Actually, don’t get rid of Colin Kaepernick.
The 49ers need Kaepernick for at least one more season. They have almost no chance to make the playoffs without him.
They may not understand this. NFL.com recently reported that “There’s a lot of buzz about the 49ers’ growing faith in Blaine Gabbert.”
Terrible news, although not a total shocker. We can see why the franchise might talk itself into starting Gabbert and ditching Kaepernick.
For starters, Gabbert is two years younger, 1 inch taller, 5 pounds heavier and roughly eight times cheaper than Kaepernick next season. Gabbert also has a strong arm and seems to be improving. He looks like a franchise quarterback if you don’t look too closely.
A quick glance at Gabbert’s stats, and you might think he played well last season. Gabbert passed for 253.9 passing yards per game, which is slightly above the league average, and he completed 63.1 percent of his throws — also slightly above the league average. Gabbert posted these numbers on a bad team. Impressive, right?
These numbers are merely surface stats. Drill deeper and you’ll see Gabbert padded his numbers with “failed completions,” a concept invented by Football Outsiders. What are failed completions? Football Outsiders defines them as “complete passes that fail to gain 45 percent of needed yards on first down; 60 percent on second down; or 100 percent on third or fourth down.”
That means a 4-yard pass on first-and-10 is a failed completion, and a 9-yard pass on third-and-10 is as well. Quarterbacks get credit only for completions that help the offense, not fruitless dinks and dunks. Got it?
Gabbert is the king of failed completions. He built his entire career on them. He completes short pass after short pass simply for the sake of completing them, not for sake of picking up first downs.
According to Football Outsiders, Gabbert had the second-highest failed completion percentage in the league last year behind Nick Foles of the St. Louis Rams. Gabbert’s failed completion percentage was 35.4.
On third down and fourth down — the do-or-die downs — Gabbert’s failed completion percentage rose to 58.5 — by far the highest in the league. No other quarterback had a failed completion percentage higher than 50 on third and fourth down.
That’s because most quarterbacks try to keep drives going. Not Gabbert. On third down, he drops back, panics and dumps the ball to a running back as soon as humanly possible.
And that’s a big reason Gabbert has lost 27 times as an NFL starting quarterback. Third-down check-downs don’t win games.
Good quarterbacks throw past the first-down marker on third down. Last season, Cam Newton threw an average of 3.2 yards past the chains on third down. Carson Palmer threw an average of 4.3 yards past the chains on third down. And, Ben Roethlisberger threw an average of 6.8 yards past the chains on third down. Bombs away.
Gabbert is no mad bomber. Last season, he threw an average of 2.1 yards IN FRONT of the chains on third down. He might as well have taken a knee and jogged off the field.
Compare Gabbert to Kaepernick, who had the worst season of his pro career last year and got benched after eight games. He still threw an average of 0.7 yards past the chains on third down. He didn’t try to pad his stats and save his job with failed completions — he tried to extend drives.