What Jimmy Garoppolo has done in his first four starts with the San Francisco 49ers after coming over via trade from the New England Patriots before the deadline is unprecedented. Quarterbacks don’t simply switch teams midseason and then light the world on fire. Through that lens, Garoppolo has no equal. When solely looking at a quarterback’s first four games with a new team though, the 49ers’ signal-caller has some competition.
Going back through all of PFF’s quarterback grades since we started collecting data on every play of every game, it’s surprising just how many quarterbacks have changed hands. It was seemingly far more common before 2014 than it has been the previous four seasons. Since PFF started collecting data in 2006, quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Brett Favre, Matt Schaub (before the wheels fell off), Carson Palmer (twice), Alex Smith and Peyton Manning all changed franchises. Since then though, Alex Smith and Sam Bradford are really the only highlights, with duds like Brock Osweiler and Mike Glennon now proving as cautionary tales. With each quarterback graded and charted, let’s take a look at the five highest-graded four-game debuts from quarterbacks who switched teams to see just where Garoppolo stacks up.
5. Brett Favre, 2009 Minnesota Vikings
After retiring from the Packers, unretiring, getting traded to the Jets, retiring, then unretiring to sign with the Vikings, Favre came back on top of his game in 2009. Minnesota rattled off four straight wins to start the year, culminating with a 30-23 victory over the rival Packers. Over that stretch they averaged 29.5 points per game and it was evident that offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell had reeled in the gun-slinging QB. Favre had one lone turnover-worthy throw through four games.
This stretch also included the famous Greg Lewis game-winner in the back of the end zone against the 49ers – one of only 13 throws ever to receive the highest possible grade for a pass (+2) in the history of PFF, and the only such throw that season.
4. Matt Schaub, 2007 Houston Texans
The youngsters may not remember, but there was a time that Schaub was considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league. From 2009 to 2010 he passed for more than 9,000 yards and had 54 touchdowns. Those would be only two of his three full seasons he ever played though, as injuries limited him early, and erratic play curse him late in his career. After throwing a grand total of 161 passes his first three seasons in Atlanta, the Texans had seen enough to trade two second-round picks for Schaub and he didn’t disappoint. Schaub had an adjusted completion percentage of 82.9 those first four weeks and racked up 266 deep passing yards on only 11 attempts.
3. Sam Bradford, 2016 Minnesota Vikings
Through five games of the 2016 season (Bradford didn’t start until Week 2), the Vikings’ trade of a first-round draft pick for Bradford looked more than justified. They were 5-0 and their new quarterback was dealing. Bradford had a superb 93.8 passer rating under pressure and only one turnover-worthy throw to his name. Of course, the offensive line would crumble as the season wore on and so too would Bradford’s performance, but Bradford more than showed what he’s capable of with talent around him.
2. Jimmy Garoppolo, 2017 San Francisco 49ers
The general public is running out of superlatives for Garoppolo at this point. He’s been unflappable and just spent his Sunday picking apart the league’s highest-graded pass defense. To take a roster that had only one win and rattle off four straight is once again, unprecedented.
If there is any knock on Garoppolo’s start, it’s that he’s yet to make many special throws down the field. He’s been racking up yardage without needing to thread tight windows. He’s made only two big-time throws compared to three turnover-worthy throws through four games.
At the same time though, over 35 percent of Garoppolo’s attempts have received positive grades. That’s an unbelievable rate. Even Carson Wentz and Tom Brady both sit below 30 percent. That’s good company for the young QB.
1. Jeff Garcia, 2007 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Yes, you read that correctly. The journeyman QB’s first four games in Tampa actually comprised our highest-graded debut with a new team. That means no Drew Brees, who needed a handful of games in Sean Peyton’s offense before he was running it like a well-oiled machine. It also means no Peyton Manning, who laid a three-interception egg in prime time against the Falcons his second game in a Broncos uniform.
Garcia’s raw stats through four games weren’t anything special, as he accumulated 771 yards and two touchdowns. As has always been the case though at PFF, we grade the throws and not the outcomes. The Bucs were incredibly run-heavy through four games and Garcia had all of 90 attempts over that span, averaging 8.6 yards per attempt. Of those attempts, only seven throws took downgrades, for a rate of 7.8 percent (league average was 16.3 percent). That 2007 Bucs team would falter a bit down the stretch to 9-7 with Garcia injured and ultimately lost their wild-card game to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Giants.
Mike Renner is a writer for Pro Football Focus and a contributor to The Washington Post’s NFL coverage.
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