The 49ers are the biggest mystery in the NFL.
They were bad for nine weeks last season. They dropped passes, missed assignments on defense and generally played like the worst team in the league. They couldn’t win. They began the season 0-9.
Then, they traded for Jimmy Garoppolo, and won five games in a row. For a little more than a month, the 49ers couldn’t lose. They even beat the Jacksonville Jaguars by 11 points, and that team went on to the AFC Championship Game. Garoppolo changed everything for the 49ers. He was magical.
Now, the 49ers don’t know which team they are, although they hope they’re the team from the final five games of last season. They don’t know if they’re good, bad or mediocre. They could go to the Super Bowl or finish last in the NFC West. Both predictions are entirely possible and plausible. So much is unknown about them.
Here’s what is known:
1. Garoppolo will give them a chance to win every week
He’s that good. He has the ideal skillset for a quarterback – strong arm, quick release, accuracy, willingness to throw into tight windows, mobility and poise. He plays with the confidence of a 15-year veteran. He’s Joe Cool 2.0.
Last season, his quarterback rating with the 49ers was 96.2. Impressive, considering he hardly knew the playbook, and didn’t have wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who was out with a fractured neck. They never played together. The 49ers’ No. 2 receiver was rookie Kendrick Bourne.
Now, Garcon is back, and Garoppolo knows the entire playbook. The 49ers should remain competitive as long as they keep Garoppolo upright and healthy.
2. The right side of the offensive line may not keep Garoppolo upright and healthy. Then again, it may.
The 49ers have three new starters on the offensive line – center Weston Richburg, right guard Mike Person and right tackle Mike McGlinchey. They didn’t participate in the 49ers’ five-game win streak to end last season, because they weren’t on the team. The Niners acquired them this offseason.
Richburg came from the New York Giants, where he missed 12 games last season with a concussion. Person came from the Indianapolis Colts, where he started four games at center. He never has started at guard. And McGlinchey came from Notre Dame. He’s a rookie.
Defenses will take turns isolating and testing each player. They’ll put their best edge rusher across from McGlinchey instead of the veteran on the left side, Joe Staley. They’ll put their best interior rusher across from Person. And they’ll put a nose tackle across from Richburg to see if he can block someone by himself without help from a guard.
If the right side of the offensive line plays well, Garoppolo should have a good season. If the right side of the offensive line doesn’t play well, the consequences for Garoppolo could be catastrophic.
3. RB Jerick McKinnon’s season-ending knee injury may hurt the entire offense.
From the day the 49ers signed McKinnon to the day he tore his ACL — almost six months — they designed their offense around him. Not only the run game, but the pass game, too.