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.