San Francisco 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert was neither good nor bad last season. What Gabbert was ended up being rather simple: he was better than he was before. The most important thing to consider when thinking about Gabbert and his ceiling is the fact that it isn't a question about whether or not he can improve. He has improved.
How much he's improved or where his ceiling actually is at this point are things none of us can quantify. I obviously am in the camp that thinks Gabbert's ceiling is rather low and that the 49ers would be better off with Colin Kaepernick. Of course, I also think they'd be better off if both of those guys were gone and they hit the big red button on the whole thing.
But I'm not above admitting being wrong, and I'm not above enjoying being run. As a natural pessimist, when I'm wrong, it usually means good things have happened for the 49ers. So I get to be miserable and the 49ers get to do well -- it's a win-win as far as I'm concerned.
Let's get back to Gabbert, though. I'm tired of just writing that he sucks and offering no analysis. And plenty of people here at Niners Nation are better than I am with that particular analysis so it's not really a matter of laziness. But I wanted to do something constructive and that gave me the idea for a little project.
The idea is simple: I'd pick a game that Gabbert started, put all of the 49ers' pass players into a randomizer, pick out the first three-to-five that come out and break them down with a gif. The only part that isn't random is that I want at least some kind of mix of completions, incompletions and potentially touchdowns and interceptions. To accentuate that point, I've taken a small bit of the randomness out of it for this first time and will be bringing you four plays I hand-picked from the random group of seven I initially pulled.
The game I'm going with to begin with is the Week 17 game against the St. Louis Rams. We're going to go in chronological order, starting with this play below:
1st and 10 at 2:00 in 2nd, pass intended for Mike Davis intercepted by Ernie Sims
The pass above was, more than anything, a really bad throw from Gabbert. No quarterback keeps track of the defensive line 100 percent of the time and the best quarterbacks get their passes tipped at the line. But this one was such a limp throw to begin with that it's not at all surprising that the ball never got near Davis and was instead intercepted.
It's not an indication of Gabbert being a terrible quarterback, it's just an example of a bad throw and a worse play. He wanted that one back the second he noodle-armed it at that lineman and I don't think it's worth really holding this particular interception against him unless he makes a habit of getting his passes knocked down at the line. (Read more: Smith, Alex).
2nd and 11 at 12:50 in 3rd: 44-yard pass to Bruce Ellington
This is an example of good ball placement that defies what we knew about Gabbert coming to San Francisco. In Jacksonville, he was completely devoid of touch. He either limp-noodled or put way too much mustard on his passes. Dropping a dime in there was never a talent anybody would accuse him of having.
And look at his form when throwing. It's like he's shocked that his receiver is actually open because he reels back and lets loose incredibly haphazardly. For that, I feel for him -- because the 49ers' receivers were rarely open last season. It was one of my biggest criticisms of the offense: routes that took way too long to develop.
Gabbert made a throw any good quarterback should be able to make. That sounds like I'm making light of it but honestly, it's a positive.
2nd and 11 at 10:25 in 3rd: incomplete pass to Torrey Smith
This one is rough. For every dime dropped, there's another completely missed. Gabbert had time -- sure it wasn't the easiest throw to make, but he had time and he had space. Smith was open and that was a touchdown for sure. Unfortunately, he overthrows Smith, who has beaten his man and also outpaced the safety trying to contain him.
It's noteworthy because this was a trend with the Jaguars. Many a time Gabbert and the Jaguars settled on a field goal because Gabbert couldn't find his range pushing up against the end zone. It's not something I observed a lot with the 49ers, which is why this play stuc out to me. But if at first you don't succeed ...
3rd and 10 at 9:15 in 4th: 31 yard pass to Torrey Smith
You can always try again. On a crucial third and 10 in the fourth quarter, Gabbert stood in the pocket and took the punishment coming his way to put a strike right in the hands of Smith, who picks up a total of 31 yards on the play, putting the 49ers past midfield.
Smith had beaten his man and Gabbert knew he had beaten his man. He saw that Smith was beating his guy, but took an extra second to allow it to develop before throwing the pass (and allowed himself to be bowled over as well). I would suggest that Gabbert already has issues with going through all of his reads and he clearly doesn't look to his right here, but given the team's propensity to throw it short on 3rd and long, I suppose in this instance it was a very good thing.
So what have we learned?
Probably nothing, yet. I plan on doing several of these in the coming weeks and maybe we'll see more concrete opinions about Gabbert's play start to develop as the feature goes on. We've got a couple good throws and a couple bad throws so far. I'm also interested in whether or not folks here would like me to include some Jaguars games in this series. Pitch your ideas in the comments.