I’m not a Blaine Gabbert fan, but I’m not chugging the Gabbert hatorade either. If we attempt to step back with a calm, logical eye and assess what we’ve seen from Gabbert in his second season, two things should become clear. He’s been wildly inconsistent, and he’s at best an average quarterback, usually hovering somewhere around replacement level. That’s the bad.
The good is that despite what his overall numbers may show, he’s improved as a pocket passer, and he’s done it while battling through a series of injuries this year, and for a chunk of the season he hasn’t had the support of his Pro Bowl running back. When we consider Gabbert, we always need to give equal consideration to the situation in Jacksonville, which is one where the stench of suck lingers heavily.
With that said, here’s something else that’s become clear over the past two games as Chad Henne has been handed the keys to Jacksonville’s Pinto of an offense: at his worst, he’s Gabbert’s equal, and at his best the Jaguars’ offense is moving far more efficiently. That’s good for both reality and fantasy purposes, as hope is at a premium in Jacksonville, and if suddenly Justin Blackmon can become a consistently viable option, he has WR3 potential, especially with upcoming games against pass-friendly defenses (Tennessee this week, and Miami and New England during the fantasy playoffs).
Now we’ll get to see the difference a Henne can make during a somewhat extended period, as Mike Mularkey has already tagged him as the starter for the Jaguars’ Week 12 game against the Titans.
Gabbert’s shoulder injury is a factor, but Henne isn’t starting because of the injury. Let’s be clear and blunt here: Gabbert is being benched. He hasn’t been ruled out for the week yet, with Mularkey calling the 2011 first-round pick questionable during his Monday press conference, and leaving the door open to the possibility that Gabbert could be Henne’s backup if he’s healthy. If a quarterback — or any player, really — has a serious enough injury that a one-week absence is obvious, he’s not called questionable on a Monday. He’s declared out.
It really is that simple, making this a decision that’s based primarily on performance, with health a side note. Fantasy owners of anyone who matters on the Jags’ offense have two words: thank you.
Henne was still inaccurate at times, completing less than 50 percent of his passes yesterday. But that matters so very little when he shows a far greater ability to connect on deep passes. He completed five passes for 20 yards or more during Jacksonville’s overtime loss to Houston, a game they actually led at one point, and a game in which Henne threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns against a secondary that employs Daniel Manning and Johnathan Joseph.
But the most significant stat surrounds that chunk yardage. While connecting consistently with Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon, Henne has thrown seven pass for 20 yards or more this year over just 71 pass attempts. That’s one on nearly every 10 attempts, while Gabbert has thrown only 18 over a much larger sample size (278 attempts).
You’ll say that much of the chunky yardage Henne had yesterday came on yards after the catch. And I’ll say sure, but every quarterback pads his passing yardage through YAC, which makes for a minimal excuse for Gabbert’s lack of deep throwing. Also, when you watch the tape, Shorts’ 67 yarder that came on a curl route in which the cornerback whiffed horribly was the only true catch when the yards were inflated. The 81 yarder to Blackmon traveled 35 yards through the air, while Blackmon’s 63 yarder earlier in the game traveled 20 yards.
There’s far more production potential in Henne’s arm, as he’s put some life into Blackmon, a young, blossoming wideout who’s still widely available (owned in only 24 percent of Yahoo leagues, and 44 percent of ESPN leagues), and he’ll be attractive as a flex option due to the aforementioned upcoming cushy matchups.
Meanwhile, Gabbert could be destined for the vast graveyard of developmental quarterbacks who didn’t develop. It wouldn’t be remotely surprising if Gabbert has thrown his last pass as a Jaguar.