When Blaine Gabbert was coming out of Missouri for the NFL draft in 2011, he was touted as a physically gifted quarterback. Scouts lauded his arm strength and athletic ability, with one report noting he was “very mobile and elusive in the pocket and shows the ability to make plays with his feet.”
Now, after failing in his first three seasons in Jacksonville, Gabbert has gotten a chance to resurrect his NFL career with the 49ers over the second half of this season and is showing all the skills that made him a top pro prospect at Missouri.
In four games as the Niners’ starting QB, including this past Sunday’s overtime victory over the Bears, Gabbert has completed 63 percent of his passes for 963 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 89.5 – an upgrade for the 49ers over the QB rating of former starter Colin Kaepernick’s 78.5 this season and 86.4 in 2014.
Plus, in the victory over the Bears, Gabbert saved his best for last, running 44 yards for a touchdown near the end of regulation to tie the game, then completing a 71-yard bomb to Torrey Smith in the extra period to produce a victory.
It was his long scramble for a touchdown that may have been the most surprising of the two to 49ers fans. He showed good speed and elusiveness to get through the Bears defense. It was the kind of play Kaepernick often made. It wasn’t the kind of play fans expected from Gabbert.
Yet his coaches and teammates weren’t surprised at all. They look at Gabbert and see what those scouts did back in 2011.
“Yes sir, he’s a very good athlete,” head coach Jim Tomsula told reporters this week. “He can run. We go to all the statistics, he’s fast, he’s strong, he’s in great shape and he can move around. Obviously, you got to see that the other day, but we’ve known that. We see him in practice.”
In four games, Gabbert has carried the ball 19 times for 140 yards, a 7.37 yards-per carry average. He’s also shown an ability to move in the pocket and keep plays alive, taking just eight sacks. That was one of his weaknesses in Jacksonville, where he was sacked 74 times in 28 games.
This week Tomsula even hinted that the 4-8 49ers could take advantage of Gabbert’s running ability a little bit more over the final four games of this season, beginning with Sunday’s game at Cleveland against the 2-10 Browns.
“Yeah, I figured I would get asked about the zone option and all those things,” said Tomsula. “That’s still a part of our offense.”