San Francisco 49ers

Kaepernick has edge over Gabbert in comparison of 49ers starting QBs

pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Colin Kaepernick was speaking Tuesday about what keeps him and his team motivated during the final six weeks of such a miserable season when he said two words that caught everyone’s ear.

“There is that feeling out there that we’re not going to be in the playoffs,” he acknowledged. “But we still have an opportunity to do some good things and build for next year.”

Wait a second, Colin. Next year?

Earlier this season, the 49ers quarterback restructured his contract that would allow him to opt out in the offseason and take part in the March free-agency period, which at one point he seemed eager to do.

Is the door still open for a possible return?

“Yeah, I’m under a two-year deal right now (for 2016 and 2017),” he said. “So my plan right now is I’m focused on this team.”

As it stands, Kaepernick is the only 49ers quarterback signed for the 2017 season, and moreover he is playing better right now than Blaine Gabbert, who replaced him a year ago and who began the season as the starter.

A side-by-side comparison – after five starts each – shows Kaepernick has been the more aggressive of the two, both with his right arm and his feet.

He’s averaging a little more than 7 yards per pass attempt and has 14 pass plays of 20 or more yards. Gabbert’s 5.9 yards per throw ranks 32nd out of 33 qualifying passers – only Houston’s Brock Osweiler’s is lower – and he has 10 plays of 20 or more yards.

Kaepernick’s 260 rushing yards, meanwhile, rank fourth among all NFL quarterbacks, even though he’s played in half the number of games as some of those ahead of him. His 7.2 yards per carry, in fact, beats any other runner in the league with at least 10 carries and is better than his rushing average in any of his previous four seasons as the 49ers’ starter.

That speaks to his health, a question mark for most of the year as he returned from three surgeries, and to how his running ability fits coach Chip Kelly’s offensive system.

“There’s opportunities within the system ... to run,” Kaepernick said. “There’s opportunities to take shots downfield, and a lot of that is dictated by the play call and what the defense is doing.”

As was the case a year ago, Gabbert has been the more accurate passer of the two, completing 58.0 percent of his passes to 53.1 percent for Kaepernick. Also in keeping with 2015, Gabbert has been sacked less –10 times to Kaepernick’s 16.

Kelly said Kaepernick’s awareness inside the pocket will come with time and pointed to 17-year New England veteran Tom Brady, who several times Sunday avoided the 49ers’ pass rush just enough to deliver a completion – twice for touchdowns.

“You look at Tom, and over the course of his career (he) has really perfected that trait,” Kelly said. “But one of the nuances of playing the quarterback position is the ability to move in the pocket – not to run, not to take off and get out of there but to be able to avoid bodies and find yourself proper throwing lanes to get yourself set to throw the football, and that’s one of the things … where Tom is as good as anybody at that at the quarterback position.”

Finally, Gabbert has the edge in victories. He’s the only 49ers starting quarterback to win a game this season, and he won one more than Kaepernick last year. The 49ers own a nine-game losing streak, tying a franchise low set in 1978.

Kaepernick said he’s concentrating on ending that skid, not on what happens in March.

“Right now my focus is on the Miami Dolphins and helping this team win,” he said.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

Comparing QBs

Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick each have five starts this season. How their numbers compare:

In 2016

Gabbert

Kaepernick

Record as starter

1-4

0-5

Completion pct.

58.0

53.1

Yards

890

1,144

Passer rating

69.6

85.0

Touchdown/Int.

5/6

7/2

Rushing yards

172

260

Rushing TDs

2

1

Average per rush

4.4

7.2

Sacked

10

16

Yards/pass attempt

5.9

7.1

Plays 20+ yards

10

14

In 2015

Gabbert

Kaepernick

Record as starter

3-5

2-6

Completion pct.

63.1

59.0

Yards

2,031

1,615

Passer rating

86.2

78.5

Touchdown/Int.

10/7

6/5

Rushing yards

185

256

Rushing TDs

1

1

Average per rush

5.8

5.7

Sacked

25

28

Yards/pass attempt

7.2

6.6

Plays 20+ yards

27

19

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