Which 49ers Quarterback Is Best Fit For Chip Kelly’s Offense? Part 3: Jeff Driskel
By Rich Madrid
This is part three in a three-part series examining the San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks. This analysis looks at rookie Jeff Driskel.
The San Francisco 49ers quarterback situation is murky, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking limited reps in practice due to injury recovery and quarterback Blaine Gabbert taking the majority of reps.
As detailed here and here, both quarterbacks have a long way to go in establishing themselves as the clear cut favorite to be the starter. There really is no quarterback controversy though, because Gabbert did not fare all that much better in his 8 games as the starter last season.
Going into this offseason, the 49ers were expected to draft a quarterback who could come in and compete with Kaepernick and Gabbert, and the favorites that emerged were Cal’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. But with the Rams and Eagles moving up to pick Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, Goff and Wentz went before the 49ers even had a chance.
Instead, with the 207th pick in the sixth round of the NFL Draft, the 49ers selected quarterback Jeff Driskel out of Louisiana Tech. The redshirt senior began his career at the University of Florida before transferring to Louisiana Tech after losing the starting job to Gators quarterback Treon Harris.
Driskel stands at 6-foot 4-inches and 234 pounds, was the 3rd most athletic quarterback in the draft according to 3-Sigma Athlete’s “psparq” score, and his draft measurables according to Mockdraftable compare to quarterbacks such as Gabbert, Cam Newton, draft peer Wentz, EJ Manuel and Kyle Boller.
Unfortunately, he doesn’t live up to the Newton hype, nor the hype of his draft peers.
At first glance, Driskel appears to be a solid prospect. He was ranked 10th by Pro Football Focus with a 64.1 percent accuracy under pressure with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. However, the reasons he dropped become more apparent on film.
The most glaring issue is ball location due to poor mechanics/footwork. Driskel’s ball placement often gets overlooked but his highlight films are about 90% his receivers bailing him out with acrobatic catches.
(GIF: ESPN College Football)
In the above gif, Driskel maneuvers through pressure in the pocket with relative ease, only to launch a pass that ends up being behind his receiver. If he had waited about one-tenth of second later to throw, he could’ve hit his receiver in stride in the hole of the zone near the numbers. Instead, he rushes the throw and it’s behind his man who makes an acrobatic catch.
The reason his ball placement/accuracy suffers is because his footwork often does not sync with the timing of the route tree. Combine this with his long, slow release reminiscent of Kaepernick, and it causes him to be frequently late with his throws and results in a poorly thrown pass.
(GIF: ESPN College Football)
The above gif demonstrates this deficiency. By the time his feet are set, he hasn’t even begun his delivery motion, which follows after his feet are pointed at the receiver.
Then are times where Driskel just forgets the basics of being a quarterback. Passes that should have zip on them rarely have enough velocity to get to the receiver. Still others are simple pitch and catch plays that end up going for incompletions.
(GIFs: Fox Sports)
The moments that Driskel shines are under pressure. When a quarterback is under pressure, you’d expect him to lose his ability mechanically to make plays and deliver the ball. Surprisingly, these are the parts where he shines, which lead me to believe that he can progress and improve on those flaws.
(GIF: ESPN College Football)
Perhaps the best reason why Driskel could excel in San Francisco is because of the situation he landed in.
For the moment, he appears to be a scheme fit solely on the fact that he is coming from the spread offense at Louisiana Tech. He would already know the general concepts Coach Kelly employs in his offense and all he would need to do is work on his deficiencies. Also, while from being a quarterback guru, Chip has gotten the most out of his quarterbacks at Oregon and Philadelphia.
After all, Nick Foles was a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback after just 10 games and Sam Bradford, while the Eagles led the league in dropped passes last season, graded as the most accurate quarterback of 2015.
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The best-case scenario for the 49ers moving forward is to hope that one of these three quarterbacks develops into a viable starter that Chip Kelly can win games with.
Despite fan protestations, Kaepernick is not the long-term solution this team needs. But neither is Gabbert. I’ve shown in two previous posts that the two are incapable of the kind of quick decisions and accurate passing that can move the chains in Kelly’s uptempo offense. And at this point Driskel is much too raw and unpolished to take over the franchise.
The 49ers missed their chance this offseason of pursuing Sam Bradford or drafting Vernon Adams — quarterbacks that are capable coming in right away and winning games. Bradford has one season under Kelly and graded as the most accurate passer despite having a receiving corps that led the league in dropped passes. The knock on Bradford is he hasn’t done anything in St. Louis or Philadelphia to prove himself, but he has never had the kind of supporting cast necessary to sustain success in the league.
(GIF: NFL GameRewind)
He has also suffered at least one injury every season until last season. Bringing him in on a one- or two-year deal at a reduced contract would’ve set this organization on the right path. The point is moot however, with Bradford eventually re-signing with the Eagles.
Adams went undrafted and most analysts were split on where and when he would go, if at all. The former Oregon quarterback would also have been the perfect fit for an offense looking to get back on track and by all measures graded better than Driskel, and better than Goff and Wentz in some circumstances, by Pro Football Focus.
The knock on Adams was his size and that he didn’t look like the “prototypical NFL quarterback.” After he went undrafted, he tried out for the Seattle Seahawks before appearing to land a job up north in the Canadian Football League.
Just another missed opportunity to add to the quarterback competition.
The 49ers quarterback situation is very fluid. Coach Kelly will not even allude to a possible starter because 1) it’s way too early to tell, and 2) it’s possible he needs the maximum amount of time available to evaluate two quarterbacks aren’t really ready for the kind of sophistication his offense entails. The starting quarterback should Gabbert, but it will realistically probably be Kaepernick.
Whoever it is, I have no problem backing either one at this point as both have a chance at a fresh start.
Next: 49ers WR Bruce Ellinton's New Role
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless otherwise indicated.