Blaine Gabbert is playing a lot better for the Niners than he did for the Jags

It's too early to start thinking of Blaine Gabbert as the Niners' future, but he has put together an impressive stretch of play.

| 11 months ago
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Blaine Gabbert is playing a lot better for the Niners than he did for the Jags

Blaine Gabbert now has four starts under his belt for the 49ers this season since taking over from Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers are 2-2 over that span, but the two losses have come against the Seahawks – in Seattle – and against the Cardinals, who happen to be one of the best teams in the NFL and could only win by a score.

So what have we seen from Gabbert over that four-game span?

Before diving into that it’s worth looking back at his time in Jacksonville for some context. The -40.7 grade that Gabbert posted in his rookie year for the Jaguars is the worst single-season we have ever seen from a quarterback dating back to 2007 when we began grading games.

He has never graded positively before over a season, and his career grade coming into this year was -51.0. We have seen very little but poor play from Gabbert, and unlike many other young quarterbacks, we never really saw the suggestion that there was improvement to come.

Blake Bortles a year ago posted a rookie grade that at times threatened Gabbert’s 2011 mark, but he never “felt” as bad, and you weren’t surprised that there was a significant step forward from him this year (even if the magnitude of the development has exceeded expectations).

Gabbert just looked like a bust with no shot at redemption, but perhaps what he needed was development time on the sidelines.

Over the four-game stretch this season he has a positive grade of +0.5 overall. He has really been better than that, though, because all of the negative came against the Cardinals, while the games against Atlanta, Seattle and Chicago have all featured strong play from Gabbert.

It’s too early to get that excited about him, but compared to where he has come from, the leap in development and performance has been enormous. What might be most encouraging, however, is his play under pressure so far this season. As a rookie he completed just 40.2 percent of his passes when pressured for only 5.1 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 54.6. This season he has completed 66.7 percent of those passes for 7.3 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 85.9.

While Kaepernick was seen as the elite athlete and rushing threat at quarterback, Gabbert has been a better rushing force this season. Kaepernick was averaging 5.7 yards per rush this season, with 15 designed runs yielding just one really lengthy run of 17 yards, Gabbert has been impressive when he has been forced to scramble.  He averages 7.4 yards per run, and even just comparing the plays where both he and Kaepernick were forced to scramble from the pocket Gabbert has him beat (9.0 YPC versus 7.0).

I’m not claiming that Gabbert is a superior athlete to Kaepernick, but his athleticism has always been an underrated part of his game, perhaps because your eye was automatically drawn to the horrendous quarterback play first. Gabbert came into the league out of a spread offense after a lockout year, and clearly had no business starting from day one as a rookie. It’s easy to forget that he was a talented prospect, and maybe just needed a little more protecting early in his career.

While it’s too early to make this a Jim Plunkett redemption story, we are seeing a different Gabbert than in years past, and how high his ceiling is will be interesting to watch down the stretch.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Giants4Ever

    Aka, Draft and Develop, not draft and cut if the guy isn’t any good his first year or so in the league.

    • Jaguars28

      He had three bad years

      • Izach

        He was really bad agreed. He did fold under pressure. He wasn’t a good or even remotely average QB in Jacksonville…. But he had no team around him, and needed to sit and develop on the first place, he won’t be savior or elite QB IMO but no reason he can’t be a decent starter/ career journeyman who has a good season or two

    • bobrulz

      Eh well I mean, Bortles is already better than Gabbert was or currently is, and he’s only in his 2nd season.

  • Al

    Teams aren’t respecting his ability to run but he actually had a better shuttle than Wilson and the second best 40 yard dash at QB just behind Kaepernick with a 4.61. Underrated athlete. Teams will start to respect it more but he’s doing a good job keeping his eyes downfield too. He’s playing a lot better than I thought he would.

    The biggest thing that had people calling him a bust was the way he folded to pressure and perceived pressure. He just looked scared. He doesn’t look that way now.

    • Jack Casey

      According to the NFLs Next Level Stats, Gabberts reached a top speed of over 20 mph this year, fastest of all QB in the NFL. He can fly.

    • MosesZD

      Yeah, he’s really changed his game. And he’s worked hard at developing as a pocket passer. Something many running QBs don’t do and, consequently, fail.

  • derek lundeen

    I think the Jags are are fine with Bortles.

  • Jake

    Would love to see what he can do with an actual RB threat (no disrespect to Draughn), maybe a decent TE, and an average OL. I think he’s performed well considering he has very little help. Obviously a lot of QBs would do good with a great supporting cast but right now Gabbert is working with very little.

  • mlander80

    I hope he works out for the Niners and my hawks can get a respectable rivalry going again. Not sure with that ownership, but at least he seems like a bright spot they can build on. I’m sure they can get something decent trading Kaepernick to the Eagles or Browns.

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