As the San Francisco 49ers prepare for their Week 5 opponent, the Miami Dolphins, and this is a game the Niners need to have. We’re not sure who would start at quarterback, but Jimmy Garoppolo returning to practice on Wednesday is a great sign for San Francisco. Before we break down Week 5’s matchup, let’s do a quarter review stock report for each position.
Quarterback: Stock down
It’s nearly impossible to judge the quarterback play this season with the number of injuries suffered on offense and the offensive line’s play. Also, how much credit do we give Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens for their outstanding play against the New York teams? I lean “little to none” after seeing how other offenses have fared against the Jets, and the Giants, who have the 22nd and 26th rated pass defenses per DVOA. Simply put, they’re not very good.
That leaves us with Week’s 1 and 4 to evaluate. Against Arizona, Garoppolo’s EPA per play was only .10, and he had a completion percentage over expectation of -6.1 with a quarterback rating of 54.9. Saying Jimmy did not play well is an understatement. Nick Mullens had an EPA per play of -.42, meaning he was making the offense worse every time he threw the ball. Mullens had a CPOE of 1.8 and a QBR of 20.8. Everyone struggles to separate the quarterback from Kyle Shanahan’s system. Against a pair of below-average to average defenses, the 49ers quarterbacks failed both of their tests.
The next two months, fair or not, will be a litmus test on whether Garoppolo is the organization’s future. He’ll have a lot on his plate, and we’ll have an idea as to whether Jimmy G will elevate the talent around him and see how he handles adversity.
Running back: Stock up
We’ve seen Raheem Mostert for five quarters, and the lack of explosiveness has hurt the offense. He’s the fastest player with the ball in his hands this season, according to NextGenStats, who clocked Mostert running an incredible 22.73 miles per hour on his 76-yard touchdown reception versus Arizona. Mostert returned to practice on Wednesday, though he was limited.
I can’t say enough good things about Jerick McKinnon, who handled a full workload against the Eagles and continues to flash in every facet you’d ask of a running back. McKinnon is PFF’s sixth-highest graded running back this season. Jet is third in yards per attempt among running backs who have at least 30 carries. Fifty-one percent of his yards have come after contact, and McKinnon has had seven rushes go longer than 10 yards, which ranks him 12th in the NFL, but everyone ahead of McKinnon has at least 16 more carries than him. I’d argue the most impressive facet about Jet’s game has been him in pass protection, where he’s done a great job of picking up blitzers.
Pass catchers: Stock up
Lumping the tight ends and wideouts together, it’s quite the luxury to have George Kittle and Deebo Samuel return to your lineup. Kittle reminded us why he’s the best tight end in the NFL. Not only as a receiver but as a pass blocker. That’s no different than what happened during Week 1. As for Samuel, we saw a glimpse of how dangerous the 49ers could be when he’s on the field. Samuel had an end-around and also caught a pass from the slot, where, to me, is his best position.
Brandon Aiyuk has played 164 snaps this season, playing more and more snaps each week. Aiyuk has caught nine passes for 109 yards. Eight of those passes have gone for first downs. I’d argue he would’ve had a touchdown against the Eagles through the air had Aiyuk been on the same page as C.J. Beathard. On the ground, Aiyuk has four carries for 69 yards and two touchdowns, including the 38-yarder where he was in the air for 11 seconds. Add in Kendrick Bourne continuing to develop and showing signs of being a high-end WR3; San Francisco will be well-equipped to score against anyone with this group of pass-catchers and Garoppolo healthy.
Offensive line: Stock down
Heading into the season, the 49ers offensive line wasn’t viewed as a strength, but many of us believed the average play would be more than enough for this offense to thrive. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen average play yet.
I’ve been thinking about how the lack of preseason has affected teams around the NFL. We see how difficult it is to play offensive line on the fly with no live reps. Take Daniel Brunskill, for example. His best position last season was at offensive tackle. Brunskill spent this offseason learning guard, then, during the final weeks of camp, went back and forth playing center and right guard. It’s not an excuse to say that hindered Brunskill’s development. We’re kidding ourselves if we thought Trent Williams wouldn’t need time to adjust to the NFL speed after not playing in 2019. As the season goes on, expect both players to improve, especially Williams, who has already flashed his ability.
All five starters have struggled at some point through four games, and we all know this because we’ve discussed the blocking issues after each game. Kyle Shanahan said center Weston Richburg hadn’t had any setbacks. He could return as early as Week 6. Would the 49ers slide Ben Garland over to right guard if Brunskill’s struggles continue? That’s something to keep an eye on.
Whichever five players take the field for the 49ers line, they must be better if the offense is going to have a chance.