SANTA CLARA — Before this season, Marquise Goodwin was in a dangerous spot. Typecast as a straight-line route-runner by the Buffalo Bills, he didn’t seem likely to emerge as a regular contributor to an NFL offense.
Thirteen games into his tenure with the 49ers, Goodwin has proven that isn’t the case, and that the talent evaluators were wrong.
The 2012 Olympic track star already has 12 more catches than his previous career high and is gaining more prominence in Kyle Shanahan’s offense by the week. Since Pierre Garcon was put on the injured reserve before Week 9, Goodwin has averaged 86.8 yards per game.
“He’s a guy, to me, who’s become more of a pro in a good way as the year has gone on,” Shanahan said Monday, a day after Goodwin turned six catches into 106 yards against the Houston Texans.
He’s proven to be a dynamic receiver who has more than just physical gifts.
When the 49ers signed him to a modest two-year, $6 million contract, Shanahan envisioned him running the whole route tree. And Goodwin has delivered on expectations.
For Goodwin, this year’s performance validates the decision to gamble on himself. He wanted to change the way he was perceived in the NFL, and now that he has a quarterback in Jimmy Garoppolo who can help him realize his massive potential, Goodwin sees nothing but opportunity ahead.
“Getting the ball in stride, there’s nothing like it. Especially when you run like I do,” he said Wednesday.
Goodwin isn’t a perfect receiver. He has the third highest drop-rate in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, behind Amari Cooper and Marqise Lee.
But it isn’t as simple a metric as it would seem. Since Garoppolo has taken control of the offense, he has dropped a lower rate of catchable balls. But the 49ers will gladly exchange a few botched balls for Goodwin’s game-changing abilities. (Some other names in the top 11 for drop rate this season: Brandin Cooks, Keenan Allen and Robby Anderson, all of whom are in the top 10 for receiving yards.)
“If you’re running that fast, I know it’s not that easy to catch it,” fellow Niners receiver Trent Taylor said Wednesday. “… Watching [Goodwin] everyday in practice, everytime you see him run and catch the ball, your eyes get wide, like, ‘Wow. that’s impressive.’ It doesn’t get old watching it.”
Garoppolo first realized Goodwin’s first-rate skills a year before they united in Santa Clara, when the pair were opponents in the AFC West. The former Tom Brady backup was watching tape and he saw Goodwin burn future Hall of Fame cornerback Darrelle Revis down the sideline. Goodwin finished with 112 yards on two catches in that game.
“I’ve been around a lot of fast guys, but he’s up there. Like I said, it’s just world-class,” Garoppolo said.
The growth of Goodwin — who turned 27 in November — means the 49ers have a burner who can play outside receiver and be a consistent home-run hitter. If general manager John Lynch’s personnel team can find a taller pass-catcher to complement Goodwin and Taylor in the slot — to go with the steady Garcon — this team is primed to score points in droves for years to come.