In each of my first two postseason mock drafts I’ve had Blaine Gabbert headed to the 49ers with the 7th overall selection. I’m not the only one, however, as its becoming a popular prediction in mock drafts popping up all over the internet.
As the Gabbert-to-San Fransisco speculation heats up, I thought I’d take some time to further explain my reasoning.
First, the Bills and Cardinals – who both need quarterbacks – would have to pass over Gabbert. Buffalo is the wild card here, because Buddy Nix and Chan Gailey were anything but predictable in their first draft together. Despite quarterback being their primary need, I just can’t see them reaching for Gabbert; especially considering how well Ryan Fitzpatrick performed this season.
As for the Cardinals, Ken Whisenhunt knows he is on a short leash and is likely to push hard for the team to sign or trade for a veteran (McNabb? Kolb?). He doesn’t have the final say, but they may be willing to appease him after GM Rod Graves’ hand-picked quarterback (Derek Anderson) was a monumental bust in 2010.
So if Gabbert is on the board, why would the 49ers take him?
One complaint I’ve heard (here’s an example from David Fucillo of Niners Nation) is that Gabbert is too much like Alex Smith, so why go down that road again?
While neither one played in a true pro-style offense in college, I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two. Urban Meyer’s system at Utah was sort of a spread-option scheme, and even more gimmicky than his system at Florida in an effort to make up for a lack of overall talent. Smith’s athleticism made him a great fit, but it also stunted his growth as a true drop-back passer.
Gary Pinkel’s offense at Missouri is more of a true spread offense. While he does take most of his snaps from the shotgun, he primarily stays in the pocket. These days, experience in the shotgun is less of a concern than ever before as more and more NFL offense include a high percentage of plays from the shotgun. There will be an adjustment for Gabbert, but he has a great reputation as a smart kid and a hard worker and I have no doubt that he can make this transition.
Another reason San Francisco can feel good about the possibility of taking Gabbert is the coaching staff. In his short coaching career Jim Harbaugh has done nothing if not help quarterbacks reach their highest potential. At San Diego he developed Josh Johnson into an elite FCS quarterback, which landed him in Tampa Bay where he started a few games prior to the start of the Josh Freeman era. And we’re all aware of what he did with Andrew Luck at Stanford.
Alex Smith never had the benefit of working with an offensive-minded head coach. Additionally, he was forced to transition through multiple offensive schemes due to the revolving door at offensive coordinator, including Jim Hostler, Norv Turner and Mike Martz. Looking back on it, Smith never really had a chance in San Francisco.
All things considered, I think San Francisco is the ideal landing place for Gabbert. The team needs a quarterback (desperately), they have the coaching staff in place to develop him and he has a strong reputation as a kid who is willing to put in the long hours necessary to become an elite quarterback.
I certainly understand the hesitation of fans. Gabbert isn’t Sam Bradford or Andrew Luck and no one expects him to come in and light it up from day one. But I think there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Gabbert’s future, especially if he lands in San Francisco.