Daily Focus: Blaine Gabbert right man for 49ers’ starting job?

Josh Liskiewitz breaks down the QB competition in San Francisco and Giovani Bernard's new deal in Cincinnati.

| 4 months ago
(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Daily Focus: Blaine Gabbert right man for 49ers’ starting job?


Is Blaine Gabbert the best option at QB for San Francisco? Much of San Francisco’s offseason has centered on trade-talk involving quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The once-promising signal-caller appears to have fallen out of favor with the 49ers after his second-straight subpar season.

While there was a level of renewed optimism when Chip Kelly was first announced as head coach this offseason, it quickly became apparent that Kaepernick, despite his impressive running ability, is not guaranteed to be the starter come September, even though it appears he’ll still be a 49er this season. News out of the Bay Area yesterday labeled Blaine Gabbert as the heavy favorite to win the starting job, as he is apparently well-respected in the locker room and the new coaching staff has been surprised by his foot speed.

Although it has never been a feature of his game, Gabbert posted the ninth-highest rushing grade for QBs last year, despite only starting eight games. While Kelly is unlikely to revisit the glory days of Oregon by giving Gabbert a huge workload on the ground, he certainly appears better-suited for read-option concepts than Sam Bradford or Nick Foles, Kelly’s main QBs in Philadelphia.

In the context of Gabbert’s first three years in the league, some have argued that he enjoyed a renaissance of sorts last season, but the fact of the matter is, he still only finished 29th in PFF QB rating and 22nd in accuracy percentage. With a comparable workload last year (244 passing attempts to Gabbert’s 282), Kaepernick did not fair much worse, finishing 32nd in PFF QB rating.

Kaepernick’s early-career success and experience with some of the running concepts Kelly ran before transitioning to the NFL suggest that he is the more natural starter for the 49ers, but ultimately the decision as to who starts Week 1 is likely to come down to performance off the field more so than on-field potential. This being said, if Gabbert continues to perform as he has in the past (even at last year’s level), don’t be surprised to see Kaepernick back at the helm at some point this season.

New deal for Bernard could mean heavier workload in 2016: Yesterday, the Bengals announced a three-year extension to Giovani Bernard’s current deal that will keep the running back in Cincinnati through the 2019 season. With an average of $5.17 million per year on his deal, he is now in the top-10 at his position in terms of salary.

In the sense of what a traditional RB is expected to produce, this deal seems to comes off as exorbitant, as Bernard’s carries have decreased every season of his career (he was down to 160 in 2015), and his highest rushing total was this past season’s 758. However, his real value is his performance in the passing game, as he has amassed 165 receptions over the course of his three-year career.

Considering the free-agent loss of slot receiver Mohamed Sanu (Falcons) and the fact that his likely replacement is rookie Tyler Boyd, Bernard should see a healthy increase, health-willing, in terms of volume in the receiving game. Bernard was targeted 69 times last year for 51 receptions and 474 yards, and is likely to surpass those totals through the air this year.

The final piece of the puzzle explaining Bernard’s deal is likely trust. While most of the focus in the aftermath of Cincinnati’s latest playoff debacle was on personal foul and unsportsmanlike penalties of Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones during Pittsburgh’s final game-winning drive, the fact of the matter is the team would not have been in that situation had the Bengals’ other RB, Jeremy Hill, simply held onto the ball on the prior drive. The fumble was Hill’s fourth of the season (he has eight rushing fumbles in his two-year career), compared to none for Bernard (just one in 513 career carries).

Carolina’s receiving corps should be vastly improved: Yesterday, Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was asked about the development of second-year wide receiver Devin Funchess, and he stated he is “light years ahead” of where he was last season. While some may dismiss this as offseason fluff, there likely is a fair amount of truth to it, as Funchess’ workload increased throughout last season (culminating in 47 snaps in the Super Bowl).

2015 wasn’t just Funchess’ rookie season, it was also just his second year as a wide receiver, as he played tight end at Michigan until his junior year in 2014. Being so new to the position was always going to limit his production as a rookie (36 catches for 546 yards), but he should see a significant volume increase this season, and the return of Kelvin Benjamin can only help.

Having a big-time playmaker opposite him should keep Funchess in favorable situations that will allow him to utilize his size against single-coverage, and as long as both weapons improve upon their ugly combined-drop-rate of 14 percent from their rookie seasons, the Panthers’ offense should be even better than it was during Cam Newton’s MVP campaign of 2015.

| Analyst

Josh joined PFF as an analyst in 2015. During the season, his primary focus is college football (mainly the Big Ten). He is also heavily involved in PFF's NFL draft coverage. Prior to joining the team, he worked for six years with GM Jr. Scouting, an independent draft scouting service.

  • MosesZD

    Kaepernick’s early-career success and experience with some of the running concepts Kelly ran before transitioning to the NFL suggest that he is the more natural starter for the 49ers,

    No it doesn’t. He was a junk-offense QB with some fluke stats that the NFL solved and he’s been incapable of over-coming. And many of the stats that back it up that observation are YOUR stats. So I really don’t understand your endorsement of Kaepernick when your stats tell us that:

    A. He’s terrible under pressure. (Your stats.)
    B. He’s not very good in the pocket. (A different place, but probably here too.)
    C. He’s gotten worse ever year. (Everyone’s stats.)
    D. His Pistol/Read-Option stats declined dramatically since 2012’s high. (Your stats.)
    E. He doesn’t suffer from an excess of pressure but creates a significant number of sacks by holding the ball too long. (Your stats.)

    It’s like one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing around here.

    And yet you want my money.

    • Ming1942

      You are the biggest untapped source of natural gas this side of fracking…you are clueless. Arrange your lobotomy at your earliest convenience…

    • Ming1942

      Kap’s stats in 2014 were his best, despite Harbaugh’s hissy fit and Roman’s ineptness. Kap threw 19 TDs and 10 Ints, for 3369 yards and completed over 60% of his passes. Last season a lousy o-line and three injuries limited him to just a half season. This season he’ll have his best yet and you can choke on crow. (your stats),

    • Zach

      yes….just yes…you know… Gab will win the job. People don’t realize Kap’s stats protected him, his biggest flaw was leaving plays on the table due to bad reads, lack of confidence and some issues with finesse passing. Kap has all the physical tools, but the best qb play has to do with decision making and accuracy which both fall into Gabbert’s hands. Gabbert is actually a perfect fit in the offense that needs accuracy and quick decision making with a Q who can lengthen plays with his legs and force a edge defender to respect the pull on read option. We want Hyde running the ball, and a Q who allows this to best occur by way of respect of legs, but mainly successful passing through quick game, drop back and play action. Gabbert is the guy.

  • crosseyedlemon

    The 49ers should be drafting in the top 3 next year so that is when they will probably go after a franchise QB to replace Kappy.

    • Jeffrey Hannah

      They drafted at 7 with a crappy coach in Tomsula lol, I really dont think they will be drafting lower in 2017 than they did before

      • crosseyedlemon

        They needed 2 OT wins just to bring the season total to 5 and it’s hard for me to have confidence in a team that lost by 2 TDs to both the Browns and Lions. On the positive side, Buckner was probably the steal of this year’s draft.

  • Ming1942

    Another “writer” who knows nothing about the 49ers. Kap will start for the first time in an offense designed for him. Yesterday in practice he looked thin as he hasn’t been able to work out until now, but the last pass was 50 yards and he threw it with ease. Better yet, he threw two beautiful passes that he had to lob over the defender’s head and he threw them perfectly, something he couldn’t do before…

    • MosesZD

      The NFL figure Kaepernick out in 2013. And let’s not pretend the 49ers offense wasn’t specifically tailored for him as he rolled-out for over one-third of his passes and rushed with a significant number of read-option plays. They also brought in his old head-coach to add more Pistol concepts to the offense in 2013.

      Nothing helped Captain Lock On.