San Francisco 49ers: With QB Situation In Flux, Kelly Must Be Unconventional

Jan 26, 2016; Mobile, AL, USA; North squad quarterback Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech (16) throws a pass during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 26, 2016; Mobile, AL, USA; North squad quarterback Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech (16) throws a pass during Senior Bowl practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Glenn Andrews-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco 49ers have problems and issues all over the place, but most notably at the quarterback position – so why not give the rookie a chance?

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There are three things that are certain in life – death, taxes, and the San Francisco 49ers aren’t going to be very good this year. With a shaky defense and an even shakier offensive line, the 49ers have problems on both sides of the ball. But perhaps, their biggest problem is going to be under center. And as of this moment, it’s a problem that has no viable solution.

The conventional thinking at this point in time is that after two disastrous seasons – and a benching last year – Colin Kaepernick, once a star in the making and the face of the franchise, is going to have a seriously uphill battle to open the season as the 49ers’ starting quarterback. And of course, the time he’s missing while rehabbing from offseason surgeries isn’t helping his case at all.

Which means that almost by default, Blaine Gabbert – the man who took over for San Francisco after Kaepenick’s benching – is the presumptive starter heading into camp. Most seem to agree that Gabbert did fairly well over his eight starts last season. At least, he certainly seemed to have a better grasp and control of the offense, anyway.

But the measuring stick he was up against was Kaepernick, who was an absolute train wreck in 2015, so it wasn’t a very high bar he had to clear to begin with.

A side by side look at their stats shows two quarterbacks who weren’t very good last season. Kaepernick was 2-6 as the starter, completing 59 percent of his passes (144 of 244) for 1,615 yards with six touchdowns to go along with five interceptions. He finished the worst season of his professional career with a QB rating of 78.5

After taking over for Kaepernick, Gabbert went 3-5 as the starter, completing 63 percent of his passes (178 of 282) for 2,031 yards with 10 touchdowns against seven interceptions. His QB rating for the year was 86.2 – better than Kaepernick, but not by much. What Gabbert had going for him that Kaepernick didn’t, was that he was able to make a few flashy plays that put a jolt of energy through the team.

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So, what the 49ers are left with are two quarterbacks who are similar statistically. Neither was particularly good, and in Kaepernick’s case, one who many believe, has isolated himself to the point that he’s lost the San Francisco locker room. The edge that Gabbert has is that his teammates like him, perhaps even believe in him while many of them appear more ambivalent toward Kaepernick.

With the quarterback position such an uncertainty heading toward the season, why not shake things up completely?

All of the speculation surrounding San Francisco’s starting quarterback has centered around Gabbert and Kaepernick. But why would HC Chip Kelly not take a chance on sixth round draft pick Jeff Driskel? Heading into a season with a roster filled with as many holes as San Francisco’s has, what could it hurt to give the kid a longer look?

Rookie quarterbacks are making a big impact on the league these days. Look across the Bay to Derek Carr and the Raiders. What about Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota? Blake Bortles in Jacksonville?

This is not to say that Driskel is any one of those three quarterbacks or has their skill set – but what if he does?

Kelly, speaking about Driskel, had this to say:

"“I think he’s done a really nice job. He’s really intelligent. (He) picked things up conceptually very quickly. (He) was exposed to a couple of systems because he was at Florida and then Louisiana Tech. I think he’s already been exposed to multiple systems at the college level, so we’ve been impressed with him. He’s very athletic. I think he was the fastest quarterback at the combine. He’s big. He’s got a good arm.”"

In his final college season at Louisiana Tech, Driskel completed nearly 63 percent of his passes for 4,026 yards with 27 touchdowns against just eight interceptions. He also finished the year with a QB rating of 154.3.

Granted, facing Florida International is not the same as squaring off with the Rams or the Seahawks, but even against a Mississippi State team who was nationally ranked at the time, Driskel had a good performance, going 25 of 41 for 303 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Driskel isn’t nearly as celebrated as Bortles or Bridgewater. He doesn’t come with their level of hype and buzz. But by all accounts, he’s a humble kid who works hard, is intelligent, accurate, makes smart plays with the ball, and can also make plays with his legs – all prerequisites for a Chip Kelly style quarterback.

Next: Kaepernick Working Hard To Repair Tarnished Image

Reality says this is going to be a tough year in San Francisco. A very tough year. So what could it hurt to run the kid out to see what he can do? Kelly has a reputation for being unpredictable and for being unconventional.

This is one of those moments he should embrace that reputation and give Driskel a crack to see if he’s capable of leading this team since his alternatives – Gabbert and Kaepernick – are far from inspiring.