Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Who should the 49ers starting QB be? It looks like the competition for the starting quarterback spot in San Francisco is heating up two weeks into training camp. Blaine Gabbert became the likely starter as the 49ers and Colin Kaepernick tried to part ways in the offseason, but could never make a deal work. Now offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins is saying that the competition is “just getting started.”
After taking over as the starter mid-way through the 2015 season, Gabbert performed better than the very low bar set by Kaepernick in the first half of the season, but did little to prove he was a viable long-term starter or secure the job going forward. Gabbert earned positive grades in his first two appearances, but he didn’t sustain that level of play long. Over the final six weeks of the season, the former Jaguar recorded the lowest passing grade of any quarterback, and second-lowest overall grade ahead of only Tennessee’s Zach Mettenberger. He graded as a below-average quarterback both when pressured and when he was given time to throw.
That said, Kaepernick has to greatly improve from his disastrous 2015 performance before he should even be in consideration for playing time. He had the second-lowest passing grade of any quarterback all season. He’s never been an overly-accurate passer, but struggled with both his accuracy and his decision-making last season before being benched for Gabbert. While the 2015 season was by far the worst of his career, he didn’t fare all that well in 2014, either, as he ranked 23rd out of 39 qualifying quarterbacks in overall grade. Still, he has shown in the past that he’s capable of good play, particularly during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. Over the final seven weeks of the regular season and the 49ers’ 2012 playoff run, Kaepernick earned above-average average grades in eight of 10 games, with several performances grading well above average.
The 49ers’ QB competition will likely come down to which version Kaepernick shows up this preseason. Will it be the dynamic, dual-threat that led San Francisco to a Super Bowl appearance a few years ago, or the inaccurate passer who often made ill-advised throws last year? If he can regain that prior form, there’s little question that he would be the better option over Gabbert. It’s also easy to imagine Kaepernick being a good fit for Chip Kelly’s offensive system. However, he will have to make big strides, particularly in throwing accuracy, to get there. Otherwise, we are likely looking at another season with Blaine Gabbert as the starter.
Which option helps more in fantasy?
Our Brandon Marianne Lee broke down this and other training camp QB battles to watch for fantasy.
How do Bills LBs and Patriots TEs match up? Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in football, and one of the most difficult players to cover in the league. What’s more, New England’s addition of TE Martellus Bennett (Bears) will put that much more strain on defenses. In response, Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan is hoping that linebackers Preston Brown and rookie Reggie Ragland (Alabama) will be up to the task.
Brown was one of the lowest-graded NFL linebackers last season, although that was largely due to his poor run defense. He was still below-average in coverage, too, allowing 38 receptions and 409 receiving yards on the season. He did play better in his 2014 rookie season, however, when he had the 13th-highest coverage grade among off-ball linebackers. As for Ragland, he was a good coverage linebacker in college, but it’s not the best facet of his game, as he’s more suited as a run-defender and pass-rusher. There were times when he was beaten when isolated in coverage on good tight ends or running backs.
That said, it will be difficult for any team to contain the Patriots’ tight-end duo. The Bills’ linebackers may have some success in slowing them down, but neither player has yet shown the exceptional coverage ability that would be required to shut Gronkowski and Bennett down.
Bears are better-prepared this season if Alshon Jeffery injured again: Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery left practice early on Thursday due to “muscle tightness,” according to Chicago head coach John Fox. It could very well be nothing, but it is a little more difficult to not read into it based on Jeffery’s injury history. If for some reason it leads to Jeffery missing some more time, the Bears wide receiver corps should be better-suited to handle his absence than they were last year, despite Jeffery being the third-highest graded wide receiver last year when he was on the field. Having last year’s first-round draft pick, Kevin White—our second-ranked wide receiver in that draft class—back after missing all of last season due to injury will be a big boost for the offense, with or without Jeffery. Another name to watch is seventh-round rookie slot receiver Daniel Braverman (Western Michigan), who was one of our top 10 sleepers of this year’s draft, and who “just keeps making plays” this preseason, according to Fox.