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Blaine Gabbert is a sort of Alex Smith type of quarterback

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There is good and bad with this kind of quarterback.

The San Francisco 49ers lost a tough one to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, but we had some positives to take away from the game. One of them was a third solid performance from quarterback Blaine Gabbert. He finished the game completing 25 of 36 passes for 318 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and 11 rushing yards. He finished with a passer rating of 94.4, a QBR of 55.8, and a Pro Football Focus grade of -2.0.

Gabbert made some big plays, but that PFF grade encapsulates kind of where things stand with Gabbert. He is performing better in the 49ers offense right now than Colin Kaepernick did for much of the season. The offense has shown some signs, moving the ball and pressuring the opposing defense. The problem is that things are still coming up short in several areas, and the limitations likely are not going to change anytime soon.

The most notable issue with Gabbert is throwing short of the sticks. He is not Alex Smith in terms of checking down with regularity, but instead he is making some shorter throws when a few more yards is needed. The best example would be the Anquan Boldin 18-yard reception on 4th and 20. Boldin deserves his share of blame on that play for turning in short of the yard marker. After the game, Boldin said he had the clock going off in his head due to the blitz, and needed to get turned around so Gabbert had a target.

The 49ers offensive line actually offered some of their best protection of the day on that play, so Gabbert likely had another moment or two to look for a deeper target. And people will point to the circumstance of it being a lengthy 4th and 20 play. But there were numerous instances of finding guys for a few yards on 3rd and long. Gabbert did press the attack at times, but there were too many instances of shorter 3rd and long throws that resulted in punts.

There are clearly still positives to take from Gabbert's performance. He looks a lot more comfortable in the pocket than Colin Kaepernick. One issue Gabbert had early in his career was crumbling when he was pressured. He is looking much better in that regard in 2015. Here are a few notable stats Jeff Deeney and Pro Football Focus put together:

  • Gabbert was blitzed on 28 of his 39 dropbacks, he was 16-25, 217 yards, 1 TD, 104.9 rating when blitzed
  • Gabbert was pressured on 11 of 39 dropbacks and was 7-8, 115 yards, 118.8 rating when pressured
  • Average time from snap to attempted pass (does not count sacks or scrambles): Kaepernick 2.55, Gabbert 2.39
  • Percentage of times getting sacked when pressured in 2015: Kaepernick 24.1%, Gabbert 10.0%
  • Completion percentage when pressured in 2015: Gabbert 72.4%, Kaepernick 35.2%

Gabbert has three starts under his belt, and an opportunity for five more starts before the end of the season. This will provide us with a very useful sample of performances as the 49ers head into the offseason. If he continues at his current level of performance, it would not be at all surprising to see him starting at quarterback for the 49ers in Week 1 of next season.

This does not preclude the 49ers from drafting a quarterback. They could spend a high pick on a quarterback and begin the grooming process behind Gabbert. The 49ers have Gabbert under contract next season with a cap figure of $2,250,000.

Gabbert is starting to make more sense as a transition quarterback. If you get him an improved offensive line, a healthy Carlos Hyde, and a solid defense, he's an adequate option at quarterback. In fact, he reminds me of Alex Smith in that regard. There are notable differences of course. As Bay Area Sports Guy pointed out, Gabbert "is like a less cautious Alex Smith." I think he is less of a checkdown type, but those short throws on third downs feel Smith-like to some degree. He finished the game 4 of 7 for 33 yards on third down passes.

Gabbert's ceiling as a quarterback might be 2011 Alex Smith. That is enough to be competitive with a lot of tools around him, but you're not really looking for him to carry the team on a weekly basis. There are limitations, but you can do some things with it. I would prefer a "franchise"-type of quarterback over any version of Alex Smith, but sometimes beggars can't be choosers.