I've stated ad nauseam how much I loathe the "HE'S HIM!" or "I'M HIM!" designation for athletes and what not, but shout out to George Kittle for putting an impressive spin on it with Jimmy Garoppolo. If anyone has been a shining example of how to deal with professional adversity, it's HIMMY.
And let me say this as well: I've done my fair share of hating on Jimmy G. Some of it was emotional and betting-related in Week 3 when he laid an egg in a prime-time loss to Nathaniel Hackett's Denver Broncos. To be fair, that team might field the NFL's best defense this year, and since then, Garoppolo has pretty much played lights-out when San Francisco is even close to healthy.
Seriously we have opposing defensive coordinators out here engaging in open dialogue with the media about how they want the ball in Jimmy G's hands to determine the outcome of a game:
I think I blogged like two months ago in an NFL power rankings piece how admittedly cool it'd be to see Garoppolo play the best ball of his career after all the controversy with Trey Lance and getting lame-duck benched behind him until a trade partner arose. Then, Lance's injury happened, and Jimmy G became one of the best quarterback insurance policies ever.
So as much credit as I'm giving to Jimmy G for how well he's playing, operating this LOADED 49ers offense at a supreme level, I can't help but dwell on the Justin Fields of it all.
Heading into Week 12, Fields is marooned in Chicago on a losing, rebuilding team and dealing with a painful shoulder injury. Despite a consensus, severe lack of weaponry around him, the second-year signal-caller has taken matters into his own hands and led the Bears to an average of just under 29 points per game in his last four outings. If Fields healthy enough to finish the season, he's on pace to break Lamar Jackson's single-season record for rushing yards by a QB.
When San Francisco traded up from 12th to third overall in the 2021 NFL Draft, they had the opportunity to select Fields. When I saw this photo of Fields and Kyle Shanahan prior to the draft, I was convinced the Mac Jones buzz was a smokescreen and they'd pull the trigger on the prospect everyone was pining for them to plug into their system:
San Francisco instead passed on the Ohio State product in favor of Lance, who will head into his third season as a professional next year with what has to be the smallest game sample size of any high draft pick to that point in their trajectory in NFL history.
Fields came to the NFL with tons of starting experience and plenty of exposure to the big stage as part of a powerhouse Buckeyes program. He was a more polished passer than Lance, not to mention a far more dynamic, explosive runner. The fact that the Niners took a flier instead on an FCS player who'd only had one year of starting experience and played precisely one game in 2020 is baffling.
Writing about this now feels all the more appropriate since Rico just posted a fun blog about time travel:
I'm a massive Back to the Future Part II fan whose imagination was captured by the sports almanac plot point during some of my key formative years en route to writing about sports. To springboard off Rico's premise for a minute, I'd double dip on this particular Fields-to-SF story thread. I'd travel from this moment to Week 10 of the 2024 NFL season to see how Fields and Lance are doing. Were things playing out as I would expect them to, I'd hop back in the DeLorean — or whatever time-traveling apparatus — and storm into the 49ers' draft room to scream at John Lynch and Shanahan: "DRAFT JUSTIN FIELDS!! PLEASE!!!!"
Had the 49ers drafted Fields instead of Lance, what would their team look like today? I can almost guarantee Garoppolo would be in a different uniform. Hell, he might've already taken the reins from another 2021 draft QB, Zach Wilson, for the New York Jets. After all, former San Francisco assistant Mike LaFleur is the play-caller. The Jets remain a very possible Jimmy G destination in 2023.
But really, imagine what Fields could do with the following skill players/pass-catchers: George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Christian McCaffrey? Dude is making lemonade out of absolute lemons in the Windy City. In that Shanahan scheme with that much firepower around him, not to mention all the running game wrinkles the Niners coach could add to the mix with Fields at the controls? The possibilities feel endless.
I'm not saying Lance is a bust just yet. However, given how much growth Fields has shown simply by developing through live reps and growing pains — and how damn-near unstoppable the 49ers look following Monday's 38-10 romp over the Cardinals — Justin Fields to the 49ers may well wind up being one of the more tantalizing "What if?" scenarios we've ever seen.