Kelly’s offense is the sixth system Gabbert has had to learn in the NFL, but Gabbert looks like he’d been running Kelly’s system forever. During Tuesday’s OTA, the 49ers’ offense huddled zero times. Kelly called play after play after play after play and Gabbert kept up. No sweat.
He also helped teammates line up in the right spots, made calls at the scrimmage and threw passes on time and to the right receivers. Gabbert never seemed confused or indecisive. During competitive team drills when he faced an actual defense, he completed 23 of 31 passes — almost 75 percent.
Ignore the completion percentage; it’s meaningless. But Gabbert’s comfort in the offense is a big deal. For all the talk about what a “Chip Kelly quarterback” must be, the top priority is making good, quick decisions. That hasn’t always been Gabbert’s forte. Indeed, it’s not clear that Gabbert had a forte in his first stint as an NFL starter. That stint ended in 2013, when Gabbert threw one touchdown and seven interceptions before being benched after week 3. Football Outsiders called him the worst quarterback of the DVOA Era.
Something changed in 2015, and Gabbert looked downright respectable. Among QBs with more than 250 pass attempts, he ranked 19th in passing fantasy points above expectation per attempt. And even if you remove his 44-yard TD scamper, he tacked on almost 20 rushing yards per game.
And that was before Chip Kelly brought his high-volume offense to town. It’s only been three years since Kelly turned Nick Foles into a valuable fantasy asset.1 I don’t expect Gabbert to post 9+ yards per attempt. But I’m leaning more and more toward the likelihood that he’s the 49ers week 1 starter.
Remember, quick, good decisions are key in Kelly’s offense. And Colin Kaepernick hasn’t been much better than early-career Gabbert in that regard. Plus, Kaepernick still isn’t cleared to practice after shoulder surgery in November 2015. No matter what Kelly says, Gabbert has the inside track on this job.
Gabbert reportedly favors the dump-off pass to RBs — a staple of Kelly’s offense. That bodes well for Mike Davis, whom Jordan McNamara likes as the 49ers running back to target. But don’t forget Shaun Draughn, who captured over five targets per game playing with Gabbert in 2015. Draughn could provide value as a dirt-cheap zero RB candidate.
Finally, if the 49ers can get decent QB play from Gabbert (or Kaepernick), expect good things from Torrey Smith, who was Anthony Amico’s favorite dynasty buy low back in January.
- True story: I traded Foles straight up for Russell Wilson in a dynasty league in September 2014. (back)