San Francisco 49ers 2016 Position Breakdown: Looking at the Quarterback Position
By Peter Panacy
Niner Noise has saved our final offseason position-by-position piece for the San Francisco 49ers 2016 quarterbacks group. How does this all-too critical unit shape up, and will Colin Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert get the nod to start the regular season?
We’ve reached the very end of our positional assessment series and, only naturally, we’ve saved the last breakdown to describe the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks.
Quarterbacking for the Niners won’t be a position without controversy or intrigue this offseason, and the concerns go back well into last year. There were leaks and rumors surrounding then-No. 1 QB Colin Kaepernick, his former head coach — and biggest ally — Jim Harbaugh left the team and then Kap hit a major snag in 2015.
Kaepernick gave way to backup signal-caller Blaine Gabbert midway through the year and, depending on who you ask, Gabbert (somewhat) revitalized his otherwise struggling and underwhelming pro career at the NFL level.
All this likely influenced Kaepernick’s trade request from earlier this offseason — a move the Niners tried to make but, ultimately, one which fell through. Exactly how close a deal came to taking place, we may never know.
Truthfully, it doesn’t matter. Kaepernick is still with the 49ers. So is Gabbert. And so is 2016 draftee QB Jeff Driskel.
How does this group shape up this season? Are either one of the Niners’ starting-caliber quarterbacks capable of operating in head coach Chip Kelly’s offense?
Let’s take a detailed look.
2015 couldn’t have gone much worse for Kaepernick.
Fans can recall Kap’s Week 3 performance against the Arizona Cardinals in which the quarterback tossed four interceptions in a overwhelmingly bad performance, which netted him a 16.7 passer rating for the contest.
Few things went right for the Niners’ former star thereafter. While Kaepernick did have some great performances against the New York Giants and Baltimore Ravens in Weeks 5 and 6, respectively — posting passer ratings of 107 or better in each with two touchdowns apiece — signs were pointing to Kaepernick no longer being the bona fide playmaker he once was.
So it didn’t come as much of a shock when the 49ers benched him in favor of Gabbert in Week 9 against the Atlanta Falcons.
One could argue Gabbert performed better than Kaepernick. True, Gabbert finished the season with a better passer rating than his teammate (86.2 to 78.5) and had a 63.1 completion percentage compared to Kap’s 59.0 mark. And Gabbert was notably stronger and more poised under pressure.
But was any of this truly an indication of Gabbert being the better option?
Maybe. Yet one can’t overlook the fact San Francisco didn’t exactly have the best quarterbacking efforts over the course of the season.
One might make the argument Gabbert was simply a better option in what was a poor, underwhelming offensive scheme from then-offensive coordinator Geep Chryst.
Kaepernick was eventually shut down at the end of the season and elected to have surgeries performed on his non-throwing shoulder and thumb. And the speculation for San Francisco’s quarterbacking future only grew from there.
2016 49ers Quarterbacks
Initially, the Niners were considered to be favorites to land former Cal quarterbacking prospect Jared Goff in the 2016 NFL Draft.
General manager Trent Baalke may not have been high on Goff entering the draft, but it mattered not as the Los Angeles Rams moved up to the No. 1 overall spot to take him. The 49ers ended up landing Louisiana Tech quarterback Jeff Driskel much later in the draft.
Here’s a look at the current crop of 49ers quarterbacks, courtesy of the team’s website:
- Jeff Driskel
- Blaine Gabbert
- Colin Kaepernick
- Thad Lewis
San Francisco also added free-agent quarterback Thad Lewis, who had been in camp with the Philadelphia Eagles under Kelly.
What to Watch for 2016
The Kaepernick-versus-Gabbert battle may be one of the bigger storylines from Santa Clara this offseason.
And who knows how this camp competition turns out.
On one hand, it’s likely a good thing both QBs will be pushed by the other. Kaepernick’s best season, 2012, paralleled a time in which the 49ers had two starting-caliber quarterbacks on their roster — the other being former Niners signal-caller Alex Smith.
Kaepernick won that battle. Can he do so again?
A lot of it comes down to scheme and the best fit within Kelly’s system. Kelly is known for prizing more than just mobility. Short, quick and accurate passes are just as important as being able to run an uptempo, spread-based offense.
And these may not be the strengths of either quarterback.
Niner Noise’s Rich Madrid broke down both Gabbert and Kaepernick and how either quarterback may fare in Kelly’s offense. Unfortunately for the 49ers, neither conclusion is all that likable.
Without going into too many specifics, just take a look at some of the film breakdowns from each quarterback:
(GIF: NFL GameRewind)
(GIF: NFL GameRewind)
True, these are just two examples of poor quarterbacking play. And both Kaepernick and Gabbert have shown prowess and playmaking ability.
The only problem is the lack of consistency from one drive to the next, which may not stand well in Kelly’s offense.
Enter Driskel — a quarterback who may not be considered for a starting role anytime soon but someone who could, potentially, wind up being a proverbial “diamond in the rough” if developed correctly over time.
Driskel, who was coached at Louisiana Tech by former 49ers QB Tim Rattay, could have dark-horse potential to earn a starting job someday.
At least according to Rattay.
“He’s got first-round (draft-pick) ability. He does,” Rattay said, via Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. “You’re going to see that in practice. He’s got first-round ability and he’s got a chance to be a very good pro.”
Whether or not this is a former coach propping up his former player remains to be seen. And it’s unlikely Driskel earns a starting nod anytime soon either.
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Regardless, the quarterback situation in San Francisco will be a major point of emphasis for the 49ers offseason plans.
Pay attention to which quarterbacks play on first- or second-team units during camp and the preseason. It’s all too likely the starting job is up for grabs at the current moment and may not be decided until the start of the regular season.
Even then, there may not be a solidified answer under center.
Next: 49ers QB Battle: Kaepernick vs. Gabbert
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.