Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports



In today's NFL, young quarterbacks are held to a much higher standard than they were year's ago. In the past, it was expected that a rookie or developing signal caller would struggle in the early stages of their development, and you just had to be patient while they learned the ins and outs of playing the position. Now, players aren't given that luxury. Everyone wants the next Russell Wilson or Andrew Luck. You see, there's no time for a learning curve. We want results and we want them now. If we don't get them, you're a bust, a wasted draft pick.

In reality, these expectations are ridiculous and not in the least bit fair. There are so many factors that go into good quarterback play, and every player (and their situation) is different. For example, Wilson was drafted by a team that was blessed with a dominant defense and excellent running game. His coaching staff could game plan around him, because other areas were so strong. He was allowed to develop without being asked to do too much early on, and it helped him grow into the franchise quarterback he is today.

Not every quarterback is as fortunate as Wilson, or is a once in a generation talent like Luck, but they're still held to impossibly high standards. So when a quarterback is slow to learn, is put into a system that doesn't quite fit their skill set, or has a bad team around them, do franchises pull the plug too quickly?

The answer to that is probably, although it's not like you can really fault the reasoning. Coaches and general managers want to save their jobs, and they usually aren't given much time to prove their worth. If the guy behind center doesn't show progress immediately, the clock starts ticking. The sad part about it is, once the quarterback is benched or jettisoned all together, the media, fans, and sometimes even other teams, immediately look at him as a lost cause or a punch line. That's not always fair.

So as I sit and ponder the often unjust life of an NFL quarterback, I can't help but wonder about Blaine Gabbert. After all, it's looking more and more like he's the front runner to start for the San Francisco 49ers this season, but it doesn't appear as if many in the outside world have much faith in him. For example, Pro Football Focus ranked the Niners' quarterback situation as 31st in the NFL, with only the Ryan Fitzpatrick-less New York Jets behind them.

Key stat: 2015 was by far the best season of Blaine Gabbert's career, and still saw him grade below average, with a passer rating of 86.2.

The 49ers will be hoping Chip Kelly can work his magic on their quarterbacks, because on paper, neither Gabbert nor Kaepernick has been able to perform well going back for several years. Kaepernick has at least had a stretch of play at this level where he looked legit, but Gabbert has never justified his first-round selection on the field.

It's hard to argue with this numbers wise, as Gabbert's performance has been underwhelming to say the least since he was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 10th overall pick in 2011. His stats in Jacksonville were awful, as he went 5-22 as a starter, completing 53.3 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. His yard per game was at a paltry 155, which is basically non-functional.

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In Gabbert's defense though, he was put in an impossibly bad situation. The Jags were a very, very poor football team, and he was thrown to the wolves right away. His leading wide receivers during his rookie season were Mike Thomas and Jason Hill (yes, that Jason Hill) and his offensive line was a sieve. Gabbert was sacked on 7.3 percent of his drop backs his rookie year in 2011, 8.8 percent in 2012, and 12.2 percent in 2013.

If you don't buy the team excuse, consider the fact that Gabbert simply wasn't ready. Even draft experts thought he needed time on the bench before he'd be able to effectively lead an NFL offense.

Gabbert has it all physically, but has a long way to go before he's ready to lead an NFL offense. He played in a spread offense and will have to learn to take snaps under center and make progressions in the pocket. However, he is a smart football player that seems to understand coverages and he has the arm strength to fit the ball into tight windows. He is also very mobile and elusive in the pocket and shows the ability to make plays with his feet. Overall, Gabbert's tools will be too alluring for a team without a quarterback, and he seems assured to be a top-10 pick, maybe even the first QB off the board.

So, basically, Jacksonvile took a college spread quarterback who needed time to get accustomed to the NFL game and threw him into the fire while he was surrounded by a terrible roster. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? (See: Smith, Alex)

Fast forward to 2015, and Gabbert once again found himself in a tough situation. Now with the 49ers, he was inserted midseason into a poorly coached, talent deprived offense that had scored seven points or less in four of their last six games. It was a recipe for disaster for sure, but a funny thing happened. Gabbert actually looked okay.

Now I'm not saying he played at a Pro Bowl level or anything, but he certainly made the most out of a bad situation. The 49ers had major issues on the offensive line, were using running backs off the street, and were routinely outcoached week after week. Despite that, Gabbert managed to complete 63 percent of this throws and averaged 253.9 yard per game. Over a 16 games season, his numbers would have been equivalent to 4,062 yards and 20 touchdown passes. San Francisco hasn't had a quarterback break 4,000 yards since Jeff Garcia in 2000.

Overall, the Niners went 3-5 with Gabbert at the controls, which is probably better than they deserved to be honest. I'm still trying to figure out how the 2015 team managed to steal five wins. Anyway – again – I'm not saying Gabbert was Aaron Rodgers here, but he was a far cry from the shell of player he was in Jacksonville. I don't think anyone can argue that there's been a major improvement from the train wreck we last saw start in 2013, to the current version.

Now, as Gabbert enters training camp as the presumptive starter, he finally has a coach that's known as a quarterback guru in Chip Kelly. Kelly has worked wonders with the likes of Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez, both of whom played well under Chip but have struggled elsewhere. Kelly will coach to Gabbert's strengths, and his QB friendly offense should help resurrect what recently looked like a dead career. If Gabbert took a step forward under Jim Tomsula and Geep Cryst, is there any reason he can't continue to improve under Kelly?

While hope may be on the horizon, there's still a long way to go and many obstacles to overcome. After all, camp is yet to open and Gabbert hasn't even officially beat out Colin Kaepernick yet. Still, there are reasons to be optimistic here that maybe the 49ers have found a decent starting quarterback whose arrow is pointing up. Stay tuned, Gabbert might just surprise some people this year.

Al Sacco has covered the 49ers for various sites over the years. He's been a guest on multiple podcasts and had his work used by ESPN NFL Insiders and USA TODAY. Follow Al on Twitter @AlSacco49