SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The biggest question facing the San Francisco 49ers in the wake of Thursday’s hiring of Chip Kelly as head coach -- this side of when an introductory media conference will be held -- is this: Who does Kelly fancy as his quarterback for the 2016 season?
Of course, many see Kelly’s arrival as the ultimate life preserver for Colin Kaepernick, who was purportedly on his way out of Santa Clara to join Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles. Then Kelly was fired by Philadelphia with one game to play. And then the Niners threw Kelly, with all of his baggage, a life preserver.
But as logical as it may seem, Kaepernick may not be Kelly’s pick. A look, then, at potential 49ers quarterbacks under Kelly:
Colin Kaepernick (61.3 career Total QBR)
The seeming clubhouse leader, with his dual-threat skill set that appears to best fit Kelly’s high-octant system, Kaepernick is recovering from three surgeries (left shoulder, right thumb, left knee). And depending upon whom you ask, Kelly’s offense is either so basic it is easy to pick up, or it is so extremely difficult to grasp that any missed time is extremely detrimental. Kaepernick’s career record as a starter is 27-20 with 56 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions, though he is coming off the worst season of his career having been benched after eight games in favor of Blaine Gabbert.
Blaine Gabbert (27.2 career Total QBR)
He actually acquitted himself well in replacing Kaepernick last year, showing more accuracy and touch on short passes than Kaepernick (Gabbert completed a career-best 63.1 percent of his passes, while Kaepernick had a 59 percent completion percentage). And in Kelly’s quick-strike offense, that may be more important than being able to run. Yet, Gabbert also showed he was more athletic than previously thought, rushing for 185 yards on 32 carries, including a breathtaking 44-yard run at the Chicago Bears, and actually averaged more yards per carry than did Kaepernick (5.8-5.7). Gabbert, who went 3-5 for the Niners, is just 8-27 as a starter with 33 career TD passes and 31 INTs.
Sam Bradford (40.5 career Total QBR)
As unsightly as the Eagles’ season was last year under Kelly, Bradford was not necessarily the problem in his lone year with the coach. Bradford will be an unrestricted free agent and showed flashes in Kelly’s offense, completing 65 percent of his passes for 3,725 yards, 19 TDs and 14 INTs in 14 games. With a season together already under their belts, perhaps Kelly is most comfortable with the likes of Bradford, who is already comfortable with the NFC West having served as the Rams quarterback from 2010 through 2014. Bradford’s career record as a starter is 25-37-1 with 78 TDs and 52 INTs.
Robert Griffin III (54.4 career Total QBR)
The true wild card in this scenario, given how he was benched for virtually the entire 2015 season in Washington, RGIII is expected to be cut loose this offseason, as NFL Nation reporter John Keim delved into last week. Griffin should be fresh and he no doubt needs a change of scenery. But would his skill set mesh with Kelly’s offense? Kelly is familiar with Griffin, having coached in the same division, so he is more familiar with him than either Kaepernick or Gabbert. And Griffin’s 63.9 career completion percentage has to be attractive to Kelly, as does his 6.1 yards per carry average. Griffin is 14-21 as a starter (he was 9-6 in his NFL offensive rookie of the year season of 2012) with 40 TD passes and 23 INTs.