One of the more bewildering things I’ve seen this offseason is people hyping up Blaine Gabbert. When confronted, the supporter will inevitably say something like, “It doesn’t matter if he’s bad so long as he scores fantasy points.”
The problem with that argument is that it actually does matter that Blaine Gabbert is a bad quarterback.
Briefly, The Evidence That Gabbert Is Bad
I don’t want to spend too much time explaining why Gabbert is bad for two reasons. The first is that his supporters often acknowledge it. The second is that it’s a widely held opinion. But briefly:
- Adjusted net yards per attempt boils down passing yards, touchdowns, interceptions, and sacks into a single number. ANY/A+ indexes that number relative to the league average of 100 for a given season. Prior to 2015, Gabbert’s best ANY/A+ was 85, well below average. His worst? An ANY/A+ of 36 compiled in three games in 2013 that caused the Jaguars to give up on him for good.
- In 2015, his ANY/A+ was 92. Significantly better than his previous best, but also still below average. That’s right, Gabbert has never even been average, not even just for one season.
- Some like to point to the fact that Gabbert is a former first-round pick as a reason why he might be secretly good. Despite that, Gabbert was not even a good prospect. His final season AY/A1 was just 6.5. To put that in context, it matches the lowest of any current multi-year starter in the NFL, Matt Ryan. As of 2013, the average final season college AY/A of an NFL starter was 8.7.2
Why It Matters
To be clear, I agree that being good at football isn’t a prerequisite for scoring fantasy points. But you know what is? Actually playing football. I’m not arguing that Gabbert won’t play at all. I agree with Brian Malone’s assessment that Gabbert looks like the likely Week 1 starter. The thing is, there are 16 weeks in a season. And I think the odds of Gabbert starting all of those is slim-to-none.
My concern is illustrated using two Pro Football Reference season screeners. For the first, I looked at all QB seasons over the last decade where a QB started at least one game and had an ANY/A+ of 92 or worse, Gabbert’s career best mark. For the second, I looked at all QB seasons over the last decade where a QB started at least one game and had an ANY/A+ or 108 or better, essentially QBs who were at least as good as Gabbert was bad. We’ll call these the “bad QBs” and the “good QBs” for the sake of simplicity. Some takeaways:
- Out of 256 player seasons the bad QBs only produced 16 16-game starters. Out of 138 player seasons the good QBs produced 72 16-game starters.
- The median number of starts for the good QBs, as you may have already deduced, was 16 games. The median for the bad QBs was just five games.
- Only 77 out of the 256 bad QBs started nine or more games; 110 out of the 138 good QBs started nine or more games.
Put simply, QBs who are as bad as Gabbert has been tend not to start many games in a season. I’m sure there are a variety of reasons for that. Perhaps the most obvious is that QBs who play badly get pulled, regardless of how appealing the team’s other options are. That’s what happened with Colin Kaepernick and Gabbert last season. Another potential explanation is that backup QBs who are just filling in for starters probably make up a large chunk of this sample. On one hand that probably boosts Gabbert’s outlook. On the other, that would suggest he’s not a starter-quality QB, which isn’t a great argument for him starting many games.
But Wait, Isn’t Kaepernick Bad Too?
He was bad last season, worse than Gabbert in fact. It might be tempting to say that’s what really matters since it’s the closest thing to an apples-to-apples comparison. But that would require eschewing large samples for small ones, and that seems unwise. Looking at the bigger samples, Kaepernick is likely the superior QB.
It is important to understand that not only was 2015 easily Gabbert’s best season, it was also Kaepernick’s worst by far. His ANY/A+ was 121 in 2012 and 109 in 2013, both well above average. His ANY/A+ was 93 in 2014, just a touch better than Gabbert’s 2015, but he also added 639 yards rushing. His ANY/A+ then collapsed down to 80 in 2015, which may or may not have been related to his shoulder injury.
Gabbert has never been an average QB while Kaepernick has been an above average QB for most of his career. If their careers as a whole are more representative of their current quality than just 2015, Kaepernick is the better QB.
The arguments for Gabbert tend to be the same as they were for Nick Foles, Michael Vick, and other Chip Kelly QBs. But if the Gabbert argument is really just an argument for “starting Chip Kelly QB,” and I don’t see how it isn’t given Gabbert’s track record, then it only holds for Gabbert for as long as he’s starting, which may not be for long if at all. Per the Best Ball ADP App, Gabbert is being drafted as the QB31 when he’s drafted at all. That’s cheap, but it’s still too expensive considering the odds that Kaepernick ends up starting more games. I’ll be fading Gabbert, especially if it becomes more clear that he’s likely to be the Week 1 starter. That will likely increase his price significantly without significantly increasing his job security.