Garoppolo played his college career at low-profile Eastern Illinois, but got enough attention to be taken by the Patriots in the second round of the 2014 draft. He was thrust into the spotlight at the start of the 2016 season, taking over for Brady, who was suspended for Deflategate. After two strong games, both wins, he hurt his shoulder and returned to the bench.
But despite the promising start, he remained stuck behind the ageless Brady and was due to become a free agent, so the Patriots decided he was dispensable.
Advanced statistics from Sportradar show that Garoppolo has thrived with short passes in San Francisco. When throwing the ball 5 yards or less in the air, he is 35 for 47, with the second-best rating in the N.F.L., behind the injured Deshaun Watson of the Houston Texans. The curl is his go-to route; he is 17 for 21 for 152 yards when throwing to a receiver running it.
Surprisingly, Garoppolo, on a team with nothing to play for, has excelled in the second half of games. In the third quarter, he rates second to Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams, completing 18 of 27 passes. In the fourth quarter, he is second to Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks, at 26 for 33.
While his red zone numbers aren’t exceptional, he is uncannily good at getting his team out of trouble by passing from the dangerous position of his own red zone. From inside the 20 he is 15 for 16, and has 16.8 yards per attempt, for the best rating in the league.
It has been four years since the 49ers were in the playoffs, but the coming of Garoppolo has brought some much needed excitement to San Francisco, for now and the future.
“It’s awesome,” Garoppolo, 26, told The San Francisco Chronicle. “There’s a buzz in the air. You can feel it as soon as you walk in the stadium. The crowd is going nuts, even in the pregame.”
On Sunday, the Niners visit the Rams. With Los Angeles in the playoffs, its elite running back Todd Gurley and star quarterback Goff may see little or no action.
Garoppolo is 6-0 in his career. The oddsmakers are calling him a 3.5-point favorite to pick up No. 7.