SANTA CLARA, CA. — Quarterback contraversies are nothing new surrounding this storied franchise. From Montana to Young and then Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick, it has seemingly been going on for years. Fast forward to the 2016-2017 season and on the surface it at least seems that the Niners find themselves in this position once again.
Below, I am going to provide 7 very sound and logical reasons why Blaine Gabbert makes the most sense moving forward for the 49ers. This is not an attempt to slam Kaepernick and in no way shape or form do I not support Kaepernick. This is an attempt to shed light to some folks who may be unsure of the reality of the circumstances of the situation here … and set expectations of what may actually transpire.
Below, we will take a look at 7 factors that give Gabbert the edge over Kaepernick before the “competition” even begins.
#1 REASON: DUAL-THREAT
So for whatever reason, there is this misconception that Colin Kaepernick is head to toe more athletic than Blaine Gabbert. Let’s look at the facts though. By using both their combine statistics, we will analyze just how close it is in their abilities.
The 40-yard dash: Colin Kaepernick ran a 4.53 and Blaine Gabbert ran a 4.62 … This is a difference of less than a tenth of a second. If they were running side by side, Kap beats him in a photo finish. That’s how close it is in speed.
Vertical Jump: Kaepernick jumped 32.5″ and Gabbert jumped 33.5″. While this is not basketball and this category might not be as important to the game of football, it still illustrates that Gabbert is right there in athleticism and actually did better here.
Broad Jump: Kaepernick jumped 115.0″ and Gabbert jumped 120.0″. This category actually is a bit more important to the game of football. Football is a game of inches and Gabbert’s jumping ability and those 5.0″ could be the difference between a touchdown and just getting stopped short of the goaline on a scramble.
3 Cone Drill: Kaepernick did his in 6.85 seconds and Gabbert did his in 6.84 seconds. This one is pretty much a wash and they are both very good times for quarterbacks. Again, this slams home the point that Gabbert is right there neck and neck with Kaepernick’s perceived athletic advantage over Gabbert.
20 Yard Shuttle: Kaepernick locked it in at 4.18 seconds and Gabbert locked his time in at 4.26. A difference of .06 seconds here is a little bit more significant than the 40-time in terms of agility but this will only go so far when you have defensive lineman and linebackers that run as fast as you and are chasing you down.
Clearly, the unbiased and objective fans can see and notice that Kaepernick does not have a clear cut advantage in any athletic category. Gabbert does however seem to have the advantage in the passing game. If you place the passing statistics of last season side-by-side, Gabbert wins in nearly every single category; both started exactly the same amount of games (8).
Here is a video of the Bears game last season in which Blaine Gabbert torched Chicago with his legs:
#2 REASON: QUICKER RELEASE
If you watch a video of Gabbert next to Kaepernick, it is impossible for you to argue that Kaepernick gets the ball out quicker. While he may not lack in velocity, his wind up to get the ball out is significantly longer than the average prototypical throwing motion. Kap’s motion, and he acknowledged this himself by seeking help from nationally known quarterback guru’s, needed some adjusting. However, muscle memory and your natural throwing motion is near impossible to change; just ask Tim Tebow who is no longer in the NFL how tough, or near impossible, it actually is to change.
Gabbert has one of of the quicker and more compact releases in the National Football League. This was widely talked about to exhaustion by the talking heads leading up to the 2010 NFL Combine. It was one of the advantages that he had over Cam Newton in the debate between who the Panthers should have chosen between he and Gabbert. If you turn on the tape of any Mizzou game from 2009-2010, you’ll quickly notice just how lightning fast he gets the ball out.
This is a very important attribute to have in an offense that is predicated on getting the ball to the receivers and running backs sooner rather than later. On top of that, when the ball is coming at 65 mph from 10-yards away, it’s a bit more difficult to haul it in for the skilled players. Gabbert will place touch on the ball opposed to Kaepernick trying to rifle it in from any distance. With Gabbert as the starter, running backs on swing passes and receivers in the flat will actually be able to catch the ball due to the fact that it’s not coming at them like a bullet flying out of an AK-47 at close range.
#3 REASON: MOXIE AND POISE
Moxie: Force of character, determination, or nerve.
Poise: Be or balance to be suspended.
It was quite evident that even under a very in-over-their-heads coaching staff that Gabbert remained determined to win from game to game and minute to minute. It was also very clear that he was consistent. The statistics will back that up. A 63.1% completion rate in the NFL is very respectable. It is even more respectable considering the offensive line that Gabbert had to play behind as well as not really having much of a run game to lean on … coupled with the extremely dense coaching staff.
On the surface, every time that the 49ers broke the huddle with Gabbert as the quarterback, it appeared that each new down was a new opportunity. He never seemed to get down or mentally weak. His body language never got droopy or slumped. If he made a mistake, he wore his emotion on his sleeve with the passion he showed. He never wavered from that. From Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick, it was refreshing to see Gabbert playing each game without droopy or defeated body language.
When speaking in terms of National Football League moxie or poise, I think Gabbert demonstrated that attribute very well in 2015 in the 8 games he started. Undeniable.
REASON #4: PLAYS THE GAME SMARTER
This is a little more challenging to quantify. It is tough to prove that player X is more intelligent or processes the game better than player Y.
It’s very possible that I have the first match up of the Arizona Cardinals on the road in 2015 so deeply embedded in to my memory that the 4 interceptions and two pick 6’s that Colin Kaepernick telegraphed will forever be a deeply engraved scar on my perception of him. I realize that players have bad games but I cannot recall a worse game in the history of watching this team in 30+ years; not even Jim Druckenmiller or Ken Dorsey did worse… Tim Rattay or J.T. O’Sullivan… even Alex Smith (early years) didn’t come close to just how awful and painful that was to watch; I am sure you agree.
But in going back to focusing on Gabbert, it did appear to me that he, with what resources he had at his disposal, made very good decisions (for the most part). Was he perfect? No. But what quarterback is? What impressed me the most was his almost sixth sense. His awareness and recognition. His ability to feel things that were coming at him.
REASON #5: AWARENESS AND RECOGNITION
The ability that Gabbert had to process information came a little bit easier than it seemingly did for Kaepernick last year. There’s possibly a ton of reasons or excuses as to why this was but it’s difficult to argue that when Gabbert took over, the offense went a little bit better; a little bit smoother.
Pre-snap reads, audibles, and adjustments seemed to occur more frequently and more with ease for the guy who wore #2 on his jersey. On several occasions, in an adverse situation where the defense seemed to have an advantage in alignment, Gabbert would change the play and help the team make a gain opposed to being stifled. I believe the game in Chicago against the Bears was his best illustration of this. Former 49ers defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, didn’t seem to have an answer for Gabbert and his ability to process the info or make the according adjustments. We all know how well the defense was coached under Fangio … this a testament to how well Gabbert adjusted in-game against the man who coached a Top 3 defense for four years straight in San Francisco and a trip to a Super Bowl. Granted, the Bears did not have the caliber of defense that the 49ers had a few years ago but they were, at the least, a middle of the pack defense in 2015 under Fangio’s guidance.
While the Niners only won 3 games with Gabbert behind center (the Falcons, Bears, and Rams), it was very evident that they were a lot more competitive in every game than the previous 8 that Kaepernick started earlier in the season. If you look at the division games that Kap played in versus the division games that Gabbert played in, the 49ers were far more competitive even though they lost just about every game ultimately.
Kaepernick Vs. Arizona (Away): 49ers lost 7-47. Gabbert Vs. Arizona (Home): 49ers lost 13-19.
Kaepernick Vs. Seattle (Home): 49ers lost 3-20. Gabbert Vs. Seattle (Away): 49ers lost 13-29.
Kaepernick Vs. St. Louis (Away): 49ers lost 6-27. Gabbert Vs St. Louis (Home): 49ers won 19-16.
The only division game that the 49ers won last season was behind the arm and brain of Blaine Gabbert. The Niners were not in any game that Kaepernick played in against any division opponents; all three could be considered as blowouts. The offense, to say the least, sputtered under Kap and to a degree thrived under Gabbert.
REASON #6: THE TEAMS SUPPORT
Rumors are not always fully accurate but when there is smoke, there is usually fire. Rumors had it that Kaepernick had lost most of the locker room and this dating all the way back to 2014 when the Niners still had Harbaugh as the head coach. To some degree, in 2014, any time Kaepernick went to the podium whether it was for a press conference during the week or a post game interview, he was extremely pompous and arrogant. He did not enter the league with that type of flaw. He was an extremely humble kid drafted relatively high out of Nevada that was waiting in line for his shot; which he ultimately got and ran with.
But since the Super Bowl, after all the endorsements, it seemed that the humble kid out of Turlock, California got sucked in to the hype and media machine which ultimately spun his ego out of control.
It’s tough to say what happened behind the scenes with Vernon Davis, Aldon Smith, Alex Boone and others, but Kaepernick clearly had some non-football related incidents, along with some possible football related issues with them. All three of the aforementioned players are no longer with the team. Some speculate that Kaepernick had a hand in that which forced General Manager, Trent Baalke to make those moves.
Since Gabbert took over, there have been nothing but positive comments from both present and former teammates. Everyone likes the 26-year old former first rounder (10th overall in 2010). Everyone likes his attitude, commitment, and approach to the game. He is slowly garnering the same type of respect that quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning commanded from their respective teammates through their uncontested leadership. This factor goes a long way. Team chemistry could be the difference between a win and a loss in a close game. A game such as the Cardinals game last year at home, which Gabbert quarterbacked in, could be won if that carries over in to the 2016-2017 season.
REASON #7: FITS CHIP’S SYSTEM BETTER FOR REASONS #1 & #2
Because Blaine Gabbert is a duel threat behind center and because he has the quicker release, he will almost certainly be a lock for the starting quarterback position. I believe that this “competition” is more to pump up Kaepernick’s trade value at some point should a team lose their starter for the year this preseason or potentially for a next season bargaining chip. In other words, it is all for show and technically a formality of leveraging value on the former second round draft pick in 2012.
Chip Kelly’s offense, minus the fast upbeat tempo, is almost a hybrid version of what the 49ers offense ran in 1994 when the Niners won their last Super Bowl; an efficient short passing game with lots of passes to the running backs out of the back field with some play action and slants to the slot or wide receivers. Kelly’s offense is a heavily modified version of the west coast offense with sprinkles of read option. The biggest difference is that the offensive line runs a zone blocking which not only creates wide open running lanes but wide open passing lanes as well.
Kelly is an innovator despite what the national media has made him out to be in terms of “ruining the Eagles”. He thinks outside the box and he is not afraid to make in-game adjustments both to scheme and personnel if something is not working. He is in essence a ‘win at all costs’ type of football coach. As long as his primary job is to just coach football, he is the real deal.
The bottom line in regards to how a quarterback fits in Kelly’s offensive scheme is in essence this … Gabbert is extremely accurate from 5 yards to 25 yards opposed to 15 to 25 yards like Kap. It makes him the clear-cut better candidate here. If there are any plays that require Gabbert to move, he is also deadly accurate on the run. Kaepernick does not have terrible accuracy on the move either but I think the edge for Gabbert here is his ability to hit the passes in between 5-15 yards with precision. Couple that with the decision making and it makes it very difficult to justify Kap in any kind of starting capacity at the most important position on the field.
This all may be just one mans opinion but there are several factors to consider which I have listed. You cannot deny the factual evidence and it should at the very least open the minds to those who just assume that Kap is automatically the guy because he has a larger salary.
I have made a very solid case for Gabbert as the starter. Refuting the likelihood of Gabbert based on recent and current events may be a steep feat. You are more than welcome to challenge these points with facts of your own but as things stand, and considering how many more reps Gabbert has had this offseason, coupled with the information I have provided, good luck with that!