In Blaine Gabbert, Colin Kaepernick and Christian Ponder, the 49ers have three quarterbacks who were high picks in the 2011 draft, yet the 1-4 club finds itself in an unenviable position under center. Gabbert and Ponder, both of whom were first-rounders, have never lived up to their respective draft choices. Conversely, Kaepernick has his share of accomplishments since the 49ers used a second-rounder on him, but the 28-year-old’s effectiveness has fallen off in recent seasons.
Just as he did in Jacksonville, where he spent the first three seasons of his career, Gabbert is failing in San Francisco. Gabbert won the starting job over the summer, but he’s now at risk of losing the role thanks to his substandard output thus far. After the 49ers’ 33-21 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday, when Gabbert completed 18-of-31 passes for 162 yards, a touchdown and an interception, head coach Chip Kelly left the door open for a change at quarterback.
The assumption is that Kaepernick will grab the reins if Kelly demotes Gabbert, but multiple 49ers offensive players have told Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com that they’d like Ponder to take over. The 12th selection in his draft class (two picks after Gabbert), Ponder garnered plenty of experience with the Vikings from 2011-14, though he didn’t exactly light it up. In 38 appearances (36 starts), Ponder completed a below-average 59.8 percent of passes, averaged an underwhelming 6.3 yards per attempt, and tossed 38 touchdowns against 36 picks in Minnesota. Those numbers are almost identical to the totals Gabbert has posted during his 42-appearance, 40-start career (56.3 completion percentage, 6.0 YPA, 38 TDs versus 37 INTs).
It’s clear that Kaepernick, who lost his job to Gabbert last year as he battled injuries and a decline in performance, has the best credentials of any 49ers quarterback. But his days as a quality option may have concluded with his season-ending interception in the 49ers’ 23-17 NFC title game loss to Seattle in January 2014. The once-electrifying dual threat has been mediocre to worse since, though it might be worthwhile for the Kelly to see if he can help the sixth-year man recapture the form he showed off in his first season and a half at the Niners’ helm. Of course, it’s questionable whether Kaepernick is physically ready to get back on the field after surgeries to his left knee, left shoulder and right thumb stopped him from experiencing a normal offseason.
The offensive-minded Kelly previously drew career-best performances from Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford in Philadelphia, but it doesn’t appear he’ll do the same with Gabbert in San Francisco. Kelly has two other (flawed) choices on hand, though, and with extra time to prepare for the 49ers’ Week 6 visit to Buffalo, a shakeup could happen.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.