It’s safe to say 49ers fans have disparate opinions when it comes to ESPN analyst Mike Sando. Whether you like him or not, one of the best things about his content is when he dips into his extensive rolodex of NFL insiders. He has developed an assortment of connections that provide the proverbial insider view of the NFL.
On Tuesday, Sando dropped his annual quarterback tiers article. Sando spoke with 50 head and assistant coaches, executives, and other front office personnel to rank out quarterbacks within four tiers. The voters included ten general managers, five head coaches, ten coordinators, ten senior personnel executives, five QB coaches, and ten additional voters that included a variety of job titles.
Tier 1 includes only four quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady tied for first, then Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo showed up in the second tier of the rankings. Tier 2 quarterbacks are described as follows:
A Tier 2 quarterback can carry his team sometimes, but not as consistently. He can handle pure passing situations in doses and/or possesses other dimensions that are special enough to elevate him above Tier 3. He has a hole or two in his game.
Alex Smith and Kirk Cousins both ended up with higher average tier rankings than Garoppolo and DeShaun Watson, but the latter two are higher because they received more votes in Tier 2 than Tier 3. Garoppolo also joined Cam Newton as the only quarterbacks to receive at least one vote in each of the top four tiers. Garoppolo received four votes in the bottom (fourth) tier.
The variance is not surprising for Garoppolo. He looked great in five starts to close out the season, but it is also a small sample size. It got him a sizable extension, but it still leaves plenty of question marks. It shows in some of the comments Sando compiled from the various insiders (my thoughts following each quotation).
Former GM: “I would make him a 3, which I think is a generous grade for a guy who hasn’t played very much. He won a bunch of throwaway games. But I do like his fit for that offense. You’ve gotta be smart, you’ve gotta be a good ball handler, you’ve gotta be able to throw on the run. Garoppolo has all those things, so I think he is going to do well.”
I get that the 49ers were out of contention, but it feels like a crutch to say he was effectively playing in garbage time to close out the season. It’s worth factoring in the context, but if you are going to do that, I think you also have to factor in Garoppolo getting tossed in the deep end after the deadline deal.
Offensive coordinator: “Tier 3 is fair, but it’s too early to tell. I think there is a better chance he’s got that big upside than not, but he could be Kirk Cousins, too.”
If Kirk Cousins was Jimmy Garoppolo’s floor as a quarterback, I could live with that. I’d prefer more, but you could do a lot worse.
Another OC: “That style of player, that quick-twitch kind of guy, is really exciting. It is just reactions to things that happen to him -- not sluggish. And then when you add instincts on top of that, where you can see things happen before they happen, and you are quick and you throw with anticipation into holes that are not there yet, then you have a real chance.”
Garoppolo has the tools to be a great quarterback, and it seems like that is not in doubt. It’s taking those tools and consistently executing. This offseason is critical for the quarterback. He had a full offseason with Kyle Shanahan and it’s going to be fascinating to see what improves heading into his first full season as an undisputed starter.
Single voter who placed him in top tier: “Garoppolo fit the Gil Brandt college formula coming out [27-plus starts, 26-plus Wonderlic, 60 percent completions]. He throws a runner’s ball, always leading the receiver to where he should be. It looks like he understands defensive schemes -- not like my other Tier 1 guys, but better than my Tier 2s. Throw in a full offseason with Kyle Shanahan and I’m comfortable saying Tier 1.”
I’m down with a voter getting in ahead of everybody and just tossing him in the top tier! Might as well be a year too early with your analysis rather than a year too late.