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Comparing Colin Kaepernick & Blaine Gabbert through five starts apiece

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We look at standard and advanced metrics to get an idea of how the two quarterbacks compare.

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The San Francisco 49ers have played ten games on the season, and this past week saw Colin Kaepernick make his fifth start for the team. That is of significance because Blaine Gabbert started the first five games of the season. They faced different opponents, and injuries and ineffectiveness impact the lineup around the two quarterbacks. However, five starts apiece gives us as close to an even barometer as we are going to get.

Some of the 49ers writers have begun the comparison process. Matt Barrows discussed how Kaepernick is playing more aggressively, both with his arm and legs. Rob Lowder talked about how at the surface Kaepernick would seem to be the better option for Chip Kelly, but neither quarterback has given the team the edge it needs to overcome its many deficiencies.

I thought I would take a look at a few different statistics to compare what the two quarterbacks have done. Everybody will have their numbers of choice, so make what you want of these. They just provide a little bit of context in a lengthy debate.

I put together the table below combining a mix of traditional stats and some advanced stats. DYAR and DVOA for quarterbacks are explained here. I used their respective rankings in each category, rather than the specific DVOA and DYAR numbers since those will not hold a lot of meaning for our purposes.

The average depth of target and average time from snap to release comes from Pro Football Focus analyst Jeff Deeney.

Kaepernick Gabbert
Cmp % 53.1 58.0
Yards 1,144 890
Y/A 7.06 5.93
TD/INT 7/2 5/6
QBR 56.0 61.2
Rating 85.0 (23rd) 69.6 (32nd)
Sacks 16 10
Rushing yards 260 172
Rushing Y/A 7.2 4.4
DYAR 27th 30th
DVOA 29th 32nd
Avg depth of target 9.8 (t-5th) 8.7 (t-17th)
Avg time snap-to-release 2.77 (t-2nd) 2.35 (t-29th)

One side note worth mentioning. Jeff said that a year ago, the average depth of target for Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert was 7.7 yards and 7.0 yards.

I think Rob made the best point in all this. Kaepernick seems to prove more than Gabbert, but neither is good enough at this point to overcome the rest of the team’s deficiencies. The team lacks any sort of consistent wide receiver options at the moment. The pass protection has been better than the run blocking, but it still has not been nearly good enough. And when your quarterbacks are not particularly great, you’re not going to overcome such deficiencies.

Kaepernick is signed through the 2017 season, although he can opt out after this season. Gabbert is a free agent after this season. I see zero reason to re-sign Gabbert. If Kaepernick elects to stay in 2017, the 49ers have a decision to then make as to whether or not they want to cut him. If Kaepernick opts out, that won’t matter, but either way, there is a distinct chance he is gone next year. But, there is still the possibility he sticks around, be it as someone Chip Kelly thinks can legitimately operate his offense, or as a potential veteran bridge to a quarterback selected in the upcoming draft.

Whatever the case, we’ll likely continue to see some fairly decent numbers from Colin Kaepernick, while the 49ers continue to lose. There was a brief push from some for Christian Ponder to get a shot. But for the time being, Kaepernick will continue starting. His numbers are far from great, but they’re something. Football Outsiders has a stat called Effective Yards. It translates DVOA into a standard yards figure. It allows for this comparison, per FO: “in general, players with more Effective Yards than standard yards played better than standard stats would otherwise indicate, while players with fewer Effective Yards than standard yards played worse than standard stats would otherwise indicate. Effective Yards are not the best way to measure total value because they are more dependent on usage than DYAR.”

Kaepernick has 720 effective yards to his 1,144 passing yards. Gabbert has 640 effective yards to his 890 passing yards. That would suggest both quarterbacks underperformed what their standard numbers say. And so, we can probably continue to expect volume, but for the time being it is not something that inspires a lot of excitement for the future.