Daily Focus: Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick better choice for 49ers?

Matt Claassen breaks down San Francisco's QB competition, Rex Ryan's comments on Buffalo's linebacker corps, and more.

| 11 months ago
(Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

Daily Focus: Blaine Gabbert or Colin Kaepernick better choice for 49ers?

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.

Check the full 49ers fantasy depth chart.

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.

| Analyst

Matt has been an analyst for PFF since 2013. He is also a contributor to 120 Sports and a former NCAA Division-III football player.

  • Ming1942

    If Kap is healthy and the competition is fair, Gabbert is toast…

  • adon cabre

    One guy in Kaepernick was trying to throw first down passes while the other guy was perfectly happy dumping ‘completions’ a yard behind the line of scrimmage.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Winning the QB battle in Frisco is a bit like discovering you’ve been chosen to navigate the Titanic….the celebration will be brief regardless of who gets the job.

  • Joe Doe

    I remember in Kap’s good years thinking that a lot of his decisions were much like Favre’s, where he trusted his arm to make throws that other guys couldn’t. Futhermore, I thought it isn’t possible to have all the upside of Favre’s decisions and throws without any of the downside, after all Favre holds the all-time interception record too. But I guess it all leveled out in the end, although having all the good happen in two years, and all the bad in the next two years is a bit of an odd trend.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Another amusing photo. Are the 49er QBs issued phones to check when the next bus leaves town or to request that the sniper attacks be called off?

  • zinn21 zinn21

    Unless Kaepernick had brain surgery along with his other surgeries this off season I don’t see him performing well under NFL pressure. His problem has always been processing what he sees, accuracy and touch while under pressure. There is no way he can match Gabbert in any of those areas.