John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Kaepernick vs. Gabbert: The Tale of the Tape

Al Sacco
Aug 26, 2016 at 8:39 AM7

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
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


  • Constantine
    this is already known and it will be simular this year under a new offense but maybe a few more points. Unless we start a new QB even if they are unknown don't expect a lot of points by QB. What we can hope for is the running game to carry us, low percentage of Interceptions and A Defense to play hard in the second half. Honestly this sucks to say, but maybe we want a horrible year to make sure we draft a good QB... bc it doesn't seem to me that trading is an option with Baalke, even if he is better.
    Sep 2, 2016 at 7:16 AM
  • 50yearformerfaithful
    the absolute disgrace that is the 49ers continues. The highest paid player on the field is so cowardly un american and disingenuous to sit out the NATIONAL anthem for a NATIONAL football league game because he feels the country oppresses blacks??? I see millionaire blacks on that field, not the oppressed. I see thousands of Americans who paid money to you without regard to race and you refuse to stand WITH THEM. instead you call the country and them oppressors while they come to cheer and pay YOU more money than anyone to play as badly as you repeatedly play. How is it that you poor play is guaranteed??? Why should the 49ers even pay you and honor your contract? Because the laws of the country you denigrate and refuse to stand for protect you, Colin, you ignorant overpaid spoiled brat. Are you cashing your checks??You seem to be just fine with being overpaid in American Money, access to the Clubs, TV, Celebrity Access, and all riches that you have now that you WOULD NOT HAVE in ANY other country. Conman kraperpicksix, the un american crappy QB, has everything he has because he is an american. You are a disgrace to humanity you greedy ignoble racist half wit.
    Aug 27, 2016 at 7:08 PM
  • mbniner
    While I expected Kaep to be a little rusty in his first action, last nights performance was beyond just rust. He never seemed to settle in, in fact he got worse with each snap. He looked like he did in his last few games last year; slow release (resulting in tipped or blocked passes), slow to read the field, jitters in the pocket, and inaccuracy. I believe that the Arizona game completely destroyed his confidence in a similar way that Vernon Davis was done in by that vicious hit in Seattle. It hurts me to say this but I think that it is in the best interest for him and the Niners to part company, maybe as soon as next week. I had high hopes for him but I just can't see him contributing and he may become a distraction. We'd be better off with Ponder and Driskel (who is impressing me each week). Kaep needs a new start with another team.
    Aug 27, 2016 at 1:27 PM
  • Gabriel
    Interesting article. I think that the lack of targets to Vance McDonald is evidence of kaps inability to check down and or see the whole field. I think today if kap can pass accurately distributse the ball to play makers and put his own stardom behind the teams he will have earned the right to be mention in a qb comp. if kap makes plays with his legs and not muchimproved as a passer he is in trouble. Teams can gameplay and expose his weakness in passing. Game over. I think the chance to start in pre seas. is a good move to see what he can do or how much he has developed. I don't think he will win the comp. never did as gabbert is a better overall qb. Of course that's debatable but a one sided debate for Gabbert. Go niners and the faithful... Stay it. C u
    Aug 26, 2016 at 12:59 PM
  • mbniner
    Good article. Remember that both QBs played behind a god-awful OL which goes a long way in explaining why the point production was low for both. This year, starting with the GB exhibition game, will really crystallize what these guys are capable of doing. I'd like both QBs and hope both excel. As of now, I expect that Gabbert will look better since he's had many more reps but, like most of us, I am really anxious to see the competition.
    Aug 26, 2016 at 10:13 AM
    Response: Thanks, and I agree, I think Kap might look a little rusty tonight considering the lack of reps
  • Arturo Bradley
    Very good piece Al, and thank you! This article clearly shines some light on things but ultimately I think it comes down to 2 things: 1. Kap mental state. If he was shook like he was last year then forget about him altogether 2. Who has a more vast skillset. Blaine Gabbert to me offers very little to be honest and I just do not feel like a QB can make a living by abusing the checkdowns over and over. Not even Alex Smith did that. Alex Smith would mix it up and take some shots beyond 10 yards. I noticed in the last 4 games that defenses caught on to Blaine Gabbert as his Y/A was much less in his last 4 starts then it was in his 1st 4 starts. I even noticed against the Lions that the defenders would just camp out beyond the sticks knowing that Gabbert couldnt beat them that way. Over the course of their careers Kap has proven to be better at zone read, playaction, intermediate, and deep ball accuracy. In fact I think Kap is just more accurate than Gabbert overall. If you take away Gabbert's repetitive checkdowns, his accuracy probably much worse than Kap. So I would go with Kap. If BG keeps checking down it will only be a matter of time before defenses stack box and stall the O.
    Aug 26, 2016 at 10:10 AM
    Response: Thanks, Arturo! Yeah, I think that Gabbert has been way to conservative and it's going to ultimately hurt him. Would like to see him take more shots, especially now, since the games don't count and receivers need to the work.
  • NCommand
    Agreed. Very nice piece.
    Aug 26, 2016 at 9:44 AM
    Response: Thanks!

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