49ers mailbag: What now without Deebo? What’s Garoppolo worth? Who will step up?

·6 min read

The San Francisco 49ers will look to extend their three-game winning streak with another divisional game Sunday as they travel to play the struggling Seattle Seahawks. But they likely won’t have star players Deebo Samuel (groin) and Fred Warner (hamstring), who came out of Sunday’s important win over the Minnesota Vikings with short-term injuries.

San Francisco sits in the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff race and is riding high following a rough 3-5 start to the season. Now that the scene is set, let’s reacquaint ourselves with a mailbag. It’s been far too long!

Christoffer A. asks: Will we see Deebo continued to be utilized so much as a runner for the rest of the season, or was it more of an emergency plan given the recent injury to Mitchell? And what’s the deal with all the playing time to Norman? He is horrible despite all his forced fumbles.

Remember, the 49ers utilized Samuel as a runner long before Mitchell came around. Samuel helped win a game against the Rams in Oct. 2020 working entirely as a runner even though he was technically credited with six catches coming on jet sweeps (an aside, these are plays Kyle Shanahan calls running plays, but they technically count as passes because the quarterback flips the ball forward. These bloat Samuel’s yards after catch numbers).

He also set a record for rushing yards as a receiver in the Super Bowl and had a number of runs throughout that season.

So when Samuel comes back, likely for the Week 14 Bengals or Falcons games, I wouldn’t expect his usage as a running back to change. He’s a nightmare for defenses to account for. And even when he lines up in the backfield and is expected to get the ball, defenses still have a hard time preventing him from finding his running lanes, evident by his two scores against Minnesota.

As far as Norman goes, I’m with you. He simply hasn’t been a very good player and his forced fumbles do not offset his lapses in coverage and penalties. Cornerback was a major concern heading into the draft, and while the team added Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir in the third and fifth rounds, respectively, those players haven’t been able to contribute in their rookie seasons.

Norman will be the team’s Achilles’ heal, particularly in the playoffs, where every likely opponent the 49ers would face has an elite receiver or two (Packers: Davante Adams, Buccaneers: Mike Evans/Chris Godwin, Rams: Cooper Kupp, Cowboys: CeeDee Lamb/Amari Cooper).

Ahmed asks: Can you provide a stock up/stock down on the Jimmy G trade value and what you think he is worth today? Not saying we should trade him, we’re Super Bowl bound, but thinking about how his play is helping us recoup when he is traded.

There are two lines of thinking on this. The first is that Jimmy Garoppolo is a known commodity and won’t enhance his trade his value this season no matter how well he plays. Decision makers throughout the league know Garoppolo is capable of playing well to complement a strong running game, but up-and-down play and injuries will always be part of the equation, as it has throughout this season. The last three-plus seasons bear that out.

The other line of thinking is more optimistic from a 49ers standpoint. Perhaps Garoppolo can win a playoff game or two on his own, without his team needing to run it 35 times, leading to another team getting desperate enough to part with an early draft pick. But barring another Super Bowl appearance, it’s hard to imagine Garoppolo being worth more than what San Francisco paid for him in 2017: a second-round pick.

One thing I believe to be true, the 49ers will be able to get something for Garoppolo in a trade. He’s an ideal bridge quarterback and wouldn’t cost much on a new contract, which could be agreed to before any trade is agreed to (something like two years, $35 million, giving him more guaranteed cash than the $27 million he’s due in 2022 while coming in cheaper per season for his new team).

This draft isn’t expected to have many good quarterback prospects and beyond shelling out multiple firsts for players like Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, Garoppolo could be a decent enough option at a far-cheaper cost.

I’m guessing the 49ers will get a fourth-round pick for Garoppolo that could turn into a third based on playing time.

Monday Flyhalf asks: How about the Saints as a trade destination for Jimmy? Best like for like replacement for Drew Brees you can find out there me thinks.

I think you’re on to something. The best scenario for Garoppolo would be landing on a team with a smart head coach that can maximize Garoppolo’s skill set and give him weapons to make plays after the catch. The Saints check all those boxes. And while Garoppolo is a far cry from Brees, Sean Payton knows how to get production from guys who aren’t known for big plays down field.

I like the Saints fit for Garoppolo. Other teams that will likely enter the quarterback market this offseason: Washington, Denver, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York Giants, Miami, Carolina, Detroit and Houston.

With all those teams potentially being in the mix and there being so few viable options out there, Garoppolo might have more of a market than many think.

Sactown Sports Coverage asks: Who’s a better running back, Mitchell or Deebo?

We recently debated this topic on the Candlestick Chronicles Podcast, and it’s a fun one.

Mitchell leads the team with 693 rushing yards, which ranks second among all rookies behind Pittsburgh’s Najee Harris (the native of Antioch, of course). Samuel has 203 rushing yards, but he’s averaging 8.1 per carry to Mitchell’s 4.8, and Samuel has the edge with five rushing touchdowns to Mitchell’s four.

Samuel has the edge in efficiency and touchdowns while Mitchell has more volume (143 carries to 25 for Samuel). So there’s no obvious answer.

Deebo is the better player. He’s one of the best skill position players in the NFL, full stop. But Mitchell is probably the better running, back by definition.

Andy asks: Who’s the No. 2 receiver with Deebo out?

It’s most likely to be Jauan Jennings, whose work load has increased recently with the injury to Mohamed Sanu. He scored a touchdown at the end of the first half Sunday and nearly had another spectacular scoring grab in the third quarter if not for his knee being an inch or two out of bounds as he slid to make the catch.

The 49ers were initially attracted to Jennings for his toughness and physicality. He was a bear to bring down and was a yards-after-the-catch monster at Tennessee. Lately he’s become part of the rotation for his demeanor as a blocker, which is always important in Shanahan’s run-first attack, and it’s led to gaining more trust from Shanahan and Garoppolo.

The other option isn’t a receiver. It’s George Kittle, who had just one catch on Sunday. He hasn’t had more than 50 yards in a game since the Nov. 7 loss to the Cardinals. But that’s been fine given how well he’s blocked in the running game and the offense not needing him with Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk coming on.

But with Samuel out, look for the 49ers to get Kittle more involved in the passing game, perhaps on a deep pass here and there.

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