they were going to do it.

One month later, Garoppolo helped facilitate San Francisco’s next splashiest offseason signing: cornerback Richard Sherman. The three-time first-team All-Pro said he would only join a contender. He later explained that if Garoppolo was not the 49ers quarterback, he would not have signed with the 49ers.

They continued to build around Garoppolo, inking running back Jerick McKinnon and center Weston Richburg to big contracts in free agency. They later added Dante Pettis, one of the most dynamic playmakers in this year’s draft class, in the 2018 NFL Draft to give Garoppolo another weapon.

Those are the things that happen when you finish the 2017 season on a five-game winning streak and transform one of the NFL’s worst offenses into one of the best. The 49ers merely traded a 2018 second-round draft pick in exchange for Garoppolo, a lifelong backup to Tom Brady, with the New England Patriots last October. It took about a month until Garoppolo was handed the keys to Kyle Shanahan’s offense. With minimal knowledge of it, Garoppolo led the 1-10 49ers to five straight wins, becoming the first ever team to start a season 0-9 and finish 6-10.

In five starts, Garoppolo produced 1,560 passing yards, seven touchdowns, and five interceptions with a 67.4 percent completion percentage. His 80.0 quarterback rating was tops in the NFL.

The 49ers offense improved in just about every category with Garoppolo under center. Their 321.7 yards averaged per game from Weeks 1-12 (21st-best) improved to 410 yards (third-best) from Weeks 13-17. Their 17 points per game (28th-best) improved to 28.8 (fifth-best). Their 221.8 pass yards per game (17th-best) improved to 297 (third-best). And their total quarterback rating improved from 32.4 (28th-best) to 80 (first).

The bullseye is now squarely on the 49ers, and particularly Garoppolo, whose sparkly 7-0 record as a starter has had the NFL world buzzing all summer.


Twenty-five years after he was a 49ers ballboy, Shanahan was named head coach prior to the 2017 season. Talk about an ideal career path.

Shanahan earned his first head coaching job after serving as the offensive coordinator at four different teams and spending 15 total years coaching in the NFL. He is widely regarded as one of the most intelligent and innovative offensive minds in the league. And he has maximized his talent at each of his stops.

Let’s start with Houston, where he served his first offensive coordinator role from 2008 to 2009. Under Shanahan, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub compiled career highs in passing yards (4,770), touchdowns (29), completions (396), completion percentage (67.9), and passer rating (98.6) during the 2009 season. Wide receiver Andre Johnson led the NFL in receiving with 1,575 and 1,569 yards in the 2008 and 2009 seasons.

Shanahan took the Washington Redskins offensive coordinator role from 2010 to 2013. He helped current 49ers receiver Pierre Garcon lead the league with 113 receptions with the Redskins in 2013. Redskins running backs Ryan Torain, Roy Helu, and Alfred Morris all achieved career-best seasons under Shanahan. Morris’ 1,613 yards in 2012 are the third-most for any rookie in a single season.

Shanahan took the same job with Cleveland during 2014 season and molded little-known receivers Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel into playmakers.

Shanahan became the Atlanta Falcons coordinator from 2015 through the 2016 season. In his first year there, Julio Jones recorded 1,871 receiving yards — the second-most ever in a single season. Running back Devonta Freeman amassed a career-best 1,634 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns that same year. Atlanta was the league’s top-scoring unit in 2016 and nearly won the franchise’s first Super Bowl.

When Shanahan was named as the 49ers head coach last February, he inherited a 2-14 team. For the greater part of the 2017 season, he worked with moving parts and pieces that weren’t equipped for his scheme. Then the Garoppolo signing happened, and everything took off. Shanahan deserves mountainous credit for the drastic turnaround that led to that five-game winning streak to close the season.

San Francisco become a destination, rather than a pit stop, for free agents this offseason. That much was obvious when Sherman, McKinnon, and Richburg signed with the 49ers.

Shanahan retains just 13 players from the 2016 roster. In one year’s span, the rebuild has moved as quickly as most could have imagined.

This is the final story of our two-week training camp countdown highlighting 49ers coaches and ranking their most important players from No. 14 to No. 1. Check out the rankings below.

No. 14: Kyle Juszczyk

No. 13: Solomon Thomas

No. 12: Adrian Colbert

No. 11: Pierre Garcon

No. 10: Weston Richburg

No. 9: Jerick McKinnon

No. 8: Mike McGlinchey

No. 7: Ahkello Witherspoon

No. 6: Arik Armstead

No. 5: Reuben Foster

No. 4: Richard Sherman

No. 3: Joe Staley

No. 2: DeForest Buckner