The arrival into the Bay of former Olympian Marquise Goodwin in free agency certainly generated some buzz. Equipped with mind blowing speed, it was Goodwin who signaled to much of the NFL that Darrelle Revis was on his last legs when he blew past him for a touchdown last autumn.
Presumed to be the 49ers’ answer to Taylor Gabriel, Goodwin is to be the field stretcher in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, a man who teams must game plan around and opens up the field for the 49ers other receiving targets. His presence alone can cause defenses and defenders to reveal their coverage pre-snap, allowing Brian Hoyer to audible into a play that would best attack it and give Goodwin an easier read himself. This further emphasizes the importance of a quarterback with an understanding of the system, emphasizing the significance of the Hoyer signing.
Of course, Goodwin isn't just in the team to scare defenses and make the lives of those around him easier. Everyone associated with the 49ers hopes that he will prove to be the dangerous receiving threat that Taylor Gabriel was in his time with Kyle Shanahan. Whilst Goodwin’s performances in training camp have been widely lauded, the performances of the 49ers’ cornerbacks against the Chiefs did little to dispel the potential narrative that Goodwin’s success was a product of the 49ers’ defensive backs’ struggles.
Nevertheless, there are two key pieces of evidence that suggest that Goodwin could be about to begin a breakout season.
Firstly, it is quite clear that Kyle Shanahan knows how to get the best out of electric receivers provided they have the route running tools that he is looking for. In two years under Shanahan, Taylor Gabriel averaged 600 receiving yards a season, had 71 receptions (36 as a rookie in 2014 and 35 in Atlanta in 2016), scored 7 touchdowns (6 last season) and averaged 16.9 yards per reception across his two seasons under the new 49ers’ head coach. He had PFF grades of 78.5 and 83.2 in 2014 and 2016 respectively. Conversely, in his lone season without Shanahan (2015), he averaged less than 9 yards a reception, caught only 28 balls, had no touchdowns and his PFF grade dropped to a lowly 45.2. This gap clearly demonstrates the way Shanahan brought the best out of Gabriel.
To bring the best out of Goodwin, Shanahan will require him to be a good route runner and have solid hands. Gabriel isn’t simply a vertical burner and one of the primary fears surrounding the signing of Goodwin was his limited route tree, a fear perpetuated by Goodwin himself when he mentioned in an interview that he felt he was not given an opportunity to develop his route tree appropriately in Buffalo.
The 49ers had clearly done their homework on Goodwin however. Once you delve into his tape it becomes immediately apparent that he is a useful route runner with an effective pair of hands. He shows an awareness of how his speed can manipulate defenders and to me, was used reasonably effectively by the Bills in 2016 as they took advantage of the stresses his speed placed on defenders. He is vertically and laterally explosive and was open far more than his 29 receptions would suggest. A victim of Tyrod Taylor’s lack of a pocket presence and arm talent (though undoubtedly a beneficiary of his willingness to uncork the bomb), Goodwin could be in for a career year and perhaps even surpass the performances of Gabriel under Shanahan.
These first clips demonstrate exactly what makes Goodwin so lethal - raw speed. Capable of eating up a cushion in seconds, Goodwin blows past Darrelle Revis and Byron Maxwell respectively, as well as making the Dolphins’ safety coming across on the latter play look incredibly stupid.
On the latter play in particular, you can see the dangers of a cornerback peaking into the backfield, as Maxwell switched off momentarily and allowed the big touchdown. The 49ers’ play action game will certainly allow Goodwin to take advantage of momentary lapses by defensive backs as his speed can punish a split second of doubt.
The rest of these plays demonstrate a little more nuance to Goodwin’s game. For the most part, they also show the potential to take advantage of the defensive adjustments to his speed and the resultant opportunities that open up for Goodwin outside of the deep bombs that he his undoubtedly recognised most for.
On this simple curl route, we can see how the defender gives Goodwin (top of the screen) a cushion, and even after he stops and turns around, the defender is reluctant to drive on the ball in case of a stop and go route, due to the Dolphins being in Cover 3. Goodwin also makes an excellent catch to reel in a poor pass for a five yard gain.
Goodwin (bottom of the screen) runs a dig route here. Firstly his release off the line is good, and though Maxwell didn't attempt to press him, Goodwin’s first move off the line would have prevented him from doing so anyway. Maxwell then unsurprisingly attempts to give Goodwin a large cushion, one that he eats up before cutting infield on the dig, where he was wide open. His ability to cut whilst running at what looks like close to full speed (or even still accelerating) makes him incredibly dangerous and makes his routes very difficult to read or react to in time.
On this out route, we once again see the fear of Goodwin’s (top of screen) speed ensure that he can get an easy gain. After motion inside to open up the out route, Goodwin is once again faced with a large cushion that he starts to eat up quickly before cutting seamlessly to the sideline. Again his break out was executed whilst he appeared to still be accelerating. Had the ball been thrown better it may have gone for a first down.
On this slant, Goodwin (bottom of screen) absolutely bamboozles Maxwell off the line. Releasing outside which forces Maxwell to turn his hips, Goodwin then easily cuts inside and is wide open for the slant. Though he failed to reel the pass in (that he should have caught despite it being a poor throw), his separation on the play was extremely impressive and has been a staple of his performances in the red zone this offseason during camp.
Whilst this route still utilises Goodwin’s speed, there’s a little more nuance to it. Shaping up to essentially run into the flats, Goodwin’s sudden acceleration surprises the corner and he actually gets in behind him. A quarterback with a better pocket presence would have stayed in that pocket and made the touch throw to Goodwin into the back of the endzone.
These plays, almost all from one match, demonstrates the variety that Goodwin does have to his game. We saw him utilised on a couple of these routes when the 49ers met Kansas City last weekend. He was open on both, but did not receive the ball. On the curl (Goodwin at the top of the screen), he was afforded a large cushion in man to man coverage, whilst on the dig (also top of screen) he did well to gain enough separation from tight coverage to warrant being thrown the ball if the safety had not have been in such good position.
I believe there is enough evidence to suggest that Marquise Goodwin could well be worth the hype. With his underrated route running ability and his devastating speed paired with the offensive smarts of Kyle Shanahan, Goodwin could well be in for a career year. Being paired with a quarterback who is willing to stand in the pocket, has some variety to his delivery and understands the offense as well as Brain Hoyer does will also significantly help Goodwin. Though he does not have a Julio Jones-esque receiver opposite him to draw coverage away, or Matt Ryan throwing him the football, I am excited to see how he performs this season simply due to Kyle Shanahan’s obvious aptitude in getting the best out of receivers like Goodwin.