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Rewind: The Dynasty-Fantasy Value of Blaine Gabbert in 2016

January 23, 2018 11:24 PM
September 22, 2016 9:02 AM
— Our offseason ‘Rewind’ reports are where we look at an individual player’s previous season(s) of work–analyzing and researching it for clues on whether it was a ‘blip’ performance, or signs of future greatness…or signs of a mega-bust approaching. We try to do two per week in the offseason. —

FantasyPros posted the next installment of my ‘Very Deep Sleepers’ 2016 series on Blaine Gabbert yesterday…so you’re getting a double dose of Gabbert, as he is my ‘Rewind’ report for the week as well.

I’m doing double duty on Gabbert because there is more that can be discussed here, and I only have so much space with my FantasyPros stuff. In addition, I conducted my Gabbert research like I would a ‘Rewind’ report – I watched his every throw in 2015. I have more material to share that I did not put in the FPros piece, plus I need to single out two other 49ers players who jumped out at me during this study…a special bonus for those daring to read two long articles about Blaine Gabbert in one day/one week/one lifetime.

PLEASE…read the FantasyPros piece first before reading on. It won’t make as much sense otherwise. Thank you! Link: VDS Report: Blaine Gabbert

I need to expand on my emotions here. This pro-Gabbert material is a 180 in the face of everything I’ve written, mockingly, since 2011. How could I go from vehemently anti-Gabbert when no one else was, to celebrating my genius 2011-2015, to everyone in the world joining me, to me now leading the pro-Gabbert charge? It could seem duplicitous. At minimum, schizophrenic. Fortunately, by now, most of you know I am a football visionary…so if I am making a reversal of field…you’d be wise to hear me out.

Please note, I’m not endorsing Gabbert as ‘the next coming’. I’m only advancing the theory that he’s not a ‘zero’, as we’ve all likely come to believe about him. Much of this Gabbert rise from the ashes has to do with being at the perfect place at the perfect time. Also, note – this is not a ‘Chip Kelly sprinkles pixie dust on QBs, and thus they are magically special‘ theory. I’ll go so far as to say that Chip Kelly may be the worst QB coach in all the NFL.

Most people see Nick Foles 2013 as proof positive that Chip Kelly is a QB genius. The one Foles event ignores the fact that all other QBs (Vick, Barkley, Sanchez, Bradford) under Chip Kelly have been dreadful. Foles saved Chip Kelly from an earlier coaching demise. Foles was nothing like what Kelly wanted in a QB…it took an act of God to get Foles into the lineup, and then they tried to take him back out, but they couldn’t get him out in 2013. Foles succeeded despite Chip – not wanted, and in the absolutely wrong offense for him. If Chip Kelly is such a genius…why did Foles fall off some in 2014? I thought he was a ‘QB whisperer’? Kelly only gets credit for Foles’ surreal 2013, and no credit for his troubles after…nor is he dinged for all the other NFL quarterbacks he’s coached that were dreadful. I wish I had one thing go right and nine similar things go wrong in my life, and people only remembered me for the one good thing; and never even thought about all the abject screw up moves.

There’s a reason Chip Kelly was going to slit his franchise’s throat in 2015 by trading Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, and several other players and picks for Marcus Mariota. It’s simple, really, when you rewire your brain off the ‘Chip Kelly as QB genius‘ nonsense – he desperately needed Mariota because he hasn’t an answer otherwise. He needs a certain type of QB profile to work in his system. Chip Kelly’s system is kinda genius, or maybe more ‘just ahead of its time’…and it needs a smart, taller, simple-pass-accurate, mobile QB to follow the game plan. Kelly has not had any single quarterback who fit his need in the NFL. Foles was not a spread QB. Michael Vick is…Michael Vick – not smart, not tall. Kelly is desperate for his Marcus Mariota, because he needs it. Mariota completed Chip Kelly.

I thought Colin Kaepernick would be the right pairing. He is smart, tall, mobile…except he’s Wonderlic-smart, and off the reservation otherwise, mentally. He’s also not very coachable or accurate. I figured Kaepernick would be as close as Kelly would get to Mariota, given the situation/options. I assumed he would try to breathe life into Kaepernick, while drafting a guy like Carson Wentz as a Plan-B. I never considered Blaine Gabbert.

All Kaepernick has done is act like a petulant diva this offseason, rebuking Kelly/the 49ers. San Fran didn’t make a play for Wentz or Paxton Lynch, nor did they sign or trade for a Mariota-like/lite existing NFL backup. 2016 draft pick Jeff Driskel is tall, fast (4.56), but suspect in terms of accuracy – suspect all the way around (see the Florida years). The more I looked at the situation, and the pro-Gabbert comments from Kelly…I started thinking maybe this wasn’t a ploy by Kelly. When I looked back at Gabbert’s shocking athleticism from the NFL Combine, similar to Mariota-Kaepernick, and then saw it on tape in 2015 – I was more convinced Gabbert might be the answer, for now. Gabbert is tall, athletic, smart, coachable, and suddenly accurate.

My jaw dropped watching Gabbert work in 2015. I had noted last August that Gabbert looked better in the preseason, but ‘come on’…’it’s Gabbert’! I equivocated. I didn’t buy it. After watching him in the regular season…I buy that he works with Chip Kelly in 2016.

Gabbert ran the simple, up-tempo 49ers offense wonderfully last season. He wasn’t an all-star, but he was capable…a la a Derek Carr. Quick decisions, simple/accurate throws, takes off running when needed. Gone was the scared QB from Jacksonville. Arrived was this new, confident QB. Full credit to Gabbert – this guy has been destroyed for the past five years, and I was the leader of the band. He appears to have taken his ass-kicking, started working harder, and now plays with freedom, like he has nothing to lose. It reminds me of watching Josh McCown in recent years…nothing for a decade, and then simple and savvy, and productive/useful. Not a star, but McCown just ‘gets it’…enough to hang in the NFL. You’ve seen Colin Kaepernick and Matt Leinart (who Gabbert reminded me of a lot) completely quit, mentally, when their ‘golden boy’ status got taken away. Gabbert got up off the mat and fought back. Kudos to him.

It’s important to know Gabbert fought back. He just wasn’t on the 49ers’ roster, and the team had a 2015 emergency that he got thrown into. No. Gabbert won over the coaches. More importantly, he won over the team…the team wanted this change at QB. Gabbert forced Kaepernick out as much as Kaepernick imploded. When Gabbert took over Week 9 in 2015, the whole demeanor of the team changed. Gabbert went 3–5 as a cold starter off the sidelines to finish the year. He also battled Arizona to a near win. He got down big against Seattle and Cincinnati due to bad luck (and a bad team), kept his composure, and turned potential blowouts into late rallies that made the opponent semi-sweat to the end. Gabbert’s leadership in 2015 was impressive. His confidence…I’ve never seen him like this before.

When Gabbert took over Week 9, all cameras and announcers/analysts were trained on Kaepernick on the sidelines. At one point, Kaepernick had to enter the Week 9 game for Gabbert (hard hit) for a few plays. The fans booed like crazy. The air went out of the team. Kaepernick threw one pass, and it was awful. Gabbert rushed back into the game to much delight from the fans, as Kaep left to a louder chorus of boos. I noted the fan reaction, but I also noted how much better everything looked with Gabbert vs. Kaepernick. Colin Kaepernick is overrated as it is, and he’s making it worse by his childish reactions to his tough times. The team, the offense looked much more efficient and upbeat with Gabbert.

Additionally, stunningly…and the FF-key to all this: Gabbert can run. Gabbert will run. It’s not his primary thought, but it’s not far behind. I marveled at how smartly Gabbert ran last year. He ran when he didn’t see anything downfield, and he surprised everyone with how quick and elusive he was. Mariota-lite. Gabbert is not Tom Brady as a passer, so he does take off more than he should…because he doesn’t see his option. However, it’s a good thing for Fantasy…rushing yards with a QB makes mediocre passers Fantasy-viable. Wild example off the top of my head: if Ben Roethlisberger throws for 10 more TDs than Gabbert in 2016, that’s 40 (4pts per pass TD) or 60 Fantasy points (6pts per pass TD)…or a 2.5 to 3.8 FF PPG difference in 16 games. If Gabbert runs for 30 yards per game…there’s 3.0 FF points per game to make up the passing TD gap. If he also runs for two TDs…he fully closes the gap+. At that point, you are looking at pass yards and INTs as the separation between them. Point being, Gabbert can hang as an FF QB2 because of his running skills. Some weeks in 2016, he might be a QB1.

Gabbert with Jim Tomsula in 2016…I might note that as “Hey, Gabbert is not totally awful for Fantasy.” However, Gabbert with Chip Kelly has to make you pause for more consideration. Kelly’s offense makes it simpler for the QB…and doesn’t restrict running. People went wild for tattered Mark Sanchez when he debuted for Chip Kelly in 2014. Gabbert is Sanchez, only a much faster/better runner…and a more confident (all of a sudden) passer. Why did people love Sanchez ahead of him getting into a game with Kelly…but ignore this Gabbert-Kelly potential in 2016? Because most of us have already dismissed Gabbert. I’m saying we have to open our minds back up.

Gabbert has weapons – Torrey Smith to expand the field, Bruce Ellington as the Tavon Austin. He has decent, unique TEs (Vance McDonald and Blake Bell). If DeAndre Smelter stays healthy, or Anquan Boldin comes back, along with Carlos Hydeheading up the running game – this offense may shock you. Gabbert may shock you.

Chip Kelly will get all the credit when it really belongs to Gabbert. He got himself into this position by his hard work, and by never giving up against massive public sentiment. He was solid last year…10 TD/7 INT, but I can tell you for a fact…three of those INTs were absolute flukes/not his fault – ricochets off the hands of receivers, very catchable balls, and right up into the air for a defender to pull down.

Eliminate the three mishap INTs from 2015, and then double Gabbert’s 8-game numbers for a 16-game trend, and you get: 20 TD/8 INT, 4,031 yards (253.9 per game), and 370 yards rushing with 2 scores. Or 17.83 FF PPG (4pts per pass TD). Consider how solid that is…and that it was done under Jim Tomsula, and not Chip Kelly.

Blaine Gabbert is going to be the 49ers’ QB in 2016.

Blaine Gabbert might matter for Fantasy Football 2016.

You can get Blaine Gabbert for nothing in deeper-roster Dynasty leagues.


Bonus notes from watching Gabbert’s 2015 tape…

— Torrey Smith was abysmal in 2015 with Gabbert. I thought/assumed the Torrey issues were to be blamed on the quarterbacks/Tomsula, and there is truth to that, but Smith shares in the blame a lot more than I realized. He dropped, I don’t know how many passes. Not all were easy, but he had his hands on them – he has to catch them as a #1 WR. These drops were in the medium range of passes…a sore spot for him. You cannot use Torrey Smith, effectively, in the medium pass game. You either need to send him deep or quick-pass him, and let him run…but I’m not sure a heavily-paid Smith is into working short game through traffic anymore either.

The march towards Torrey Smith following a Mike Wallace career arc may be upon us. $22M guaranteed deal/$40M total signed last season. I was jarred by watching Gabbert throw to Torrey second half of last season…shocked by all the drops. I’m off the Torrey bandwagon until I see what impact Chip is having.

 Vance McDonald is awesome. I don’t know if he’ll be awesome for Fantasy…I think he’s more fringe TE1 material in 2016, but I love watching that guy play. If they just dump him the ball short while he’s already got a head of steam, he’ll be a menace to anyone in the secondary trying to tackle him. He’s a Mack truck, with surprising speed, with the ball; guys are bouncing off him all the time. They need to design plays for him…not fit him into a traditional TE role.

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About R.C. Fischer

R.C. Fischer is a fantasy football player analyst for Fantasy Football Metrics and College Football Metrics. 

Email rc4metrics@gmail.com

Learn more about RC and the Fantasy Football Metrics system >>