Daily Focus: Door now open on 49ers' starting job for Colin Kaepernick?
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.
Does rough performance by Blaine Gabbert open door for Colin Kaepernick? 49ers backup QB Colin Kaepernick sat out last night’s preseason matchup against the Texans with arm fatigue cited as the main culprit. As San Francisco preseason color analyst Tim Ryan correctly pointed out on the broadcast, Kaepernick wasn’t cleared medically for practice until three weeks ago due to three offseason surgeries, thus it should not be a surprise that he is currently struggling with conditioning.
Projected starter Blaine Gabbert was largely unimpressive last night. 43 of his 63 yards passing came on a 10-yard out throw to TE Vance McDonald, who capitalized on a fallen defender and forced a missed tackle to turn the play into a long touchdown. Outside of that throw, Gabbert completed just three of his nine remaining pass attempts, and did not display impressive accuracy or command of new head coach Chip Kelly’s offense.
Gabbert seemingly won the starting job months ago, but it’s still difficult to get past the idea that Chip Kelly, whose system thrived while at Oregon due in no small part to his QBs’ running abilities, could finally have a quarterback at the NFL level capable of running his system to full capacity, and yet pass on him for a player who was a top-10 flop and has never graded positively as a passer. It’s obviously unfair to write Gabbert off after 10 throws in his first preseason game, but with Kaepernick now healthy and available going forward, the forgone conclusion that was the starting QB position of the 49ers could quickly turn into one of the league’s bigger preseason position battles this August.
IK Enemkpali injury leaves Bills razor-thin (for now) at outside linebacker: With Manny Lawson on the non-football injury list and rookie first-round pick Shaq Lawson on the PUP list, third-year player IK Enemkpali was getting plenty of reps at outside linebacker (and even some at defensive end), and by all accounts, making the most of them. Unfortunately, just 28 snaps into the preseason, Enemkpali suffered a torn Achilles in Saturday’s game against Indianapolis.
While it’s tough to predict just how much of an impact Enemkpali would have had, the reality for the Bills is that their linebacker corps—which has already suffered the loss of second-round pick Reggie Ragland to an ACL tear—is dangerously thin as it stands. Manny Lawson could be ready to go for the regular season, but Lawson isn’t expected to be available until October; at that point, expectations should be low for the rookie, who has yet to strap on pads in an NFL uniform.
Lorenzo Alexander is the next man up by default, but the journeyman 10-year veteran—on his fourth team in five years—has not played more than 100 snaps in a regular season since 2012. Health-willing, of course, he is likely to start the remainder of preseason opposite Jerry Hughes, but this could also present an opportunity for rookie Eric Striker to make his push for one of the final roster spots come September.
Striker ranked as the 165th-best prospect on PFF’s big board this spring, and likely would have been significantly higher based on production, if not for his 5-foot-11, 227-pound frame that leaves him without a natural position by NFL standards. Unsurprisingly, he went undrafted in April, but now with attrition becoming such a huge issue in Buffalo, he should get his chance to shine this preseason.
Last year at Oklahoma, Striker was a nightmare for opposing QBs, racking up eight sacks and 48 total pressures, along with 40 defensive stops. His pass-rushing stats led to him being ranked 10th among 2016 NFL prospects last year in pass-rushing productivity, and with his reps likely to increase significantly in the coming weeks, he will have the chance to develop his skill-set.
Raiders rookie edge defender Shilique Calhoun to see larger role? Second-year Raiders starting defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. suffered a strained hip during the weekend’s matchup against Arizona, and is expected to be out for at least a month. This leaves the door open for Oakland’s third-round pick, Shilique Calhoun, whose 38 snaps on Friday were the second-most among all Raiders defensive linemen.
Like Striker, Calhoun comes in undersized at his position (he weighed in at 251 pounds at February’s NFL scouting combine), but was extremely productive his final year in college. At Michigan State in 2015, he ranked fifth in pass-rushing productivity among the year’s NFL rookie class, as he posted 11 sacks, 17 hits, and 48 hurries. While an obvious force when rushing the passer, he did not grade out as well against the run, due in large part to missing 13 tackles. He was also called for 11 penalties, the most of any edge defender prospect last year. His first preseason game played out similarly to his college performances, as he tallied three pressures on pass rushes, but missed a tackle and had the lowest run-defense grade for the game on the Raiders’ defense.
The hope was certainly to work Calhoun in on a situational basis this season, but unless a player like James Cowser continues to be as productive as he was on Friday (he posted three QB pressures himself, while also scoring the highest grade against the run among Oakland defensive linemen), expect the former Spartan to be relied upon for much more than was originally expected in the early stages of his rookie season.