John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports



The hot button topic surrounding the San Francisco 49ers has been (and continues to be) the starting quarterback controversy between Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert. While the competition may be heading to an end in terms of who will start the season opener, it's almost a certainty that the debate won't go away. Given the recent track records of each quarterback, neither is a sure thing to play well consistently, and that will always leave the door open a crack for the loser to get another opportunity at some point during the season.

To see where these two are going, you'd first have to look at where they've been. Kaepernick took the league by storm in 2012, leading the 49ers to their sixth Super Bowl appearance. He went 21-8 as a starter in 2012-2013 (including the playoffs), and looked like a superstar in the making. But Kaepernick has regressed as a passer over the past two years, and the offense became non-functional because of it. Over his last 24 starts, the Niners are 10-14, and have only managed 40 offensive touchdowns. Looking deeper, in Kaepernick's last 13 starts, he's thrown for 174 yards or less nine times, and San Francisco was the lowest scoring team in the league at just over 14 points per contest. Not coincidentally, they've lost 10 out of those 13 games.

It was this downward trend that fueled the team's decision to insert Gabbert into the position after a 2-6 start in 2015. A former first-round pick, Gabbert was a bust in Jacksonville, putting together one of the ugliest stat lines in recent memory. In 27 starts, he went 5-22, and had an overall completion percentage of 53.3%. He also threw more interceptions (24) than touchdowns (22). But the Jaguars were a mess then, and Gabbert needed time on the bench to learn. Instead, he was thrown to the wolves on a bad team, so those dreadful results probably shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone.

With the bar set low, there wasn't much expected of Gabbert when he took the reigns from Kaepernick, but he actually played much better than most anticipated. Gabbert had certainly improved by leaps and bounds from his Jacksonville days, and his stats were both respectable and improved from Kaepernick's.

Comp % Yds per game TDs Ints
Kaepernick 59% 201.8 6 5
Gabbert 63.1% 253.8 10 7

But while the numbers were improved on the surface, was the team really any better off? The 49ers still seemed outmatched on the offensive side of the ball, and while they moved the chains a little more consistently, the end result was similar in that they weren't scoring enough points. In eight games with Kaepernick, the Niners scored 10 offensive touchdowns and averaged 13.6 points. With Gabbert, they found the endzone 13 times in eight games, and averaged 16.1 points. Overall, the Gabbert led 49ers outscored the group headed by Kaepernick 129-109 (although seven of the 129 for Gabbert were courtesy of a Jimmie Ward pick-six). Better, but still below average.

When you consider that Gabbert attempted 38 more passes than Kaepernick, there also wasn't a huge difference in terms of ball distribution, as three of the team's top four receivers saw a similar amount of targets. The one discrepancy here was the use of tight end Vance McDonald, who's career finally seems to be on track with Gabbert under center.

QB Games Targets Rec Yards TDs
Torrey Smith Kaepernick 8 31 16 342 2
Gabbert 8 31 17 321 2
Anquan Boldin Kaepernick 8 54 31 372 2
Gabbert 6 57 38 417 2
Quinton Patton Kaepernick 8 23 14 164 1
Gabbert 8 34 16 230 0
Vance McDonald Kaepernick 7 11 7 45 0
Gabbert 7 35 23 281 3

2016 and beyond will be all about which quarterback seems to have the best grasp of new head coach Chip Kelly's system. While Kaepernick certainly offers more upside and a greater possibility for big plays, he lacks the consistently as a passer to keep the offense in rhythm. On the flip side, Gabbert is a safe quarterback who won't put the team in bad spots, but may lack the explosiveness to keep defenses on their toes.

While the notion of one of these two taking off and grabbing the reigns for good is appealing, in reality this may just be a year of waiting to see who the next quarterback of the 49ers really is. Odds are, that player probably isn't on the roster yet.

Al Sacco has been covering the 49ers since 2013, and has had his work used by national outlets such as ESPN and USA TODAY. If you'd like to reach Al with a media request, please contact him via Twitter @AlSacco49