Missouri football coach Gary Pinkel announced Monday morning that redshirt freshman quarterback Tyler Gabbert will transfer next year.
Gabbert, whose older brother Blaine was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, left to pursue what his father Chuck described to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as “an opportunity to compete and vie for a starting position.”
“There are other factors that went into this decision that we’re not going to discuss with the press,” Chuck Gabbert told the Columbia Missourian’s Dave Matter.
The Post-Dispatch’s article listed Nebraska, where Gabbert initially committed, and Louisville, where former Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is the quarterbacks coach, as the most likely landing spots for Gabbert.
Wherever Gabbert transfers, NCAA rules will render him ineligible to play for another year. For Gabbert to sacrifice a year of eligibility just for a chance to start suggests that he didn’t think he had a very good shot of beating rising sophomore James Franklin for the starting position. Although Gabbert was a local media favorite, the results of Missouri’s spring Black and Gold scrimmage made it clear that Franklin was too good to sit on the bench.
While Gabbert’s playing style very closely resembles that of his older brother, there are some minor differences as well. For example, Tyler has a much better (and quicker) release than Blaine, but is slightly less accurate. Both players have similar straight-line speed, but Tyler’s acceleration, though not impressive, is a bit better than Blaine’s.
Where both players are most similar, and where Franklin is far superior, is their pocket presence. The Gabbert brothers both continue to drop farther back in the pocket when pressured, and eventually tend to get forced out of the pocket too far behind the line of scrimmage to pick up yards with a scramble. Franklin does a much better job stepping up in the pocket, allowing him to evade rushers and, if necessary, tuck the ball and run.
In the Black and Gold game, Franklin started on the second-team offense, and completed 13 of 18 passes for two touchdowns and no interceptions. Gabbert, who started on the first-team offense, completed 8 of 22 passes for no touchdowns and the game’s only interception. The statistics show a stark difference in the two quarterbacks’ level of performance, but watching the game made it even more apparent. Despite having an assortment of skill-position players such as T.J. Moe and Wes Kemp, the Tigers’ first-string offense was stagnant, but the second-string team offense moved the ball well. When Franklin was inserted into the first-string lineup, he immediately provided a jump-start, completing 5 of 7 passes for 57 yards and a touchdown on his first drive with the first-string offense.
One area of Franklin’s game that will greatly help the Tigers’ offense take the next step and become more multidimensional. They moved the ball well last year, but struggled with finishing drives and scoring from within the red zone. A large part of Missouri’s redzone struggles last season stemmed from an inability to run in the red zone. The Tigers’ offensive system frequently uses zone reads, and although Blaine Gabbert was fast enough to pick up the occasional first down with his legs on broken passing plays, he lacked the initial burst and acceleration to be a dangerous threat when keeping the ball on zone read plays. With Franklin’s speed, defenses will have to account for two different runners, both heading in opposite directions, when either one could have the ball. The run game will improve tremendously as a result of Franklin’s speed, which will eventually cause defenses to commit fewer players to pass defense in order to stop the run.
While it’s far too early to speculate on Franklin’s potential for an NFL career, it is not to early to say that he has the potential to have a better college career than Blaine Gabbert did. In fact, with his speed and his arm, Franklin is the ideal fit for Missouri’s system, and could become even more exciting of a player than former Missouri quarterback Brad Smith. Between the spring game performances of Franklin and rising sophomore Ashton Glaser, who displayed laser-like accuracy, there is great depth at Missouri’s quarterback position, and the Tigers won’t miss a beat after losing both of the Gabbert brothers.
Hank Koebler is an NFL Writer and On-Air Personality. Hank's work as a journalist has been widely published and he's received numerous citations for his NFL coverage. You may email Hank @ [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @HankKoebler